Cubs

Cubs sign Baker, tender arbitration-eligible players

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Cubs sign Baker, tender arbitration-eligible players

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
Updated 5:55 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Around the Cubs at least from a baseball operations perspective it has been a relatively quiet offseason and without much payroll flexibility it could remain that way through the coming months. The White Sox stole all the headlines Thursday by reportedly grabbing free-agent slugger Adam Dunn, who wont be hitting home runs onto Sheffield Avenue. The buzz will increase next week at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where the Cubs will be targeting a first baseman, starter andor reliever. But first the Cubs reached an agreement Thursday with Jeff Baker on a one-year deal worth 1.175 million to avoid arbitration. As expected, the club also tendered 2011 contracts to the five other players eligible for arbitration: closer Carlos Marmol; left-handers Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny; and catchers Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill. This week, while speaking to a newspaper in the Dominican Republic, Marmol confirmed that hes discussed a long-term extension with the Cubs and would like to remain in Chicago. Marmols representatives can make a compelling case. All Marmol did in his first full season as closer was save 38 games and strike out 138 hitters, which led all relievers in 2010. Marmols ratio of 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings pitched represented the highest mark for a reliever in major-league history. After earning 2.125 million, the 28-year-old will be in line for a significant raise during his second year of arbitration. The same goes for Marshall, who for 950,000 posted a 2.65 ERA in 80 games and might have been the teams most valuable player on a day-to-day basis. This is the first time Soto, who made 575,000 last season, is eligible for arbitration. A Rookie of the Year in 2008 and a massive disappointment the next, he timed it right by putting up numbers (.890 OPS) that compared favorably to the best catchers in the game. Baker, 29, is valued for his versatility and ability to hit left-handed pitching 49-for-140 last season, which translated to a .350 average and .945 OPS. He can play first, second or third base, as well as the outfield. He also provides insurance in case third baseman Aramis Ramirez gets injured again.Historically the Cubs and general manager Jim Hendry have avoided arbitration, settling dozens of cases before Ryan Theriot took the team to its first hearing since 1993 last February.

From the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, the new St. Louis infielder continued his media tour Thursday, questioning the clubhouse chemistry at Wrigley Field and saying that the decision to go to arbitration might have damaged his relationship with the team.

In the end, Theriots view of his own skills did not match up with judgments made by the Cubs.

There were definitely reasons that we had for doing that, Theriot said on WMVP-AM 1000. You wind up in a better place. You cant look back and thats the way I have to approach it (because) you cant say What ifwhat ifwhat if all day long. If you do that, you make yourself go crazy.

Was it a fun process? No, I didnt enjoy it one bit.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs free agent focus: Hyun-Jin Ryu

Cubs free agent focus: Hyun-Jin Ryu

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

As the Cubs look to fill out their starting rotation, it’s extremely unlikely Gerrit Cole will be joining the North Siders via free agency.

Or Stephen Strasburg.

Or Madison Bumgarner.

As the top starters available, Cole, Strasburg and Bumgarner are set to receive lucrative contracts out of the Cubs’ price range. But if Theo Epstein and Co. are looking to acquire a top-of-the-rotation arm, left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu is a much more affordable option.

Ryu was one of the best starters in baseball last season, winning the National League ERA title (2.32) en route to being named a Cy Young Award finalist. He made 29 starts and tossed 182 2/3 innings, the second-best totals of his career.

The question with Ryu isn’t whether he’ll pitch well; he holds a career 2.98 ERA and 1.164 WHIP in 126 games (125 starts). The question each season is whether he’ll stay healthy.

Ryu missed all of 2015 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He returned in July 2016, making a single start before hitting the shelf with left elbow tendinitis. He underwent a debridement procedure — like Yu Darvish last offseason — in September 2016.

Granted, Ryu has largely remained healthy since 2017. He made 24 starts that season, missing a little time with contusions in his left hip and left foot. A right groin strain kept him out for two months in 2018, though he posted a dazzling 1.97 ERA in 15 starts.

Nonetheless, teams will be wary of what they offer Ryu this offseason. The last thing you want is to sign a pitcher in his mid-30s to a long-term deal, only for him to go down with a serious arm issue. Ryu hasn't had any serious arm issues since 2016, but any injury concern is valid for the soon-to-be 33-year-old.

All negatives aside, there’s a lot to like about Ryu. He excels at inducing soft contact and ranked in the top four percent in baseball last season in average exit velocity-against (85.3 mph). Ryu doesn’t walk many batters (3.3 percent walk rate in 2019; 5.4 percent career) and strikes out a solid number (22.5 percent rate in 2019; 22 percent career).

Signing Ryu would give the Cubs three lefty starters, but that’s been the case since mid-2018, when they acquired Cole Hamels (who recently signed with the Braves). The rotation would have more certainty moving forward, too, as Jose Quintana will hit free agency next offseason. Jon Lester could as well, though he has a vesting option for 2022 if he tosses 200 innings next season.

The Cubs hope young arms Adbert Alzolay and top prospect Brailyn Marquez will contribute in the rotation for years to come. Alzolay may be on an innings limit next season and Marquez is at least a season away from making his MLB debut.

The Cubs have a rotation opening now and need to bridge the gap to their young arms for the next few seasons. Every free agent comes with question marks, and Ryu is no exception, but he is a frontline starter when healthy. He’d be a solid addition to the Cubs staff, and it won't take as big of a deal to sign him as others.

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Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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