Cubs

How Cubs plan to rebuild their bullpen for next October

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How Cubs plan to rebuild their bullpen for next October

The Cubs saw Andrew Miller’s upside, envisioned how the lefty reliever could dominate late-game situations and checked in with his representatives last year. It quickly became clear where the market would be heading – especially for a last-place team – and the New York Yankees gave Miller a four-year, $36 million deal.    

The entire 2016 season will be a high-leverage situation after the Cubs won 97 games and Kris Bryant (Rookie of the Year), Joe Maddon (Manager of the Year) and Jake Arrieta (Cy Young) just made it a 3-for-3 sweep during awards week.

[RELATED - After winning Cy Young, Arrieta says Cubs would love to have Greinke]

But it’s still hard to see Theo Epstein’s front office paying top dollar to rebuild a bullpen that helped the Cubs advance to the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs are looking to get creative at a time when they have more pressing needs and the asking price for Darren O’Day, the top reliever on the market, is a four-year deal in the range of $28 million to $36 million, according to Fox Sports.

The blueprint appears to be the one-year deal for Andury Acevedo announced on Thursday, signing a hard-throwing right-hander who had spent the last four seasons in the Yankees system, reaching the Triple-A level for the first time in August.      

The Cubs also claimed lefty reliever Jack Leathersich off waivers from the New York Mets. During his minor-league career, he put up 356 strikeouts in 210-plus innings. He debuted with the Mets this year and underwent Tommy John surgery in late July.

“Adding to the bullpen – including possibly investing in a salaried reliever – is on the list of things that we would like to do to improve the club,” Epstein said. “But you have to prioritize, too. We’re not going to be able to accomplish everything that we want to do this winter. We just don’t have the means to do it all. No club really does, so we have to prioritize.

“It just happens to be a poor supply/demand dynamic this year for free-agent relievers, so I don’t necessarily think we’re going to talk our way into a really reasonable contract for a reliever. We’ll see. Especially considering that we really prefer to allocate the resources that we have to starting pitching and some other areas.”

[MORE: Maddon ready to help Cubs recruit free agents]

Acevedo will be another project for Maddon and coaches Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode. The Cubs have their pitching infrastructure in place and will see what it can do for Acevedo, who’s 25 years old and listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds.

Acevedo originally signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007 as an infielder out of the Dominican Republic. He switched to pitching in 2012 and made it through three levels of the Yankees system this year.

Acevedo’s Florida State League All-Star selection in 2015 doesn’t compare to what O’Day did for the Baltimore Orioles across the last four seasons (23-8, 1.92 ERA, 0.939 WHIP).         

But the Cubs once struck gold in the Rule 5 draft and found a future 30-save closer in Hector Rondon. And when the Cubs bought Clayton Richard out of Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate for one dollar, no one expected the lefty to make six scoreless appearances in the playoffs.

The hope is Neil Ramirez will come back at full strength after throwing only 14 innings in the big leagues this year. The reality is that Trevor Cahill – an under-the-radar minor-league signing in August – might have priced himself out of Chicago with all that exposure in October.

Throwing money at the bullpen isn’t necessarily the answer. Kyuji Fujikawa and Jose Veras were two big misses for the Epstein administration, the Cubs wasting almost $14 million on two closers who saved two games combined. 

At the same time, thoughts about the bullpen have evolved, the Kansas City Royals showing what a lockdown bullpen means in October by winning a 2014 American League pennant and this year’s World Series.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

“By no means are we going to ignore the ‘pen,” Epstein said. “I just think we may look to add talent (through) some of the routes that we’ve used in the past to find quality relievers – the Rule 5 draft, minor-league free agency, smaller trades, buy-low scenarios.

“That might be more likely than investing a reliever, even though we’d be open to it. It was one of the things we talked about all year: ‘Hey, this might be a good offseason to invest in a reliever.’ But the reality is we can’t do that and preclude a shot at the starter that we need.”    

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

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Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.