WASHINGTON – Cubs officials viewed Anthony Rizzo staring into the dugout and essentially challenging the Cincinnati Reds to a fight as a turning point in the rebuild. The young first baseman kept barking, dropping his hat and glove to the ground, responding to the two 100-mph pitches Aroldis Chapman buzzed around Nate Schierholtz’s head.
Rizzo and Chapman eventually patched things up at the 2014 All-Star Game, less than a week after that benches-clearing incident at Great American Ball Park. The Cubs respected how Rizzo stood up for his teammates and showed a different kind of intensity for what was becoming an emerging team.
Now comes a New York Post report that the Cubs had a scout at Yankee Stadium watching flame-throwing relievers Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, waiting to see if the Bronx Bombers will finally become sellers after an unbelievable run of 23 straight winning seasons.
“Yeah,” Rizzo said before Monday’s 4-1 loss at Nationals Park, he’s good with the idea of Chapman joining Joe Maddon’s bullpen. “But I know enough now not to look at the rumors. I’m sure we have scouts (out) scouting a lot of other people, too. But since they’re looking at the Yankees, it’s news.”
Rizzo is right – the Cubs will scout anyone who might be a difference-maker – and has perspective after getting traded twice before his 23rd birthday. Remember, Rizzo was supposed to be the long-term answer at first base for the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres. If anything, this just shows how targeted the Cubs can be with the team that has the best record in baseball.
There is no wondering if the Cubs are a year away or mortgaging the future for the coin flip of a wild-card game. As good as setup guy Pedro Strop (2.78 ERA, 12 holds) and closer Hector Rondon (1.33 ERA, 11 saves) have been, the bullpen is this team’s most obvious weakness. Adding one of those Yankee relievers would be shortening the game and copying part of the World Series blueprint the Kansas City Royals used last year.
Rizzo knows Theo Epstein as well as any other player in the clubhouse, how the president of baseball operations won’t hesitate to make a bold, aggressive move.
“That’s what he does,” Rizzo said. “I think we’ve put ourselves in a way better position this year than last year at the trade deadline to (address) whatever he thinks we need. Obviously, we’re really happy with our team now.
“If you’re talking last year, we weren’t exposed in any way last year in the playoffs. We just got beat. That’s really it. It’s not like we have one weakness. We just didn’t hit versus the Mets – and that bit us.”
Chapman began this season serving a 30-game suspension covered by Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy, accepting the punishment after a dispute with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall. The Yankees waited for the price to drop after Cincinnati’s deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers fell apart at the winter meetings as those police reports surfaced.
That background information will have to be a factor, even if Chapman will become a free agent after this season. But the Cubs will have to be in those conversations if the Yankees ultimately decide to sell, because Chapman has 11 saves, a 1.93 ERA and 21 strikeouts through 14 innings.
“He throws 100, and he pretty much locates it (wherever),” Rizzo said. “And then if you happen to hit his fastball, he’ll start wrinkling in his slider or curveball. He knows how to pitch. The game’s over when he comes in.”