Cubs

Cubs continue to play things conservatively with Pedro Strop

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USA TODAY

Cubs continue to play things conservatively with Pedro Strop

ST. LOUIS - It's been more than a week since Pedro Strop deemed himself "ready to go" in his recovery from a hamstring injury and he's made a pair of minor-league rehab appearances, but the Cubs still don't have return date for their relief ace.

Strop threw for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday and Thursday, needing only 13 total pitches to record six outs combined between the two days. All but one of those pitches went for strikes.

However, the Cubs are still taking things slowly with Strop after his third separate hamstring injury in the last eight months. He last pitched in a game in Chicago on May 6, when he failed to record an out while getting saddled with the loss to the Miami Marlins.

With Strop throwing Thursday, he was due for a day off Friday, so he wouldn't have been available for the Cubs in St. Louis anyways. 

Will he return for Saturday's game against the Cardinals or will the Cubs continue to play it safe?

"He's doing really well," Joe Maddon said before Friday's game. "I haven't heard from the front office yet regarding the exact due date. He's ready to go, obviously. I'm just waiting to hear from the guys exactly how they want to work it, so I don't have anything new to report yet except that I know he's doing really well."

Maddon said he's been texting with Strop and the veteran right-hander has said he's feeling great. 

Prior to that rough outing against the Marlins in which he admitted his hamstring played a factor, Strop had a 2.53 ERA and 4 saves while serving as the Cubs' closer. In his absence, Steve Cishek has gone 4-for-6 in save chances, but the Cubs could certainly use Strop's presence in a bullpen that has had a tough last couple of weeks.

But the Cubs are also in the midst of a stretch where they play 34 games in the next 35 days and they don't want to be too aggressive it with Strop, who turns 34 in two weeks. Hamstrings are particularly fickle and injuries often recur.

"As you're bringing him back, you don't want to push him too quickly, either," Maddon said. "We're making good progress — he's looking good, he's feeling good. As you get closer to the finish line, don't mess it up."

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

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USA TODAY

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.