Grant Balfour on Cubs' radar in search for bullpen reinforcements


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.

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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.

Cubs reportedly demote Carl Edwards Jr. to Triple-A Iowa, will call up Rowan Wick

Cubs reportedly demote Carl Edwards Jr. to Triple-A Iowa, will call up Rowan Wick

Carl Edward Jr.'s return to Chicago didn't last long. 

Three days -- and one appearance -- after being called up from Triple-A, Edwards is reportedly headed back to Iowa: 

His lone appearance over the weekend came in the last inning of Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Padres, facing four batters before getting the last out. He allowed one earned run on one hit, but both walked and hit a batter; the two runners he inherited would score as well.

It's been a rough season for righty, who's spent much of the year on the IL or in Iowa. Back in early June, he was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left thoracic strain. When healthy, he's pitched 15.1 innings to the tune of a 5.87 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. 

Up in his place is Rowan Wick, who himself has seen time in both Chicago and Iowa this season. Wick's latest stretch in Triple-A has been lights out: 

Cubs trade rumors: Is Arizona's Jarrod Dyson on the team's radar?

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Cubs trade rumors: Is Arizona's Jarrod Dyson on the team's radar?

As we get closer and closer to the July 31 trade deadline, it's becoming clear that the Cubs are firmly in the market for outfield help. 

The first name connected to the team was Detroit right fielder Nick Castellanos, whose prowess against left-handed pitching would significantly buoy a team that's struggled against lefties thus far. 

Now, it's Arizona's Jarrod Dyson who is reportedly on Chicago's radar. On Monday morning, a piece written by The Athletic's Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma details the Cubs' interest in Dyson: 

The Cubs have been interested in Dyson (who has 21 stolen bases and a wRC+ of 86 this season) at previous points in his career and have always liked his skillset. If Dyson is moved, it will likely come closer to the July 31 deadline, giving the Diamondbacks more time to evaluate where they stand this year.

On the surface, Dyson's fit with the Cubs is an interesting one. The conventional wisdom is that for all of Albert Almora's defensive abilities, his offensive production simply doesn't warrant every day starts. This season has been rough for Almora, and he's currently slashing .239/.275/.384 with a .659 OPS, adding up to a career-worst wRC+ (67). As Mooney and Sharma point out, that wRC+ is the 3rd-worst among all players with at least 400 at-bats this year. The contact peripherals aren't much better, with a Hard Hit % and Average Exit Velocity both in the bottom 8% of qualified hitters; his current fWAR (0.0) would suggest he is quite literally the definition of replacement-level. 

With all that said, Dyson's numbers this year have ... not been much better? He's hit .254/.335/.369 with a .704 OPS in 24 less at-bats than Almora has. Dyson's wRC+ (87) is certainly an improvement over Almora's, but nothing to write home about either. In fact, the Statcast profiles for both players look almost identical. First is Almora's, and then comes Dyson:

Like Mooney and Sharma mention, it'd be a platoon move. While their overall stats look the same, Almora's been better against lefties, and Dyson righties, through their careers:

Dyson career vs. RHP: .257/.324/.360 with a .685 OPS (87 wRC+)
Almora career vs RHP: .272 /.303/.398 with a .701 OPS (83 wRC+)

Dyson career vs. LHP: .226 /.309/.272 with a .580 OPS (63 wRC+)
Almora career vs LHP: .286/.335/.420 with a .755 OPS (101 wRC+)

While Dyson isn't going to solve the Cubs' outfield issues on his own, he is more consistently playable against right handed pitching in a way that Almora -- despite some weird reverse splits this season -- has typically not been. It's also worth noting that he'd help solve the Cubs' leadoff issues, as 217 of his 252 at-bats have come from the top. Dyson would give the Cubs a jolt of bench speed, and while stealing bases isn't in this team's DNA, having one of the game's fastest players available as a pinch-runner is obviously a huge advantage in a pennant or postseason run. Acquiring a pinch runner in the latter half of the season has been a staple of the Theo Epstien era, so this falls in-line with what we've seen in the past. 

The Cubs probably have bigger fish to fry, and it doesn't sound like the front-office is solely in the market for platoon outfielders that can pinch run. Production concerns aside, though, Dyson's making $3.5 million and will be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends - so in theory there's a low-risk fit for the Cubs.