Cubs

Looking at Casey Kelly and where Cubs are placing next bets on pitching

Looking at Casey Kelly and where Cubs are placing next bets on pitching

MESA, Ariz. – The headliner prospect from the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade between the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres has a locker next to Anthony Rizzo.  
 
On one end of the clubhouse inside the Under Armour Performance Center, Rizzo has his personal space, where he chats with national reporters and changes in and out of Cubs gear, depending on the workout, photo shoot or commercial to film.   
 
On the other side of that open entrance to the bathrooms and showers sits Casey Kelly, Rizzo's good friend who entered 2010 as Baseball America's No. 24 overall prospect and ended it as a centerpiece to the Gonzalez deal. 
 
Even as the complementary player, Rizzo didn't live up to the hype at Petco Park, either. But Rizzo matured into an All-Star/Gold Glove first baseman after the architects involved in the Gonzalez trade – Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod – targeted him for the Wrigley Field rebuild.
 
The next phase revolves entirely around pitching, providing insurance for the defending World Series champs and finding some answers for a rotation that might be looking at a 60-percent turnover rate by Opening Day 2018. 
 
The volume strategy – and the confidence from coaching up Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks – led to minor-league deals for pitchers like Kelly and Williams Perez and smaller trades for Alec Mills and Eddie Butler.  
 
"I don't know if we'll know the guy's a diamond in the rough here," Hoyer said. "But we hope this is the start of it and those guys can go to Iowa and really get a chance to continue to refine what they do well. 
 
"And then hopefully we'll see them in the big leagues. But we're excited about the pitching depth. We haven't brought that guy from the draft all the way up to the big leagues yet. But I think we've done a good job of finding some guys that are buy-lows. And hopefully those guys are in that category."   
 
Mills – who got designated for assignment in early February when the Kansas City Royals signed ex-Cub Jason Hammel to a two-year, $16 million contract – threw two scoreless innings in Tuesday's 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Sloan Park in Mesa.
 
Butler – Baseball America's No. 24 overall prospect heading into the 2014 season – can re-acclimate after his Coors Field experience and will start Wednesday against the Royals at Surprise Stadium.       
 
As a quarterback committed to the University of Tennessee, Kelly had enough leverage coming out of Sarasota High School in Florida to command a $3 million bonus in 2008. The 30th overall pick also had enough athleticism to negotiate an agreement where he would split time between pitching and shortstop at Boston's lower levels before choosing the perceived fastest path through the farm system.  
 
"It all comes full circle," Kelly said.  
 
Now 27, Kelly missed the entire 2013 season and most of the 2014 season after Dr. James Andrews performed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Kelly made 10 appearances (5.82 ERA) with the Atlanta Braves last year and needed a fresh start.  
 
"I wanted to go with a team that had a good medical staff, good training staff," Kelly said. "I obviously have people in the organization that know me from before, which obviously helps. And I want to be with the team that just won the World Series. You know that they're doing it the right way." 
 
Kelly's father, Pat, played 13 professional seasons and overlapped as a minor-league instructor in the Cincinnati Reds organization with Chris Bosio. Kelly wanted the chance to work directly with the Cubs pitching coach: "I thought it was going to be a great thing for me and my career."
 
Through six draft classes, the Epstein administration has so far produced only one pitcher who has made it to the big-league team. Promising lefty Rob Zastryzny debuted last summer and figures to be one phone call away at Triple-A. Manager Joe Maddon is also hyping Pierce Johnson's starter-to-reliever transition as a Wade Davis situation.
 
But at the major-league level, the Cubs have overseen a remarkable run of good health with their rotation. Four pitchers made between 31 and 33 starts in 2015, while five pitchers accounted for at least 29 starts last season. Even the people who brought you The Foundation for Sustained Success know that's not sustainable.
 
"Our training staff does a great job and our guys are really diligent," Hoyer said. "But we know there's some luck involved in that. Teams have injuries and we've been fortunate to avoid big injuries for the last two years. 
 
"We've got a great infrastructure. We game-plan really well. I think we put our guys in a position where they can succeed, with our defense and our game-planning. But we also don't pretend we have the answers and we know we can do it over and over."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan gives his thoughts on what a Javier Báez extention could look like. He also discusses how Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox increases Willson Contreras' trade value.

1:25 - Will Cubs and Javy Báez agree on a contract extension?

3:44 - If Báez doesn't want to commit long term, do Cubs trade him now?

6:15 - Kap gives his proposed deal that Báez could accept.

8:41 - Will Cubs lock up other key players with same type of mentality?

10:52 - Will Cubs be willing to trade Willson Contreras?

11:55 - With Grandal to the White Sox, teams might be more willing to part with their best prospects with Contreras in a deal.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

The Cubs are one of several teams interested in Korean left-handed starter Kwang-hyun Kim, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required).

Kim, 31, has pitched with SK Wyverns in the KBO League since 2007. The team posted him on Friday, meaning he’s free to negotiate with all 30 MLB clubs. Kim was also posted in 2014, but the system between MLB and KBO has changed since then.

When KBO teams posted their players prior to 2018, interested MLB teams submitted blind bids for the exclusive right to negotiate with the player. The highest bidding MLB team had 30 days to negotiate a contract with the player if the KBO team viewed the bid as reasonable.

If the KBO player agreed to a big-league contract, the KBO team pocketed the bid. If he and the MLB team didn’t come to terms, the MLB team received their bid back. The Padres submitted the highest bid for Kim in 2014 ($2 million) but the two sides didn’t agree to terms.

The new system —  introduced in July 2018 — is much simpler: if a posted KBO player signs with an MLB team, his KBO team receives a transfer fee based on the size of his MLB contract. As was the case with the old system, players have 30 days to negotiate an MLB deal.

Got all that?

In 12 KBO seasons, Kim holds a 3.27 ERA in 298 games (276 starts) with 1,456 strikeouts in 1,673 2/3 innings. According to Sung Min Kim of the Lotte Giants (also KBO) R&D department, Kim’s repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, an upper 80s slider with a sharp break and a slow curveball averaging 69 mph.

The KBO is a lower level of competition than MLB, but Kim could fill a hole on the Cubs’ pitching staff as a starter, reliever or both.

The Cubs have an opening in their rotation after not tendering Cole Hamels a qualifying offer (a one-year deal worth $17.8 million). That would’ve been very enticing for Hamels, but the Cubs payroll is already projected to be $219.8 million in 2020, not including any potential offseason acquisitions.

Hamels could return to the Cubs in free agency at a cheaper salary, but Tyler Chatwood is already under contract for 2020 at $13 million. Chatwood enjoyed a resurgent 2019 season as a reliever/occasional spot starter and has earned the right to compete for the No. 5 rotation spot next season, should Hamels sign elsewhere.

But with or without Chatwood in the bullpen, the Cubs will need to address their relief corps this offseason. The bullpen struggled to pitch in high leverage spots in 2019, and Steve Cishek, Derek Holland, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop are all free agents. And as things currently stand, Kyle Ryan is the only lefty reliever penciled into the 2020 Opening Day bullpen.

Kwang is experienced and would fill at least one need on the Cubs roster. The Cubs doing their due diligence on him can't hurt.

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