If the Cubs win the World Series this fall, Cubs fans might have David Ross and Jason Heyward to thank for that once again.
Ross won't be carried off the field Rudy-style again and who knows if Heyward will get an opportunity to add to his cache of famous rain delay speeches, but the two former teammates were instrumental in the Cubs adding Craig Kimbrel, who may well be closing out that next World Series.
Kimbrel was introduced to the Cubs and Chicago media Friday at Wrigley Field and when asked how he ended up in the Windy City nearly two-and-a-half months into the 2019 MLB season, Theo Epstein and the 31-year-old closer both credited Ross and Kimbrel also gave a hat-tip to Heyward.
Epstein said he stayed in touch with Kimbrel's agent — David Meter — throughout the season and things really started to get serious between the two sides last Friday, exactly a week before Kimbrel was introduced. With the MLB Draft kicking off Monday, the draft pick compensation and subsequent loss of bonus pool money was no longer attached to Kimbrel, making him a completely unrestricted free agent.
"Craig threw a bullpen and we sent one of our scouts — Joe Nelson — and then our super scout David Ross to go see the workout, actually," Epstein said. "It's a funny story, but Rossy actually caught Craig's first pitch he ever threw in the big leagues and then he's there, watching him throw a bullpen, getting ready to sign as a free agent."
The bullpen obviously went well and Epstein said it was a "unique opportunity" for the Cubs to add a possible future Hall of Fame closer to the team midseason without giving up any prospects.
"We were able to go out and get the individual I think could help us maybe more than anyone else in baseball, given the makeup of this team and the aspirations we have," Epstein said.
From there, everything came together really quickly, which might not have happened without the insight from Ross and Heyward.
"I actually talked to quite a few guys," Kimbrel said. "Ross came down and watched me throw my bullpen. He filled me in on a lot — he's spent a lot of time around this group of guys and we spent a lot of time together, as well. Jason reached out — a number of guys reached out — to let me know, 'Hey, if there's anything you need, anything you want to know, we're here to help you.'
"When Jason reached out to me, he wrote me a long text and said he wanted me here and this and that. I replied to him and said all I needed to know was where I should live and what number am I gonna wear? He enjoyed that. That night, it came out that we were gonna be coming here. I'm very excited."
Kimbrel joked that Ross helped scare him into doing the unconventional winged arm dangle on the mound (but then later explained how he just evolved into that look when he had biceps tendinitis and could no longer deal with the pain of having his arm behind his back while peering in for the sign from the catcher).
Kimbrel and Ross played together on the Braves for three seasons — the first three years Kimbrel was in the big leagues. Back during the reliever's debut season of 2010, Ross was a 33-year-old who had yet to become Jon Lester's personal catcher or a fan favorite in Chicago or a Dancing with the Stars contestant or a member of the Cubs front office.
Ultimately, free agency comes down to money and the dollars — and years — were apparently there to Kimbrel's liking on the Cubs' offer. But the rapport with Ross certainly helped fill in the blanks and quell any lingering concerns Kimbrel might have.
"He did fill me in on the culture of this ballclub," Kimbrel said. "It's the Chicago Cubs — he didn't have to tell me all that much about the culture of this place and what is expected here. He filled me in on the clubhouse. I think if anything, it's how family-oriented this place is, how much they'll do anything for the families.
"That really resonated with me, because it's the most important thing. I'm a husband and I'm a father and I'm a baseball player and to understand that this place is gonna make that as easy a transition as possible is definitely gonna play a part."