Cubs

Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery looks like next man up in Cubs rotation

Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery looks like next man up in Cubs rotation

"It's still my goal to make this team out of camp," Eddie Butler said near the end of spring training, sounding very confident and a little delusional, or the type of attitude needed to make the leap from prospect and survive in this game. "I'm doing everything I possibly can to try to force their hand."

The Cubs talked up Butler as the next great hope for their pitching infrastructure, an ideal change-of-scenery guy to get out of Coors Field in a minor deal with the Colorado Rockies. But the entire fifth/sixth starter conversation revolved around Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery — and the Cubs hoped to get through more than 19 percent of their schedule before the rotation became a problem.

Anderson forced the issue during Saturday night's 11-6 loss to the New York Yankees at Wrigley Field, exiting in the first inning with a back issue that will likely put him on the disabled list for the 10th time in his career. The injury-prone lefty is 1-for-6 in quality starts with an 8.18 ERA as a Cub. 

Now what? 

"You got Montgomery right here," manager Joe Maddon said. "Butler down in Triple-A, I hear, is throwing the ball really well. We definitely have good options."

Montgomery, the lefty swingman who got the final out in last year's World Series Game 7, might have more value at the moment out of the bullpen, where he's put together 14 consecutive scoreless innings.  

The Cubs could eventually trade for pitching from their surplus of hitters at Iowa — Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario, Victor Caratini — but three weeks out from Memorial Day weekend isn't the time to make deals.

Remember when the Cubs "jumped the market" as sellers in 2013? Flipping Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles in the Jake Arrieta/Pedro Strop heist didn't happen until July 2 that summer. 

It says something about the state of the farm system - plus the nonlinear nature of developing arms and the difficulty in pitching through mile-high altitude — that the Cubs could pin their hopes on a guy who's 6-16 with a 6.50 ERA across parts of three seasons in the big leagues.     

But Butler does have pedigree as a supplemental first-round draft pick (2012), All-Star Futures Game selection (2013) and Baseball America's No. 24 overall prospect (2014). 

That sense of momentum in Arizona carried over to Des Moines, where Butler threw six scoreless innings on Saturday night against the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, slicing his ERA to 1.17 through five starts.

Sooner or later, the Cubs are going to get another look at Butler, but they will ultimately need Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks to kick-start a 16-14 team with a 4.79 rotation ERA. 

"My biggest concern is always health (and) if they're trying to pitch through issues," Maddon said. "None of them are. With Anderson right now, maybe he has been. But we're going to eliminate that for now."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan gives his thoughts on what a Javier Báez extention could look like. He also discusses how Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox increases Willson Contreras' trade value.

1:25 - Will Cubs and Javy Báez agree on a contract extension?

3:44 - If Báez doesn't want to commit long term, do Cubs trade him now?

6:15 - Kap gives his proposed deal that Báez could accept.

8:41 - Will Cubs lock up other key players with same type of mentality?

10:52 - Will Cubs be willing to trade Willson Contreras?

11:55 - With Grandal to the White Sox, teams might be more willing to part with their best prospects with Contreras in a deal.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

The Cubs are one of several teams interested in Korean left-handed starter Kwang-hyun Kim, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required).

Kim, 31, has pitched with SK Wyverns in the KBO League since 2007. The team posted him on Friday, meaning he’s free to negotiate with all 30 MLB clubs. Kim was also posted in 2014, but the system between MLB and KBO has changed since then.

When KBO teams posted their players prior to 2018, interested MLB teams submitted blind bids for the exclusive right to negotiate with the player. The highest bidding MLB team had 30 days to negotiate a contract with the player if the KBO team viewed the bid as reasonable.

If the KBO player agreed to a big-league contract, the KBO team pocketed the bid. If he and the MLB team didn’t come to terms, the MLB team received their bid back. The Padres submitted the highest bid for Kim in 2014 ($2 million) but the two sides didn’t agree to terms.

The new system —  introduced in July 2018 — is much simpler: if a posted KBO player signs with an MLB team, his KBO team receives a transfer fee based on the size of his MLB contract. As was the case with the old system, players have 30 days to negotiate an MLB deal.

Got all that?

In 12 KBO seasons, Kim holds a 3.27 ERA in 298 games (276 starts) with 1,456 strikeouts in 1,673 2/3 innings. According to Sung Min Kim of the Lotte Giants (also KBO) R&D department, Kim’s repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, an upper 80s slider with a sharp break and a slow curveball averaging 69 mph.

The KBO is a lower level of competition than MLB, but Kim could fill a hole on the Cubs’ pitching staff as a starter, reliever or both.

The Cubs have an opening in their rotation after not tendering Cole Hamels a qualifying offer (a one-year deal worth $17.8 million). That would’ve been very enticing for Hamels, but the Cubs payroll is already projected to be $219.8 million in 2020, not including any potential offseason acquisitions.

Hamels could return to the Cubs in free agency at a cheaper salary, but Tyler Chatwood is already under contract for 2020 at $13 million. Chatwood enjoyed a resurgent 2019 season as a reliever/occasional spot starter and has earned the right to compete for the No. 5 rotation spot next season, should Hamels sign elsewhere.

But with or without Chatwood in the bullpen, the Cubs will need to address their relief corps this offseason. The bullpen struggled to pitch in high leverage spots in 2019, and Steve Cishek, Derek Holland, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop are all free agents. And as things currently stand, Kyle Ryan is the only lefty reliever penciled into the 2020 Opening Day bullpen.

Kwang is experienced and would fill at least one need on the Cubs roster. The Cubs doing their due diligence on him can't hurt.

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