Craig Kimbrel addition sends clear message to Cubs: 'It's a real shot in the arm'

Craig Kimbrel addition sends clear message to Cubs: 'It's a real shot in the arm'

The Cubs bullpen got the message loud and clear when Kyle Schwarber came out to left field Wednesday night and mimicked Craig Kimbrel's pre-pitch wing in the top of the third inning.

But the entire Cubs roster got the message loud and clear from the front office and ownership that there is good reason to believe in this team as a championship contender.

As the Kimbrel news broke during the Cubs' victory Wednesday night, the good vibes carried into Thursday — the home clubhouse at Wrigley was buzzing with excitement Thursday morning before the 3-1 loss to the Rockies — and that very well could continue for a while. 

Weeks before Kimbrel is even ready to throw a pitch for this club, he'll have an impact on a team that just took over sole possession of first place Wednesday night. 

"It means a lot [when management makes moves like this]," catcher Willson Contreras said. "We have more confidence, more security."

Kimbrel's addition already has guys dreaming about what this team will look like at full strength.

"We have a dominant force now," veteran reliever Brandon Kintzler said. "It's basically a race — almost like the Brewers, where you have to score before you get to [Josh] Hader. For us, just keep the lead to get to him.

"We went from really short bullpen with [Pedro Strop] out to all of a sudden, Stroppy comes back and now you're really long. It's a real shot in the arm. Putting Stroppy in the eighth [inning], now you can do a whole bunch of stuff in the sixth and seventh and now all of us don't have to throw every day. It's great."

Think back to that Jose Quintana trade in early July 2017 and how that gave the Cubs some extra juice in the clubhouse and served as a clear message from Theo Epstein's front office to the roster: We believe in you.

This is the same thing, but potentially with an even bigger impact. The 2017 Cubs were coming off the World Series run and they admittedly had a "hangover" in the first half of that season. 

The 2019 Cubs are coming off a very disappointing end to the 2018 season and spent the winter and spring talking about urgency and the importance of showing up every single day with a killer instinct. The first two months of the season haven't exactly been a smooth ride, but the Cubs have shown they have all the makings of a team that can compete for the World Series. And this week, they've added another veteran bat (Carlos Gonzalez) and arguably the top closer in the game right now (Kimbrel) to help bolster the team that fought through the tough moments in the season's first couple months.

"Bringing Cargo over here was awesome too — look at what he's done for our lineup so far in four games," said veteran reliever Steve Cishek, who picked up his 6th save of the season Wednesday night. "Now the bullpen is lengthened out [with Kimbrel] and we can [play to] matchups more now. It's a good recipe for success."

An hour or so before the Kimbrel news broke, Epstein spoke with Chicago media and talked about how this roster has earned the trust of the front office — between rising above the early-season adversity, the way so many hitters have turned things around and shown the second half last year was an aberration and also how strong the starting rotation has been.

The bullpen was the biggest area of weakness on this team coming into the season and it remained that way as June began. Kimbrel was the best relief arm on the market and now the Cubs feel like they've locked down the ninth inning for the entire second half of the season and beyond.

"It's awesome," Cishek said. "When I first signed here, I saw that was going to be the case anyways. You saw the trade deadline last year when we got some good acquisitions. We're built to win. I think we were built to win to start the season, now we're just continuing to improve, try to help us out.

"They believed in us at the start of the season. They wanted to keep the same guys in here — which, to us, meant a lot. They didn't deconstruct the lineup or pitching staff. They said they believe in us, let's roll. So that meant a lot. And then adding a piece like [Kimbrel] definitely ensures we're built to win. It's really exciting."

Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have added to this team every year since they were surprise contenders in 2015. But with Kimbrel this summer, it's different.

Yes, the Aroldis Chapman deal in 2016 was big for that team, but the Cubs already had a sizable lead in the division by that point and everybody knew they were ticketed for the playoffs. They didn't need confidence or reassurance. The Chapman move was as much about October as anything else.

Last summer, the Cubs went out and acquired Cole Hamels at the trade deadline and then brought in veteran bat Daniel Murphy on a waiver deal in August. But both of those moves were as much about necessity as anything else — acquiring veterans on expiring deals to fill clear holes in the rotation and lineup (particularly with Yu Darvish and Kris Bryant injured). 

With Kimbrel, the Cubs could've continued to skate by with their current bullpen, especially as Strop just returned Tuesday from a month-long absence due to a hamstring injury.

But the front office and team ownership believed in this team enough to go out and make the most impactful addition possible.

"It's just who our guys are," Joe Maddon said. "They've always done that wherever they've been. Being part of this organization now where you have the ability, the wherewithal to do things like this, obviously it's pretty good. Many places, you're gonna just have to suffer through moments and just make the best of what you've got whereas Theo, Jed, Mr. Ricketts, etc. they've done a wonderful job of being able to piece things together while the thing's in progress and able to fill holes. 

"It's a different method not everybody can employ, but yes, we're very fortunate to have those guys out there doing that for us."

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs


Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

After the Cubs Convention, fans left still uncertain about the team headed into the 2020 season. Host David Kaplan and NBC Sports Chicago Cubs writer Tim Stebbins discuss what they took from Cubs Con, the culture change that is coming to the organization and a realistic possibility that the Cubs are looking into disgruntled star Nolan Arenado.

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

Cubs Talk Podcast


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Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant


Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

When former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins last week, one thought was Atlanta could pivot and try to acquire Kris Bryant to fill the void in their lineup.

That possibility looks less likely now, as the Braves announced Tuesday they’ve signed former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.

The Braves didn’t have a dire need for a third baseman — 22-year-old Austin Riley, a former top prospect, is waiting in the wings — so much as they needed a bat to replace Donaldson. Bryant would have checked both those boxes, but the path to acquiring him is more difficult.

Bryant has been fixated in trade rumors this winter, but any extensive negotiations won’t occur until his service time grievance case is resolved. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported last week Bryant trade rumors this winter have been “greatly exaggerated” because the lingering grievance.

The Braves have been named a potential Bryant suitor as they hold the top prospects the Cubs would seek in return for Bryant. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman threw cold water on that notion recently.

There’s also the possibility the Cubs don’t move at all Bryant this offseason.

"No, we're not in a position where we *have* to do anything,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there.

“We’re not at all in that position but looking at the longer time horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long-term and a little bit less for the short-term, but that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody."

Ozuna joining the Braves means the Cardinals lost one of their most productive bats from the 2019 division championship club. Like the Cubs, St. Louis' offseason has been marked by low-key moves, outside of the Cardinals acquiring pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, a deal which sent Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay.

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