Cubs

Cubs lose Cole Hamels to injury right as Craig Kimbrel returns

Cubs lose Cole Hamels to injury right as Craig Kimbrel returns

During his pregame press conference Thursday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon shared a laugh about his club’s NFL-esque injury report with one reporter.

“Questionable, probable,” Maddon said with a smile about his team’s long list of injury updates.

As funny as the moment was, there was some truth to it. Ahead of Thursday’s series opener against the Cardinals, the Cubs announced that:

-They activated Craig Kimbrel (elbow) off the 10-day injured list and Addison Russell off the concussion IL
-Cole Hamels will miss his start on Saturday due to left shoulder fatigue

To add to the fun, the Cubs announced 20 minutes before Thursday’s game that Anthony Rizzo was returning to the starting lineup just four days after badly spraining his right ankle.

Got all that?

While the Rizzo announcement was shocking, the Hamels news came as a surprise. The 35-year-old has struggled since returning from an oblique strain on Aug. 3, holding a 6.39 ERA in his last nine starts. He’s failed to pitch five innings in five of those games, including the last three.

Maddon didn’t express terrible concern over Hamels missing this weekend’s start, though he pointed out how the team has to be careful with injuries this time of year, as an extended absence could be the end of one’s season.

“Eh, I shouldn’t say heavily concerned, but anytime a guy like that says it’s bothering him a bit, you have to absolutely believe it,” Maddon said. “Especially at this time of the year, how much he loves to compete and play right now.

“There’s always some concern with that. We’ll just take his word and what the doctors have to say and then try and get him back as quickly as possible.

“If Cole says he’s hurting, he’s hurting, man.”

The Cubs expect Hamels to start next week, but whether that comes against the Pirates or the Cardinals is to be determined. Point being, the Cubs want to make sure Hamels is good to go before throwing him into the fold.

“I don’t know yet. I had a great conversation with him,” Maddon said. “This guy is so straight forward, pragmatic and honest. Let’s just continue to work with it daily and then see where it takes us.”

Maddon also mentioned how Hamels not starting this weekend has some positive repercussions. Not only does it give him extra rest, but the same can be said about Jose Quintana, who originally was slated to pitch Friday but will now start Saturday. Alec Mills – who has quietly been pitching well – will now start on Friday. Starting Mills also means Tyler Chatwood can stay in the hybrid relief role he has succeed in lately.

“Combined with the fact that Cole’s not doing that well, Alec has been pitching well and it gives Q one extra day," Maddon said. "All those things are in a way positive that we can fit it in this way. Having Alec throwing as well as he has to fit in there and not have to take Chatwood out of the role that we’ve got him in right now is also very helpful.

"You saw what Tyler did last night. Part of that little quick dab in and out last night is so that we can possibly use him more often. In a weird way, having this great depth that’s able to cover these particular maladies, I think we’re covered."

Kimbrel didn’t go on a rehab assignment, as the seasons of the Cubs minor league affiliates all have concluded. However, like Hamels, Kimbrel knows his body best and therefore, Maddon trusted that his closer was ready to return.

“I was very encouraged, from what I saw yesterday," Maddon said. “I thought he looked pretty normal, and again, when you talk to the guy conversationally, it’s very upbeat.

“He feels really good about himself, and he knows better than anybody how good he feels. I’m eager about it.”

Kimbrel returns to a Cubs bullpen that stepped up big time in his absence. Entering Thursday, the Cubs ranked No. 1 in MLB with a 2.35 ERA by relievers in September. Kimbrel’s numbers this season aren’t eye-popping – 21 games, 5.68 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 13-of-15 in save opportunities – but his impact on the Cubs bullpen goes beyond numbers.

Rather than go with a committee approach, Kimbrel gives the Cubs a bonafide closing option. In turn, the likes of Steve Cishek, Rowan Wick, Chatwood and Brandon Kintzler – who is nearing a return and will throw a bullpen session Thursday or Friday – can pitch earlier in games, lengthening the Cubs bullpen.

