The Cubs added a closer this summer to a team that had been 56-1 when leading entering the ninth inning – and then made the bullpen a top priority this winter – and still insist it’s nothing personal with Hector Rondon.
“It’s been Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis,” team president Theo Epstein said. “There’s fewer than 10 people, maybe, on the planet that you would move Rondon out of the closer’s role for, in my opinion. But those happen to be two of them.”
Kenley Jansen would be another, and the Los Angeles Dodgers plowed ahead on Monday with a reported five-year, $80 million deal to bring back their 270-pound version of Mariano Rivera.
This after a week where Mark Melancon and Chapman shattered the record for a closer contract, with the San Francisco Giants reacting to their bullpen meltdown against the Cubs in the playoffs with a four-year, $62 million investment and Chapman returning to the New York Yankees on a five-year, $86 million deal.
When you have a chance to get Chapman, “you better take it,” Rondon said after the Cubs completed that blockbuster trade with the Yankees in late July, handling his demotion with class and promising to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
But the Cubs never really got the bullpen they envisioned. Rondon went almost two full weeks in between appearances before the Cubs finally placed him on the disabled list with a strained right triceps in the middle of August. By the World Series, manager Joe Maddon clearly didn’t trust Rondon, who only pitched in Game 1 (a 6-0 loss) and Game 4 (a 7-2 loss) against the Cleveland Indians.
“I talked to Rondon,” Maddon said last week after the Cubs acquired Davis from the Kansas City Royals. “When a guy gets hurt like that, I feel like I’m responsible. Part of that is maybe using him too much in different situations.
“At the end of the year, he wasn’t as effective as he had been. And I really believe that sometimes you use a guy too much. So I wanted him to understand and know that by bringing Wade in, (we’d) try to take some of the burden off these guys earlier in the year.
“You have to be cognizant of all that after you play to November 2, moving to the next year, because you want to do it again.”
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Only the Cubs could give up a Cuban outfielder with enormous potential (Jorge Soler) – and get a two-time All-Star closer who notched the final out of the 2015 World Series – and still have it be considered a “quiet” winter meetings.
But Davis – who requires only a one-year, $10 million commitment – makes too much sense for the defending champs in an overheated market for closers.
Rondon has big-picture perspective as someone who thought about quitting baseball when it looked like injuries would derail his career before he ever got to the big leagues. Once one of the best pitching prospects in Cleveland’s farm system, Tommy John surgery and elbow complications nearly wiped out Rondon’s 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons.
That Rule 5 pick is already a huge success story after saving 77 games in a Cubs uniform, which MLB Trade Rumors projects as a $5.7 million payday through the arbitration system.
Only seven months ago, FanGraphs published a story on how Rondon had been so dominant that he was breaking the Fielding Independent Pitching metric. When healthy, Rondon has all the makings of an elite setup guy, close to triple-digit velocity, swing-and-miss stuff, a feel for pitching and a sense of calm under pressure.
“He understands Wade being there,” Maddon said. “I also want him to understand that Wade can’t do it all the time, and that he needs to be ready and prepared to do it, which he will be.
“I told him how much I respect him. And, again, he’s all about the team, so it’s just one of those things: Wade will close, but these other guys are going to benefit because of that.”