Cubs

Cubs pitcher Brad Brach adds more fuel to baseball's free-agency conspiracy theory

Cubs pitcher Brad Brach adds more fuel to baseball's free-agency conspiracy theory

MESA, Ariz. — Brad Brach wouldn't go so far as to use the word "collusion," but he had some very interesting comments about the current state of Major League Baseball's free agency process.

The veteran reliever signed a one-year deal with the Cubs last month with an option for a second season. It was his first foray into free agency and his experience was a microcosm of what's wrong with the system right now from the players' perspective.

"It was stressful and it kinda dragged on forever," Brach said Friday morning at Cubs camp. "You hear about interest in the first week and then you don't get offers until late December, January and you're just kinda wondering what's going on. Teams say they like you, but they're not making you any offers. Then you finally get offers and 6 or 7 teams are giving you the same offer.

"It's just a weird process and nobody really knows what's going on right now. Obviously I would've liked the experience to have been a little better. I'm just glad to be here now and glad it's over with for at least this year and hope to pitch well enough to be here again next year."

Brach may not be a household name to casual baseball fans, but he was one of the top bullpen arms available on the open market after the 2018 season. MLB Trade Rumors ranked him No. 41 on their list of the Top 50 free agents, ahead of former Cubs relievers Jesse Chavez and Justin Wilson, among others.

The 32-year-old has been a reliable big-league reliever for the last 7 seasons, sporting a 3.05 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 over 415 appearances in that span while racking up 33 saves and 85 holds. He made the All-Star team in 2016 and finished with a 2.05 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 79 innings with the Orioles that season.

He struggled to begin last year (4.85 ERA) with the last-place Orioles, but was rejuvenated by a midseason trade to the contending Braves (1.52 ERA) and headed into free agency with some momentum.

Relievers are in high demand on the open market right now with so much importance on the bullpen (especially in October), but Brach only got a reported $4.35 million and one year guaranteed from the Cubs. Meanwhile, a host of other relievers with quality big-league resumes are forced to take minor-league deals as MLB teams continue their free agency freeze-out.

"I really don't know [what to make of the state of free agency]," Brach said. "We talked to certain teams and they told us, 'We have an algorithm and here's where you fall in that scale.' It's just kinda weird that all offers are the same that come around the same time and everybody tells you there's an algorithm, but you figure teams have different ones, but I don't know.

"It's definitely a weird process and you can't figure it out. Luckily, the guys in the bullpen have been the ones that haven't been hurt as bad. I think if you're at the top of the class, it's fine, but if you're somewhere in the middle, you're gonna get hurt and that's where they're kinda taking advantage of us."

It wasn't like Brach was throwing a pity party or anything when he met with Chicago media for the first time Friday morning. He seemed genuinely pumped up to be a part of the Cubs bullpen and was hooked from the first sentence out of Joe Maddon's mouth during a team meeting the other day, talking about how the goal is to play — and win — the final game of the season.

The 2018 Orioles put together one of the most miserable seasons in recent MLB history (115 losses) and Brach felt the effects as a reliever typically used to working in high-leverage situations.

He made a minor mechanical adjustment but for the most part, he believes the reason he was better with the Braves down the stretch was simply jumping more than 40 games in the standings — going from a last-place rebuilding team to a young squad ticketed for the playoffs.

"It gives you a little kick in the butt and gets you back into winning baseball, which — especially in the bullpen — you want to be a part of," Brach said. "When you're losing so many games, it ends up turning into kind of a spring training where, 'You haven't pitched in 3 or 4 days and we need you to get some work.'

"I just never really excel in those roles. Coming here, knowing that you're expecting to win from Day 1, it's exciting and I'm looking forward to it."

Brach doesn't know what his exact role will be in the Cubs bullpen, but he said he's ready to handle whatever — from filling in for injured closer Brandon Morrow to setting up for teammates like Pedro Strop or Steve Cishek or even pitching in the middle innings if needed.

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Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.