How Pedro Strop's injury changes the dynamic in the Cubs bullpen

How Pedro Strop's injury changes the dynamic in the Cubs bullpen

Right as the Cubs have hit their stride, they're now in search of a new backup for their backup closer.

Pedro Strop hit the injured list Wednesday afternoon with a hamstring strain, the third hamstring issue he's had since last September (he strained his left hamstring running the bases in Washington D.C. Sept. 13, then was slowed by a right hamstring issue in spring training and now his left leg is an issue again).

The Cubs (21-13) have no specific timetable, but expect to be without their top reliever for at least a couple weeks.

Strop said he first felt something in his hamstring during his second inning of work on April 28 in Arizona. He informed the Cubs and they opted to give him the two-game series in Seattle off and hoped that between that and the two scheduled off-days, it would be enough time to let it heal.

Strop wasn't needed again until last Saturday against the Cardinals, when he threw a perfect ninth inning for his fourth save. He said he still felt the hamstring issue in that game, but it wasn't as bad and felt OK warming up before entering Monday night's game against the Marlins.

But Strop's hamstring was uncooperative in that game Monday night, tightening up in the cold and affecting his mechanics to make for a tough outing — he blew the save and was charged with the loss as he let all four batters he faced to reach on a trio of walks and a hit.

"I'm not happy to take that trip to the IL because you take a couple months to prepare to be ready for this point to help the team win and it's tough," Strop said. "But the way I felt, I wasn't able to help. Everybody could see it. Not making excuses, but I wasn't able to be myself."

The good news is Strop said this is a completely different issue than last September's injury and the current hamstring strain is less severe. He said he wasn't in severe pain Monday like he was when he pitched in the National League Wild-Card Game last October (nearly three weeks after he initially injured his hamstring), but was cognizant of the fact that he was limited physically.

Strop hopes to be back within a month.

"It is frustrating, especially with me, I take everything very personal," he said. "I take my job, my team, win, lose — I take it personal. So for me to be sidelined at this point when we're playing so well, I'm kinda jealous. I'm gonna try to do my thing back here, just supporting, clapping and pushing for them, but it is a little frustrating."

After a rough week-plus to start the 2019 season, the Cubs bullpen has bounced back in a big way. They entered play Wednesday leading baseball in ERA (2.40) since April 8. 

Strop is confident his buddies will pick up the slack while he's gone, but how will that all work out? The Cubs are already down Brandon Morrow, who was suffered a setback in his recovery from offseason elbow surgery and does not currently have a timetable for a return.

Joe Maddon was hesitant to ever officially name Strop his "closer," though that's obviously the role the veteran right-hander has filled since Morrow went down midseason last year.

Moving forward, Maddon said it's going to be a mix of everybody — Steve Cishek, Brad Brach, Brandon Kintzler, Kyle Ryan, Carl Edwards Jr. (who was just promoted from the minor leagues this week), Mike Montgomery (activated off the IL Wednesday).

Ryan began the ninth inning of a 1-run game Wednesday, but was replaced by Cishek after giving up a seeing-eye single to the first batter. Cishek allowed another hit and then an ill-timed wild pitch that allowed the tying run to move into position at third base and later score on a groundout. 

The end result (a blown save) isn't a good first test for a bullpen without Strop, but Maddon still feels like that's the winning formula. After Cishek got out of the inning, Tyler Chatwood and Carl Edwards Jr. each tossed a scoreless frame to set the stage for Jason Heyward's walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th.

"You just gotta save somebody for that moment," Maddon said. "In advance, you start looking at their lineup — here's the seventh [inning], here's the eighth, things go well, maybe four hitters that inning, maybe four hitters that inning, who's the best guy for the last 3 outs — meaning maybe possibly four hitters. 

"It'll be all the guys... It's wide open. It is the wild, wild west. I'm not going in with any preconceived ideas except who are our guys for tonight? And then I gotta build out the plan for that pregame and then game in progress, make the adjustments."

