Cubs

How will Cubs bullpen adapt without Pedro Strop?

How will Cubs bullpen adapt without Pedro Strop?

The Cubs envisioned Aroldis Chapman changing the entire shape of their bullpen – and the feel of playoff games – when they decided to take the off-the-field baggage and acquire the superstar closer in a 4-for-1 trade with the New York Yankees in late July.

And then manager Joe Maddon tried to squeeze four-out saves from Chapman, only to find out that the 100-mph lefty prefers to work one inning at a time.

And then Hector Rondon – another dominant closer bumped into the eighth inning with Chapman’s arrival – started feeling tightness in his triceps muscle. The Cubs already had to be cautious with a pitcher who missed almost three seasons with right elbow issues and came back from Tommy John surgery. Rondon hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 2 and will try to get in a bullpen session on Friday at Wrigley Field.

And now Pedro Strop – one of the league’s top setup guys – is looking at a four-to-six-week recovery period once he undergoes surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee.

“We’re just trying to build to that ninth inning with the lead,” Maddon said. “We can still do that. We’re going to miss him, though. Stropy’s that guy that I feel really good against the other team’s best hitters all the time.”

The Cubs needed 11 innings to beat the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night, with John Lackey warming up in the bullpen and Anthony Rizzo drawing a walk-off walk as the exclamation point to a wild 4-3 win. Maddon used five relievers to cover the final five innings, including Justin Grimm, who has been shuttled back and forth from Triple-A Iowa because of his minor-league option and the 25-man roster crunch, the Cubs now hoping he will resemble the trusted reliever he became during last year’s playoff run.

“I know what I’m capable of doing here,” Grimm said. “This is where I belong.”

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Joe Smith – the funky right-hander acquired from the Los Angeles Angels as part of the trade-deadline dealing for Theo Epstein’s front office – should take on bigger responsibilities now.

“It will give more opportunities to different guys,” Maddon said. “Particularly Joe Smith, I think, is really going to be the guy that will be utilized more often because of it. Grimm has his strong points, too, that we can utilize. We’re still waiting to find out about Hector and exactly when he’s going to be available again. So there’s that to consider, too, but it’s still a really strong bullpen.”

Mike Montgomery hasn’t been the next Andrew Miller the Cubs wished for when they traded with the Seattle Mariners. And until Thursday night, the lefty hadn’t pitched in August, with Maddon saying the Cubs wanted to stretch him out and needed to keep next week’s doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers in mind.

Montgomery fractured Matt Holliday’s right thumb with an accidental pitch, and accounted for two scoreless innings against the Cardinals and earned his first win as a Cub.

“It’s my job is to be ready for anything,” Montgomery said.  

After Strop heard his left knee pop on Wednesday night, Carl Edwards Jr. got three big outs in the eighth inning of an eventual 3-1 win over the Angels, retiring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons in a row. But given his rookie status and slender frame, the Cubs are not ready to use Edwards (1.42 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 19 innings) in back-to-back games.

“Not yet,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to push it yet. I don’t think it’s time to go there. He was spectacular (against the Angels). I don’t know (if it’s) because we gave him the appropriate rest in between appearances. Just talking to the guys that have had him (before) in the organization – and how he’s been utilized to this point – I’ve listened regarding (C.J.). It’s worked out pretty well to this point.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: David Ross joins SportsTalk Live to discuss plans for his first season

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: David Ross joins SportsTalk Live to discuss plans for his first season

SportsTalk Live is on location in San Diego for Day 2 of the Winter Meeting.

0:00 - New Cubs manager David Ross joins Kap and Tony Andracki to talk about getting ready for his first season as a big league skipper and how he'll handle his former teammates.

10:00 - Rick Renteria joins Kap and Chuck Garfien to talk about the White Sox' big offseason plans. Plus he discusses how he might handle his lineup, Yasmani Grandal's impact and how this Sox team compares to the 2014 Cubs that he managed.

20:00 - Dave Wannstedt joins Kap to preview the Bears/Packers game Sunday at Lambeau.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."