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.

Overheard at Cubs Convention: A collection of the funniest and weirdest moments from the 2019 fan fest

Overheard at Cubs Convention: A collection of the funniest and weirdest moments from the 2019 fan fest

The only Harper in attendance at the Sheraton Grand Chicago over the weekend was the Winter Storm Harper, not that dude named Bryce.

The Cubs seamlessly jumped from Cole Hamels to Kyle Hendricks in the alphabetical introductions at Opening Ceremonies Friday night, crushing the dreams of anybody who believed there would be a surprise visit from the superstar outfielder.

"The sad thing is it's going to be snowing this much in April too," one fan quipped. And it doesn't look like Harper will be in a Cubs uniform by then, either, as Theo Epstein reiterated it's "extremely unlikely" the Cubs sign a mega free agent of any kind this winter.

But that didn't stop Cubs fans, players, coaches and executives from having a blast at the 34th annual Convention.

Here are some of the top moments from the 2019 fan fest:

♦♦Bryant made headlines and pissed off the entirety of Cardinals Nation when he jokingly said St. Louis is "boring" during the late-night show with Ryan Dempster. 

It wound up becoming the talk of the Convention.

♦♦Kyle Hendricks was asked about any pranks he's played on his teammates and he confirmed he is not a big prankster (big surprise there), but did reference one time last year when a teammate hid in Anthony Rizzo's locker with an airhorn and jumped out to scare the Cubs first baseman.

♦♦Daniel Descalso has been the only real addition to the 2019 roster and the former Cardinal wasted no time endearing himself to Cubs fans.

A young fan asked Descalso which convention is better — Cubs or Cardinals? Descalso didn't even let the kid finish his question before he said: "This one."

♦♦This great story about Cubs draft pick Cole Roederer came on the last panel of the weekend Sunday morning with Cubs Senior Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting Jason McLeod and Director of Player Development Jaron Madison:

♦♦As usual, a great hand for Kerry Wood:

♦♦A couple fans were playing a drinking game during Theo Epstein's session, taking a sip every time the Cubs president reminded folks the team actually won 95 games in 2018 or referenced the sense of urgency surrounding the organization this year.

♦♦Kris Bryant: The Hitting Poet

♦♦There are always a lot of random jerseys at any Cubs Convention, but one of the weirdest I've ever seen came this winter: an Arismendy Alcantara shirsey. 

I totally understand wanting to sport your favorite Cubs gear over the weekend — and that may include a Mark Grace jersey, Sammy Sosa button down or even a Corey Patterson shirsey — but Arismendy Alcantara? Dude played only half a season's worth of games in Chicago (81) between 2014-15.

And no, it wasn't actually Arismendy Alcantara wearing his own jersey.

Very odd, but maybe that was the point?

♦♦Somehow, Theo made it through an entire hour-long panel facing somewhere around 20 questions from fans without anybody bringing up Harper by name. 

♦♦Anthony Rizzo wasn't able to attend the Convention this year due to a conflict with his honeymoon, but he Facetimed in anyways:

♦♦Why did Kyle Hendricks decide to become a pitcher?

♦♦One kid has a future in journalism, asking Theo point-blank: "Do you plan on bringing Joe Maddon back as manager next year?"

Theo responded by saying, "I certainly hope so."

♦♦Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease were brought up multiple times by fans in the "Down on the Farm" segment with McLeod and Madison. Two fans asked about the former top prospects in the same span of 5 minutes and each time, McLeod and Madison reiterated the same thing the organization has said for nearly two years now: The Cubs felt it was worth it to make the deal with the White Sox to acquire a stable workhorse in their rotation for years to come in Jose Quintana.

♦♦One fan (looked to be in his mid-20s or so) started off his question to Theo by letting everybody know his cat is named Theo. He then proceeded to ask Theo — a Patriots fan — if he thinks Tom Brady is the GOAT and if so, has he ever seen Aaron Rodgers play?

Theo joked about how he watched Khalil Mack get the best of Rodgers this year before admitting that yes, he believes Brady is the greatest QB of all time. 

♦♦Kyle Farnsworth was in attendance and as Pat Hughes introduced him during Opening Ceremonies, the voice of Cubs radio touted the former relievers' ability to throw the ball 100 mph, prompting this comment from a fan:

"They should bring him back and add him to this year's bullpen."