“When that happens, that permits us to move it back…Chatwood becomes available earlier, Rowan becomes available earlier. They all become available earlier, which lengthens the whole thing out.

“But when you have that one guy at the end that you know is at the end, all of a sudden, these first eight innings [are[ wide open, man. Just go for it.

With the season winding down, it’s all hands on deck for the Cubs. With a playoff spot still in reach, go for it they shall.

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Brewers set to add catcher Omar Narváez as replacement for Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Brewers set to add catcher Omar Narváez as replacement for Yasmani Grandal

The Brewers have reportedly found their replacement for catcher Yasmani Grandal, who left Milwaukee in free agency for the White Sox.

According to multiple reports, the Brewers are set to acquire catcher Omar Narváez from the Mariners. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal was first to report the trade, while MLB.com’s Greg Johns reported the Brewers will send No. 24 prospect Adam Hill (per MLB Pipeline) and their competitive balance pick to the Mariners.

Narváez is one of the game’s better offensive catchers and posted a .278/.353/.460 slash line with 22 home runs in 132 games last season. However, he’s widely considered as one of the games worst defensive catchers (-20 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019) and pitch framers. Grandal, meanwhile, is one of the best pitch framers in baseball, so the Brewers will see a significant drop off there in 2020.

In addition to Grandal, the Brewers saw third baseman Mike Moustaskas sign a four-year deal with the Reds on Monday. Grandal and Moustakas were two of Milwaukee’s key offensive players in 2019, so they needed to replace that production somehow. Narváez fills a need offensively, and despite his defensive shortcomings, all it took was a low-ranked prospect.

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Cubs free agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

Cubs free agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

With Cole Hamels off to Atlanta, the Cubs officially have an opening in their 2020 starting rotation.

Hamels signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves on Wednesday, similar to the $17.8 million qualifying offer the Cubs elected not to tender him a month ago. That salary would’ve put the budget-conscious Cubs in a tight position, similar to when they picked up Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019 last offseason.

The Cubs could address their rotation vacancy with internal candidates Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood or Alec Mills. But if they look to the open market, Braves’ free agent sinkerballer Dallas Keuchel is an intriguing possibility.

Keuchel boasts an impressive résumé featuring two All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Gloves, a Cy Young and a championship — all coming from 2014-18 with the Astros. He’s reliable and durable, holding a 3.33 ERA, 3.58 FIP and 1.198 WHIP since 2014 while making at least 26 starts in four of those seasons. The lone exceptions are 2017 (23 starts) and 2019 (19).

Keuchel missed time in 2017 with a pinched neck nerve, the only time he’s hit the injured list as a big leaguer. He remained a free agent into June last season, like Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel. Both signed deals after the draft pick compensation attached to them — due to being tendered a qualifying offer last offseason — was lifted.

After his extended free agency last offseason, Keuchel is more likely to accept a multi-year deal this time around. He made $13 million with Atlanta in 2019, though the deal was prorated, so it was worth about $21 million for a full season.

$13 million annually seems reasonable for Keuchel’s next contract and it'd also be more affordable for the Cubs than what Hamels earned from Atlanta. Keuchel has been good since his 2015 Cy Young season (3.77 ERA, 102 starts), but he’s not an annual candidate to win the award like fellow free agents Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He also isn’t a strikeout pitcher (career 7.2 K/9), something the Cubs lack among their starters outside of Yu Darvish.

Starting pitchers are always in demand on the open market. Good-not-great Zack Wheeler got five years and $118 million from the Phillies on Wednesday, so someone could be willing to pay Keuchel closer to $15-20 million a season. This would likely put him out of the Cubs’ price range, if they were interested in him.

As is the case with every free agent this winter, it’ll come down to whether or not the Cubs can afford Keuchel. But if they're able to add him, they'd be rounding out their rotation with a solid, experienced arm.

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