Cubs

Good vibes around Cubs interrupted by bad news for Ramirez

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Good vibes around Cubs interrupted by bad news for Ramirez

Bad news for Neil Ramirez interrupted all the good vibes around this Cubs team.

Ramirez walked off the mound with athletic trainer PJ Mainville in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 5-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Ramirez had just thrown three pitches to Joey Votto, struggling to find the velocity that’s made him a dominant reliever and shaking his right arm.

The Cubs are calling it “right shoulder discomfort” and expect to know more on Thursday after Ramirez gets an MRI.

“They haven’t really had a chance to analyze it in detail,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, the 90-mile-an-hour fastball was well below his thing. So something, obviously, was not well with him.”

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Catcher Miguel Montero immediately noticed the difference in Ramirez, who made his big-league debut last season and put up a 1.44 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 43.2 innings, looking like an elite setup guy.

“You don’t want to see that happen,” Montero said. “I don’t know if he’s hurt or not. But if he is, it’s a big loss. Hopefully, it’s nothing bad. He really kind of looked weird to me. Like the way he was warming up, something wasn’t right.

“(On his last pitch), he kind of pulled it and bounced it like he was trying to get it there. Something wasn’t right.”

That became the downer on a night where the Cubs (5-3) won their second series in a row, moved back into first place and hinted they might actually live up to some of the preseason hype.

Anthony Rizzo said it’s time to compete after Game 162 last season and doubled down during the team’s winter caravan, predicting the Cubs would win the National League Central this year.

Rizzo understood everyone would run wild with that quote, but the All-Star first baseman didn’t really care, finally seeing the pieces of the puzzle coming together.

Rizzo again set the tone in the first inning, blasting a two-run homer off ex-Cub Jason Marquis that disappeared into where the right-field bleachers are rising as a skeleton of steel beams.

[MORE: Cubs see Gold Glove/Andre Dawson potential in Jorge Soler]

The rebuild is a work in progress, but that shot was enough for Travis Wood, who Maddon affectionately called a “dirtbag” and “one of those throwback dudes.” Wood pitched into the eighth and got loud cheers from the crowd of 29,205 as he walked off the field after putting up seven scoreless innings.

“We need to do this,” Rizzo said. “We need to keep doing it and just get everyone rallying behind us. We’re all rallying for each other in here and we’ll get the whole city rallying behind us.” 

The Cubs felt confidence heading into this season with a deep, strong bullpen that had been methodically built. Justin Grimm — another pitcher acquired from the Texas Rangers along with Ramirez in the Matt Garza trade — is already on the disabled list with a forearm injury.

Theo Epstein’s front office and ex-manager Rick Renteria put Ramirez in an awkward situation last summer, trying to stash him at Triple-A Iowa for a “break” before the Major League Baseball Players Association intervened. The Cubs wound up putting Ramirez on the disabled list with “right triceps soreness.”

Maddon has to feel a level of concern for Ramirez, who will turn 26 next month and figures to be a big part of the future.

“It’s nothing real positive, I don’t think,” Maddon said. “We have to wait and see. I don’t like to go to negative town too quickly. But we’ll see.”  

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

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USA TODAY

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.

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If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

After losing out on free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Texas Rangers have spoken to agent Scott Boras about Cubs free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Castellanos played third with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17, but considering he posted a -64 Defensive Runs Saved mark in four seasons, he won’t be moving back there. Interestingly, however, Castellanos is willing to consider playing first base, according to Grant.

The Cubs — who are reportedly still pursuing Castellanos — obviously would be affected if the 27-year-old signs with Texas, as they'll lose one of their most productive players from 2019. But besides that, Castellanos landing with the Rangers would impact the Kris Bryant trade market.

The Rangers are looking for a consolation plan at third base after missing out on Rendon. They have a three-year offer on the table for Donaldson, according to Grant, and signing him would cost them only money. The same cannot be said about acquiring a third baseman via trade, like Kris Bryant, who would cost several assets.

But if Donaldson doesn’t sign with the Rangers, they might be more inclined to pursue Bryant. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at the Winter Meetings they’ll address third base this offseason, and the Cubs' third baseman would be the best option left. That is, unless Texas calls the Rockies about Nolan Arenado.

Daniels also indicated that the Rangers are unlikely to trade for a player with only a few years of team control left (like Bryant) without making other major additions.

“There are some trade options [that] would have quite frankly made more sense in our mind if we had landed the free agents at the top of our list,” Daniels said. “I don’t love the idea of half measures. I don’t love the idea of taking a chunk out of the system if it doesn’t really make sense. Trading for somebody with a year or two of control makes more sense if the club is a little more filled out.”

So if the Rangers land Castellanos, a pursuit of Bryant could follow. But the same might also be true if they sign Donaldson, thanks to Bryant’s positional versatility.

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