Farnsworth is 42 and hasn't played professional baseball in years, but the Cubs could certainly use another reliever (even by their own admission), so it's hard to blame the fan.

♦♦Does Ben Zobrist prefer playing outfield or infield?

"Infield," the 37-year-old said because he "doesn't have to run as far."

♦♦KB's got jokes:

♦♦A teenager felt the need to start his "question" by telling a panel of Bryant, Zobrist Willson Contreras and Javy Baez that he has "had trouble getting girls lately" and proceeded to ask for a picture.

♦♦The second fan question of 2019 Cubs Con was a fan who began by thanking Maddon for letting Rizzo pitch last year.

♦♦New Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta joked MLB could speed up pace of play by having a bullpen cart for every reliever coming into the game...or a Harley Davidson for guys to ride to the mound on.

♦♦Towards the end of the coaches panel, a kid got on the microphone to ask Maddon if he still supports the decision to let Pedro Strop hit for himself on that fateful afternoon in Washington D.C. on Sept. 13. (That was the play Strop injured his hamstring on and he went on to make just one appearance the rest of the season — in the NL Wild-Card Game.)

Maddon maintained the same stance he's taken since then — saying any criticism of the decision now is outcome bias and he can't predict injuries on any given play.

♦♦One fan asked Maddon "what he's going to do about" the fact only a few Cubs players show up for the National Anthem at Wrigley Field, calling it "embarrassing" and a "disgrace." 

Maddon handled it well, defending the players and saying the National Anthem often falls at a tough time for most guys when they're still preparing for the game. 

It's worth noting: the Anthem is optional in baseball. Every sport is different, so just because the NHL or NBA players line up and face the flag for those 2-3 minutes doesn't mean MLB will be the same.

Maybe they should, but regardless of where you stand on that issue, it's not Maddon's responsibility to police all 25 of his players to be attentive for the National Anthem. He's got plenty else to worry about.

♦♦Some fans asking questions are just savage:

♦♦One fan told Mark Loretta how excited he was for the new Cubs bench coach to join the staff because the guy's mom is named "Loretta" and his dad is named "Mark." 

Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu know the Cubs season is right around the corner when we catch word of a Darvish bullpen.

Darvish still hasn't even been a member of the Cubs organization for a full calendar year, but almost that entire time has been spent with the focus firmly on his health.

That hasn't changed for the 32-year-old pitcher enjoying his first Cubs Convention amid Winter Storm Harper at the Sheraton Grand Chicago this weekend.

Darvish said he is fully healthy now and his offseason program is progressing along slowly after he underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow in September.

Darvish was slated to throw from 120 feet for the first time Saturday, planning 20 pitches from that distance. From there, he will have a bullpen on Friday.

"His health is everything, clearly," Theo Epstein said. "I know it's not worth anything at this point of the calendar, but the reports are terrific. He's added a lot of good muscle, he's added a lot of flexibility.

"Most importantly, his arm feels terrific. He's experiencing no discomfort whatsoever when throwing and when testing his arm. He's walking around with a little bit of confidence. I think that reflects how he's feeling about himself physically."

Cubs fans might be sick of hearing this narrative, but a healthy Darvish really can do a quite a bit in changing the team's overall fortunes for 2019. This is a guy who strikes out batters at a higher rate than any other starting pitcher in baseball history and even when he was able to pitch in 2018, he sported an ERA more than a run-and-a-half higher than his previous career mark.

The Cubs know their road to success goes through the starting rotation (even nowadays in the world of extreme bullpenning) and Darvish has emerged as the ultimate X-factor.

An offseason of rest and rehab has Darvish and the Cubs feeling confident with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

"Now, the important part starts," Epstein said. "Just taking that into spring training and into the season and being ready for the battle and getting some really good hitters out and being someone we can lean on in that rotation."

The Cubs had enough concerns about their overall state of the rotation (including Darvish) that they picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option despite a serious budget crunch this winter.

But Hamels — Darvish's former teammate with the Rangers — has something most Cubs fans don't: A firsthand look at how dominating Darvish can be when he's healthy.

"I know he wants to do really well," Hamels said. "And he's capable of so much. You've seen bits and pieces when he was with Texas and the Dodgers for a few games — he's really good. He can carry a game; he can carry a month of starts for a team.

"So to be able to put him in between all of us and all of us working together, it's going to be a lights-out rotation. That's what it takes. I know he's ready to do it. When he's healthy, he's one of the best in the game."