Cubs

Grant Balfour on Cubs' radar in search for bullpen reinforcements

grant-balfour-0429.png

Grant Balfour on Cubs' radar in search for bullpen reinforcements

Grant Balfour is one reliever on their radar as the Cubs look into reinforcements for their bullpen.

The Balfour connection is obvious since the Australian right-hander used to play for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. The Tampa Bay Rays officially released Balfour this week and will be responsible for what’s left of his $7 million salary this season.

Balfour emerged as a key piece to Maddon’s worst-to-first team that shocked the baseball world and made it all the way to the 2008 World Series. Balfour notched 38 saves for the Oakland A’s in 2013 and has pitched in seven playoff series throughout his career.

But Balfour is also 37 years old and struggled in his return to Tampa Bay last season (2-6, 4.91 ERA). The Rays designated him for assignment after only six appearances this month. He gave up three runs on three hits and four walks – with no strikeouts – in 4.1 innings.

[MORE: Maddon, Cubs clear of tampering charges]

The Cubs bullpen – which appeared to be a game-changing strength on Opening Night – has been exposed as hard-throwing right-handers Justin Grimm (forearm) and Neil Ramirez (shoulder) recover from injuries at the team’s Arizona complex.

A one-run game on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field got out of hand as Gonzalez Germen and Phil Coke combined to give up six runs during an 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

General manager Jed Hoyer said Grimm threw a bullpen session on Tuesday and could pitch in a simulated game by the weekend. Hoyer indicated Ramirez is feeling good and playing catch but hasn’t progressed to throwing off the mound again yet.

The Cubs are not interested in chasing Rafael Soriano, a Scott Boras client still out there on the open market with 207 career saves. The super-agent is waiting for maximum leverage and at that price the Cubs probably won’t be the desperate team looking for a quick fix.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Soriano, 35, is coming off a two-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. The right-hander saved 32 games last season but struggled after the All-Star break (6.48 ERA).

The Cubs bullpen has blown four saves but the overall numbers still look decent (5-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). It’s also skewed when Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon are such a devastating endgame combination (two runs allowed plus 20 strikeouts through 19.1 innings). Lefty Zac Rosscup has also impressed during his eight appearances (1-0, 1.04 ERA, two holds) since his promotion from Triple-A Iowa.

One internal option could eventually be James Russell, who returned to the organization on a minor-league deal after getting released by the Atlanta Braves near the end of spring training.  

Russell hasn’t given up a run or a walk through 7.2 innings at Iowa while striking out 11. The 29-year-old lefty appears to be motivated to get back to Wrigley Field.

Rob Manfred apologizes for tone-deaf comment about World Series trophy

Rob Manfred apologizes for tone-deaf comment about World Series trophy

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made a tone-deaf comment over the weekend, and he apologized for it on Tuesday.

In an interview with ESPN, Manfred defended his decision not to punish Astros players for their involvement in Houston’s sign stealing scandal. Although MLB suspended (now former) Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow and fined the club $5 million, players received immunity in the case. 

Some — like Cubs starter Yu Darvish — have called for Manfred to strip the Astros of their 2017 championship.

"The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act,” Manfred told ESPN’s Karl Ravech. “People will always know that something was different about the 2017 season, and whether we made that decision right or wrong, we undertook a thorough investigation, and had the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty."

Lol.

It’s one thing to let the Astros off with a mere slap on the wrist but degrading the value of a championship trophy — one which all players strive to secure one day — was purely ignorant by Manfred. 

RELATED: Jon Lester crushes Rob Manfred for devaluing World Series trophy 'quite significantly'

There was a more tactful way for Manfred to respond to the lack of punishment. He told Ravech the MLB Players Association likely would've filed grievances, had the league disciplined the players. That defense may not have totally sufficed, but it's far more reasonable than Manfred's piece of metal comment.

Yes, Manfred was looking to make a rhetorical point. But seemingly everyone in baseball is pissed at the lack of punishment for the Astros. Rather than put out the fire, Manfred and MLB have only doused it with kerosene. 

Jon Lester crushes Rob Manfred for devaluing World Series trophy 'quite significantly'

lester-806.jpg
USA Today

Jon Lester crushes Rob Manfred for devaluing World Series trophy 'quite significantly'

Add three-time World Series champion Jon Lester to the growing list of players who are pissed.

On Tuesday, Lester was asked about MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's comments regarding the reasoning behind MLB's lack of player punishment. Manfred recently spoke to ESPN about why he ultimately decided to not strip the organization of their 2017 title, saying that "The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act." 

Now, that didn't sit particularly well with players who won that piece of metal, mainly because, yeah, it's a stupid quote. Why not just call the Hall of Fame a house while you're at it, Rob? 

Anyways, Lester obviously took offense to the idea that the Commissioner's (lmaoo) Trophy was simply a piece of metal: 

That's somebody that's never played our game. You play for a reason. You play for that piece of metal. I'm very proud of the three that I have. I mean, if that's the way he feels, he needs to take his name of the trophy, you know? That's the first thing, when people walk into my house, if they've ever been to my house, I take them to where the trophies are. There they are. I'm proud of them. A lot of years, a lot of hard work. Then, just to bring it down like that, I mean, I'm sure it hurt a lot of guys when they saw that – especially guys that haven't won it that are striving for years to get it. I'm sure if Adam Dunn heard that – he played one playoff game – he'd probably be pretty upset. It's a very, very, special thing that he brought down quite significantly. 

Put aside the enormous flex that is Lester bringing all his house guests to the trophy case first – hell yeah, Jon – and you can tell that literally not a single player considers the trophy "a piece of metal."  Manfred will have a chance to backtrack on the like, half-dozen, dumb comments he's made when he talks with reporters in Arizona this afternoon. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago