Cubs

Edwin Jackson earning bigger role in Cubs bullpen

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Edwin Jackson earning bigger role in Cubs bullpen

PITTSBURGH – Look for Edwin Jackson to play a bigger part in the Cubs bullpen.

Jackson hasn’t sulked since losing his job in the rotation, taking his ready-for-whatever attitude to the bullpen and maintaining the same low-key, easy-going personality that makes him so popular inside the clubhouse.

This isn’t what the Cubs pictured when they gave Jackson a $52 million contract, but he’s thrown five scoreless innings so far, pitching his way into more high-leverage situations.

“You can see him get more opportunities now,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday at PNC Park. “He’s just earned that right.”

[MORE: Maddon doesn't think pitchers are targeting Rizzo]

Jackson got the win after throwing a scoreless eighth inning in Tuesday’s 9-8 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It helped bail out Brian Schlitter and Jason Motte, who combined to give up five runs that night and have struggled at times to build the bridge to Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon.

The Cubs viewed their bullpen as a real strength before right-handers Justin Grimm (forearm) and Neil Ramirez (shoulder) got injured. It stresses the entire group when those two hard-throwing relievers are on the disabled list and rehabbing at the team’s Arizona complex.

These are small sample sizes. Motte started the season with a streak of five scoreless innings, but has allowed five runs combined in his last two appearances. Schlitter (9.64 ERA) has been hit hard since getting called up from Triple-A Iowa on April 10.

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Jackson bombed during his first two seasons in a Cubs uniform, going 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA. The Cubs are trying to salvage the final two years and $22 million left on that deal.

“I’m not saying that you’re not going to see Schlitter (or Motte),” Maddon said. “Of course, you are going to (see them). But you always (play) it like it was first drawn up and don’t try to make too many adjustments too soon. Until you really think you need to try something a little bit differently.

“More than anything, I think Jackson’s earned the right or the opportunity to pitch in some more opportune moments or more difficult moments.”

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

When former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins last week, one thought was Atlanta could pivot and try to acquire Kris Bryant to fill the void in their lineup.

That possibility looks less likely now, as the Braves announced Tuesday they’ve signed former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.

The Braves didn’t have a dire need for a third baseman — 22-year-old Austin Riley, a former top prospect, is waiting in the wings — so much as they needed a bat to replace Donaldson. Bryant would have checked both those boxes, but the path to acquiring him is more difficult.

Bryant has been fixated in trade rumors this winter, but any extensive negotiations won’t occur until his service time grievance case is resolved. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported last week Bryant trade rumors this winter have been “greatly exaggerated” because the lingering grievance.

The Braves have been named a potential Bryant suitor as they hold the top prospects the Cubs would seek in return for Bryant. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman threw cold water on that notion recently.

There’s also the possibility the Cubs don’t move at all Bryant this offseason.

"No, we're not in a position where we *have* to do anything,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there.

“We’re not at all in that position but looking at the longer time horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long-term and a little bit less for the short-term, but that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody."

Ozuna joining the Braves means the Cardinals lost one of their most productive bats from the 2019 division championship club. Like the Cubs, St. Louis' offseason has been marked by low-key moves, outside of the Cardinals acquiring pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, a deal which sent Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay.

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Cubs acquire righty reliever Travis Lakins from Red Sox as bullpen stockpiling continues

Cubs acquire righty reliever Travis Lakins from Red Sox as bullpen stockpiling continues

The Cubs continued their stockpiling of relievers on Tuesday, acquiring right-hander Travis Lakins from the Red Sox. The North Siders will send a player to be named later or cash considerations to Boston in return.

Lakins is a former sixth-round pick by the Red Sox who made his big-league debut last season. The 25-year-old sported a 3.86 ERA in 16 appearances, three of which he started the game as an "opener." He pitched 23 1/3 innings in the big leagues season, striking out 18 while walking 10. He holds a 4.45 ERA in parts of five minor-league seasons.

Lakins' fastball ranks in the 70th percentile for spin rate, averaging 93.7 mph with his four-seamer last season with Boston. 

The Cubs have acquired a plethora of low-key relievers this winter, including Dan Winkler, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam and now Lakins. The club lost stalwart Steve Cishek to the White Sox and haven't been connected to the reliable Brandon Kintzler this offseason.  Pedro Strop is also a free agent, and the Cubs are reportedly interested in a reunion.

As of now, the only locks for the 2020 bullpen are closer Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck. Thus, the Cubs have been gathering as many relief options as possible with the hope some will emerge as viable relief candidates this season. At the least, they'll have plenty of depth in case any injuries occur or if any arms underperform.

"You realize to get through a season, it's not a matter of going up on a whiteboard and writing up your eight relievers," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said at Cubs Convention Saturday. "It's a matter of [needing] 15, 20, 25 good relievers over the course of the summer to really get through it.

"When you guys see a lot of these transactions of relievers, often times they're going to be coming off down years. For the most part, I bet you when we acquire a guy, you can look back and you can see a year in the not-too-distant past when they had a really good year.

"That's the kind of shot we have to take, and that's the kind of shot every team has to take on capturing that lightning in a bottle. Buying really high on relievers and signing them after they have a breakout year is really expensive and really difficult and doesn't have a great success rate. We try to find those guys that we can catch lightning in a bottle, and that's been a big part of our strategy."

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