Cubs

Why Greg Holland would make sense as next Cubs closer

Why Greg Holland would make sense as next Cubs closer

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Why would the Cubs give up young talent to get Wade Davis when they could just sign the other closer who helped transform the Kansas City Royals into World Series champions?

That question frames how the Cubs are looking at their closer situation during the winter meetings, with industry sources saying Greg Holland remains a free-agent target and on track to be ready for Opening Day 2017.

At that point, Holland will be 18 months out from Tommy John surgery, an injury that allowed Davis to take over as closer during Kansas City’s playoff run in 2015. Davis maximized that opportunity, putting up a 0.00 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 10 2/3 postseason innings. Davis earned his second All-Star selection this year while Holland rehabbed his right elbow.

But the Royals can see their window to contend closing, with Davis, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson and left-hander Danny Duffy all positioned to become free agents after the 2017 season.

Holland had been a big part of that core, a homegrown Royal who saved 145 games between 2011 and 2015, made two All-Star teams and showed up twice in the American League MVP voting.

When Kansas City made it all the way to Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Holland notched seven saves and posted a 0.82 ERA during those four playoff rounds.

The Boston Red Sox are no longer in the mix for Holland, a team source said, after filling that late-inning need with Tuesday’s Tyler Thornburg trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, a deal that got blown away by the Chris Sale blockbuster.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer predicted the White Sox would be the Chicago team making the big headlines here at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C., downplaying the possibility of making a huge splash.

The Cubs have checked in with Kenley Jansen’s camp, industry sources said, and signaled that they have no interest in bringing back Aroldis Chapman. The Los Angeles Dodgers — and essentially all of the teams involved in the Jansen/Chapman discussions — are also particularly intrigued by Holland, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network and FanRag Sports.

The San Francisco Giants already handed Mark Melancon the biggest contract ever for a closer, though Jansen and Chapman could both get deals longer than four years and will shatter that $62 million record.

If Davis will cost, say, Jorge Soler plus $10 million in salary, then the Cubs could decide to invest in Holland’s upside and use the Cuban outfielder in a different trade for pitching.

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

No matter how much people complain and Tweet, Joe Maddon will never go with a set lineup every game.

But that doesn't mean he won't let certain spots in the lineup settle in for a couple weeks in a row.

That's what may be occuring right now with Anthony Rizzo holding serve as the "Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" once again.

Rizzo made his 5th straight start atop the Cubs order Friday after collecting a pair of doubles and a walk in Thursday's 9-6 victory.

Initially, moving Rizzo from the heart of the order to the top was in part to help the Cubs first baseman get going. Maddon is a big fan of hitting guys leadoff to help them reset mentally and find their stroke again.

But it is working — Rizzo entered play Friday 8-for-16 with 5 doubles, 3 walks, 3 runs and 3 RBI in the leadoff spot over the last week. The promptly reached on a hit-by-pitch and walk his first two times up Friday.

He's also been the team's biggest cheerleader:

So how long will Maddon keep this unconventional lineup?

"I don't know," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "I don't know. He came up again in crucial moments [Thursday]. He looks really good out there. I don't know. That's my exact answer."

Yes, Rizzo is looking good in the leadoff spot, but his insertion atop the order has given the Cubs lineup a new dynamic. 

With Rizzo first and Kris Bryant second, the guys that are historically the Cubs' top two run producers are hitting atop the order and "behind" the pitcher's spot. 

But they're also the Cubs' top two on-base guys and Maddon is liking the look of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — two high-contact guys — following Bryzzo in the order, as they have done recently. (It doesn't hurt to have the NL leader in RBI — Javy Baez — hitting cleanup, either.)

"It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating," Maddon said. "So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

It's taken the Cubs on a 4-game winning streak endcapping the All-Star Break, though the Cardinals got up big early Friday afternoon.

For a team that leads the NL in just about every important offensive category, it's going to be a huge key moving forward if Rizzo gets going on a consistent basis in the second half.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."