Hector Rondon won’t take it personally if the Cubs raid the New York Yankees at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, strengthening their bullpen with Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller and cementing their status as World Series favorites.
Rondon has perspective after a long journey, signing with the Cleveland Indians as a teenager out of Venezuela, becoming one of the brightest pitching prospects in that organization, coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and going from Rule 5 afterthought to elite closer for a first-place team.
“If they bring in a Chapman or a Miller, if they put him in my spot, whatever, s--- happens,” Rondon said before getting the last two outs in Monday night’s 5-1 win over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. “I can’t control that. The most important thing for me is to come into the game, pitch my inning – whatever inning they put me in – and do my job.”
As the Cubs began a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer still had two more weeks to go shopping for a team that once seemed like it had everything, at least until a downturn before the All-Star break.
The issue isn’t Rondon, who’s now 16-for-20 in save chances, putting up a 1.64 ERA and only four walks against 42 strikeouts in 33 innings. It’s trying to shorten games for a slumping rotation, reacting to a weak market for starting pitchers and giving manager Joe Maddon another late-inning weapon.
“If we get one of those guys, I’m fine,” Rondon said. “It’s better for us. If not, I think we have a really good group in the bullpen. I know it’s a long season, and sometimes we struggle, but most of the time this year, we’ve been good.”
Rondon will also welcome Joe Nathan’s presence, viewing the addition of a six-time All-Star closer the same way he processed the Rafael Soriano and Fernando Rodney deals last season.
“I’ve tried to learn as much as I can,” Rondon said. “Especially Nathan, he’s got (300)-something saves. Any information he can give to me – or anything we can talk about – I (will) try to learn as fast as I can. They’ve been through tough situations.”
Nathan made back-to-back appearances with Triple-A Iowa over the weekend, a significant checkpoint in his recovery from a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow.
“All I know is that he’s getting closer,” Maddon said. “I also know that from his perspective he’s willing to do anything for us.”
Maddon said Nathan – who’s 41 and hasn’t thrown a pitch in The Show since April 2015 – “definitely” wouldn’t start out as a ninth-inning option for the Cubs.
“But you would definitely feel good about his experience,” Maddon said. “He’s a veteran. He knows what he’s doing out there. (We’d be) trying to find out where he’s at on the major-league stage.”
Upgrading the bullpen is an obvious move, but those first impressions could ultimately influence just how desperate the Cubs might feel at the trade deadline.
“If we have the answers in-house, then it makes it a lot easier,” Maddon said. “It’s important to get a look, and it does help Theo and Jed regarding what they may be wanting to do as we get closer.”
The Yankees have been under .500 after the All-Star break for the first time since 1995 and considering their first sell-off in a generation. Miller – an All-Star reliever who’s signed through the 2018 season with a reasonable $9 million annual salary – makes sense for a New York franchise that refuses to do a total teardown. Chapman would be a rental player who comes with triple-digit velocity and the stain from the 30-game suspension he served this season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy.
Rondon is 28 years old, under club control through the 2018 season and ready to do whatever the Cubs ask in a pennant race.
“He is one of the best out there, there’s no question,” Maddon said. “Rondon has taken it to another level here. When you give him the ball – and when you talk to him in tight moments on the mound – he is very much in the present tense right now.
“If things go a little bit awry, I’m not seeing it get too quick on him, and that’s what I really like. Now stuff-wise – outstanding – fastball velocity, the slider, he’s throwing somewhat of a changeup/split. He’s got all kinds of pitcher.
“Ronnie’s a closer that pitches. He’s just not out there throwing as hard as he can, and that’s really the beauty of him. Again, remember, this guy is still learning. He’s still young and he’s going to keep getting better.
“We got to keep him well. I can’t abuse him, because he has pitch-ability beyond just being a guy that throws hard. And that’s where he’s going to separate himself in the years to come.”