As for how Strop's injury affects the makeup of the roster, Theo Epstein took the same stance he had when Morrow's setback was first reported — that the Cubs would not immediately look to fill their closer's role from outside the organization (like calling Craig Kimbrel).

"It doesn't really change anything for us," Epstein said Wednesday. "We recognize this is a year we're gonna constantly be on the look out to make adjustments to the bullpen to try to put the right relivers in the right position to be successful, that we'll have to tweak and adjust over the course of the year as we go and that we'll receive a lot of help both internally and probably at some point from outside the organization. 

"We have been in — and will continue to be in — an aggressive mindset with respect to the bullpen. I think the results thus far have been outstanding, but that doesn't mean we become passive or assume that's going to continue going forward. We're going to be challenged in that area throughout the course of the year and we have to continue to be resourceful. 

"Our pitching infrastructure and Joe have done a great job putting these guys in a spot to be successful and that needs to continue. It's only underscored by the absence of Strop that guys are going to continue to have to step up and pitch well in big spots."

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Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now


How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now

With the MLB GM Meetings now over, the Cubs will turn their attention to seeing how their fact-finding mission will influence their offseason makeover of the entire organization.

As Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday, the Cubs and Báez’s camp have begun negotiating a long-term contract extension. While many have speculated that Báez could command a massive salary that would rank among the top of MLB in terms of the total value, the Cubs do have some leverage. Báez still has two more years of club control, which should help to suppress the contract’s total value.

Put yourself in Báez’s shoes. If the Cubs offered you a six-year deal, would you do it? If you say yes, you have lifetime security for you and generations of the Báez family. However, you could be leaving money on the table because you would never reach free agency in the prime of your career.

Rejecting an offer of that size means you would have to perform at a level among the best players in all of baseball for two more seasons, and you would have to avoid serious injury as well. Báez plays with a flair and a passion that also puts his body in harm’s way on a daily basis.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 27, is two months older than Báez and the highest paid shortstop in baseball at $20 million per season. He signed a six-year, $120 million contract in 2019, which runs through the 2026 season.

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor — who was selected No. 8 overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, one spot before Báez — will also be a free agent after the 2021 season. He made $10.55 million in 2019 and is projected to make $16.7 million in 2020.

Báez is projected to make $9.3 million.

So, would Báez accept a deal that would protect him against injury and set him up with lifetime security, knowing that with two more seasons before free agency he would potentially leave significant money on the table?

There could be three elite shortstops on the free agent market after the 2021 season: Báez, Lindor and Trevor Story of the Rockies. This may affect what each guy could make on the open market and what they might be willing to accept in a deal now. 

Add in the fact that there will be a new MLB collective bargaining agreement by the time those three stars hit the market, and there should be some impetus for them to get a deal done now. Multiple MLB front office sources expect Lindor to be dealt before he reaches free agency and some of those same sources believe Story could be traded before then as well.

What about a deal that helps the Cubs achieve payroll flexibility in 2020 and 2021 and locks Báez in long-term?

A former high-ranking MLB executive suggested a deal structure that pays Báez $10 million in 2020, $16 million in 2021, plus six additional years at an average annual value of $23 million. That would bring the total value of the contract to $164 million.

Add in two club options for an additional two seasons at $30 million each and it allows Báez to have the largest contract of all active shortstops in MLB. Total value of the deal: $224 million; guaranteed value of the deal: $164 million.

A deal structured like that gives the Cubs certainty with one of their most talented and marketable players and protects Báez from serious injury for the rest of his career.

Would he sign a deal structured like that? I know I would. There is no greater feeling in the world than long-term financial security. A deal structured like this is a win-win for both sides.

If the Cubs won’t give Báez a deal in this ballpark, then they have to think about moving him now. You can’t allow a player of his magnitude to reach free agency and you absolutely cannot lose him to another team. He is on a potential Hall of Fame track and he is one of the most charismatic players in all of professional sports.

This deal has to get done.

If the Cubs can sign Báez for less than the aforementioned deal, then they should consider themselves very lucky.

Either way, get a deal done. Javy Báez has to be priority No. 1.

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