Cubs

Cubs make minor trade, acquire pitcher Jharel Cotton from A’s

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USA TODAY

Cubs make minor trade, acquire pitcher Jharel Cotton from A’s

The Cubs made a minor trade on Saturday, acquiring right-hander Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s for cash. Oakland designated him for assignment on Wednesday.

Cotton is a reclamation project, as he missed all of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in spring training. He returned this July, making 18 appearances (three starts) between Single-A and Triple-A for the A’s. In 27 2/3 innings, he posted a 7.16 ERA, striking out 33 batters while walking 12.

In his final six outings (one start; all with Triple-A), the 27-year-old posted a 3.24 ERA in 8 1/3 innings, striking out eight compared to four walks 

Cotton has 29 career big league appearances — all starts — 24 of which came in 2017. He relies on five pitches: a low-to-mid-90s four-seamer, an upper-80s slider, an upper-70s changeup, a low-90s sinker and an upper-70s curveball. He throws the former three most often.

The Cubs have made several low-risk, high-reward trades over the past year or so. Last November, they acquired reliever Rowan Wick from the Padres in a move that generated little headlines. But after working with the Cubs “pitch lab,” Wick ascended from an unknown Triple-A pitcher to one of the Cubs’ most-trusted relievers by season’s end.

Wick’s former roommate with the Padres, Brad Wieck, joined the Cubs in a 2019 trade deadline deal that sent Carl Edwards Jr. to San Diego. The focus was all on Edwards initially, but Wieck — like Wick — became a central figure in the Cubs’ bullpen down the stretch. He also worked with the pitch lab.

Acquiring Cotton is another low-risk, high-reward move. Not every player the Cubs obtain in low-key deals will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks. But if the move pans out, Cotton will offer the Cubs rotation depth, or possibly bullpen help, both of which they'll need to address this winter.

The Cubs 40-man roster now stands at 37 players.

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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.