Why Cubs swung and missed on a starting pitcher at trade deadline

Why Cubs swung and missed on a starting pitcher at trade deadline

To get the kind of young starter the Cubs covet, the San Francisco Giants gave up the third baseman who finished second to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), a $6 million international prospect (Lucius Fox) and a pitching project (Class-A right-hander Michael Santos). 

The Tampa Bay Rays had so much leverage leading up to Monday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline and sold high on Matt Moore, a 27-year-old lefty who has never come close to throwing 200 innings in a single season, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and put up a 5.43 ERA in 12 starts last year.

Still, Moore would have looked pretty good in a Cubs uniform on Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta could be enjoying his free-agent payday, John Lackey might have retired to Austin, Texas, and Jon Lester will be 34 years old and have more than 2,000 innings on his pitching odometer.

“That was a really significant area that we tried to focus on over the whole deadline period,” general manager Jed Hoyer said before Kyle Hendricks painted a complete-game masterpiece during a 5-0 win over the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field. “We know that controllable starting pitching is something that is really important to us now – and important to us going forward.

“There’s no question, the prices were exceptionally high on those guys.”

Here’s why the Cubs swung and missed and will have to keep thinking big:

• Ex-Cubs Rich Hill and Andrew Cashner might be the best options for teams looking to throw money at their rotation after this season. The late-blooming Hill – who got packaged with outfielder Josh Reddick on Monday and shipped from the Oakland A’s to the Los Angeles Dodgers – will be 37 years old next season. Cashner has never quite lived up to all that potential and will try to rebrand himself with the Marlins after being a headliner in last week’s trade with the San Diego Padres.

“That was a huge impact on this trade deadline,” Hoyer said. “You didn’t see a lot of starting pitching get moved at this deadline, (in part because) people that had starting pitching to sell know they can also sell that starting pitching this winter, (when) it’s a really weak free-agent market.” 

• Forget about Chris Sale or Jose Quintana and the White Sox stomaching the idea of one of their pitchers wearing a Cubs uniform and performing in front of 40,000 fans in Wrigleyville. Hoyer talked about the degree of difficulty when the Cubs “had two active sellers in our division (and) one active seller in our city.”

“There’s probably a tax you have to pay,” Hoyer said, summing up The Chicago Way. “There’s going to be a lot more focus or scrutiny on a deal that’s made between those two teams. 

“At some level, I think both teams are aware of that. I know that when we were sellers, we had some awareness. And I’m sure that on the other side of town, there’s some awareness of that as well. 

“I wouldn’t say: ‘Never.’ There might be a deal that just makes sense someday. But it’s certainly not a team we look at as a likely trade partner.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

• The Cubs have such a strong belief in pitching coach Chris Bosio and the staff’s scouting edges and game-planning infrastructure that they won’t overreact to the shortage of legitimate pitching prospects in their organization or easily rationalize the sticker shock.

“It’s an ongoing search,” Hoyer said. “Finding those controllable, young starting pitchers is an easier thing to do when you’re a seller. That’s how we acquired a guy like Jake Arrieta. That’s how we acquired Kyle Hendricks. When you’re a seller, it’s easier to acquire those kind of young arms. But it’s a focus of ours – and something that we’re going to really try to do over the next 18-24 months.”

• The Cubs didn’t want to deal someone like Duffy off their major-league roster, or overpay for a left-handed hitting outfielder, holding onto their trade chips for the winter meetings. Maybe Jorge Soler will be healthy by then and coming off another good playoff performance and the Cubs can try to bundle some combination of Jeimer Candelario (22-year-old, Triple-A switch-hitter blocked by All-Star corner infielders), Ian Happ (last year’s first-round pick) and Victor Caratini (an advanced defensive Double-A catcher). 

“How you deploy your assets is always something that you’re thinking about,” Hoyer said. “You have a finite amount of money. You have a finite amount of prospects. (So) you have to think about how much you can afford to sort of trade

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.