Cubs

Cubs shake up bullpen with James Russell and Anthony Varvaro

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Cubs shake up bullpen with James Russell and Anthony Varvaro

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs shook up their bullpen on Tuesday, adding right-hander Anthony Varvaro, bringing back lefty James Russell and still feeling like they’re not done moving pieces around.

This isn’t sustainable for a team that envisions itself as a contender: The bullpen blew its fifth save in Monday night’s 10-9 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, while the rotation has accounted for only 12 quality starts through 24 games.

“We’ve let some games slip away that we could have won,” general manger Jed Hoyer said at Busch Stadium. “But that is the nature of bullpens. They can be volatile. We’ve played a sixth of the season and we’ve already had, I’d say, two good stretches and two bad stretches. We just have to even those things out a little bit.”

The Cubs claimed Varvaro off waivers from the Boston Red Sox, where he had gotten squeezed out of a bullpen that needed more of a long man. Varvaro had gone 6-4 with a 2.74 ERA and 19 holds across the previous two seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

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In corresponding moves, the Cubs placed outfielder Chris Denorfia on the disabled list, optioned right-hander Gonzalez Germen to Triple-A Iowa and designated right-hander Blake Parker for assignment.

Russell — who had been drafted and developed by the organization and traded to the Braves at last summer’s deadline — dominated at Iowa. After getting released by the Braves near the end of spring training, Russell signed a minor-league deal and put up 12 strikeouts against zero walks in 9.2 scoreless innings with Iowa.

The shape of the bullpen will change again with Justin Grimm. The question now is whether he will make a second rehab appearance with Iowa or get cleared to rejoin the Cubs after recovering from his right forearm injury.

Neil Ramirez — another hard-throwing reliever for what was supposed to be a lights-out bullpen — is scheduled to throw off a mound on Wednesday at the team’s Arizona complex as he works through right shoulder inflammation.

“Knock on wood, guys will get healthy, but it’s hard to count on that,” Hoyer said. “You have to almost assume that you’re going to be scrambling all the time, because when one guy gets healthy, a lot of times another guy might go down. I don’t think you can look forward and say: ‘When we’re healthy.’ Because that never seems to ever really happen.”

Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

The first domino of this offseason’s third base market has fallen.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, free agent Anthony Rendon is set to sign a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Texas Rangers were also linked to Rendon in recent days, but they’ll now have to shift their focus elsewhere. Texas’ attention is now on the other superstar free agent third baseman — Josh Donaldson — as MLB.com’s TR Sullivan reported. The same can be said about Rendon’s former team, the Washington Nationals.

This leads us to the Cubs and Kris Bryant. With Rendon off the board and Donaldson soon to follow, a potential trade market for the Cubs third baseman is growing clearer.

Only one of the Rangers and Nationals can sign Donaldson, not to mention his most recent team — the Atlanta Braves. When Donaldson’s domino falls, two of these teams will be left empty-handed in their pursuit of a third baseman.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also were linked to Rendon, though they don’t necessarily need a third baseman with Justin Turner manning the hot corner. Their pursuit of Rendon points to how they’re willing to shift Turner off third base, however. Add them to the list of teams seeking third base help.

Add that all up, and you have four teams in the market for Donaldson. The Cubs aren’t guaranteed to trade Bryant, but they’ll soon find themselves with some leverage. For the three teams that don’t land Donaldson, the most logical move will be to inquire with the Cubs about trading for Bryant. The Nationals have already inquired about Bryant, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi.

Bryant’s unresolved grievance case will be an issue in any potential negotiations. The difference between two years of control (if he loses) and one (if he wins) is big when it comes to his value. Even though they’ll have leverage over interested teams, the Cubs will yield stronger trade proposals for Bryant if he loses his case.

But, again, a trade is no certainty. What is certain is teams will be inquiring about Bryant in the not-so-distant future, once Donaldson chooses his free agent destination.

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Brewers reportedly sign pitcher Josh Lindblom to address rotation need

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USA TODAY

Brewers reportedly sign pitcher Josh Lindblom to address rotation need

The Brewers are looking overseas to address a rotation that has been one of their biggest weaknesses in recent seasons.

According to multiple reports, Milwaukee is signing 32-year-old Josh Lindblom to a three-year deal. It’s worth $9.125 million but can max out at more than $18 million, should Lindblom hit certain bonuses, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

The Cubs also had discussions with Lindblom, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, before he reached a deal with the Brewers.

Lindblom has pitched in parts of five big league seasons since 2011, most recently with the Pirates in 2017. The right-hander holds a career 4.10 ERA in 114 games (six starts) but he remade himself during a successful stint pitching in South Korea in recent seasons.

From 2018-19 with the Doosan Bears, Lindblom went 35-7 with a 2.68 ERA, striking out 346 batters in 363 1/3 innings. He was named MVP of the KBO in 2019. Some of Lindblom's success can be attributed to the splitter he featured in his repertoire.

Lindblom’s name doesn’t jump off the page, but he’s a low-cost addition for the Brewers and is returning stateside an improved pitcher. Milwaukee finished 14th in starting pitcher ERA in 2019, but that figure was a not-so-great 4.40. They traded mainstay Zach Davies — who had been a rotation mainstay since 2016 — to the Padres two weeks ago.

Lindblom joins a rotation featuring Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer (acquired in the Davies trade). The Brewers also have 25-year-old Corbin Burnes and 23-year-old Freddy Peralta as starting options. The duo struggled in 2019 (Burnes: 8.82 ERA, 32 games/four starts; Peralta: 5.29 ERA, 39 games/eight starts), so the guess here is the Brewers aren’t done shopping for pitching.