Cubs

As Pedro Strop enters free agency for the first time, all he wants to do is return home

As Pedro Strop enters free agency for the first time, all he wants to do is return home

The stats don't lie: Pedro Strop is one of the best relief pitchers in Cubs franchise history.

No pitcher has come close to the 120 holds Strop has notched in a Cubs uniform (Carlos Marmol is second with 83) and he also ranks sixth all time in appearances, ahead of Fergie Jenkins and Ryan Dempster.

Strop even has a better ERA (2.90) and WHIP (1.05) with the Cubs than Lee Smith (2.92, 1.25), who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. 

But at the moment, Strop won't have an opportunity to build upon those numbers as he enters free agency for the first time in his career following the final year of his $17.6 million extension he signed prior to 2017.

He hopes he'll get another chance in Chicago, repeatedly calling the Cubs clubhouse "home."

"I gotta say the Cubs are a priority [in free agency] and I'll work with them first and see if we can work something out," Strop said after the Cubs' final game of the season. "If not, then Plan B — whatever is best for the rest of my career. Right now, I just want to come back and stay home."

Anthony Rizzo is the only player who currently boasts a longer tenure with the Cubs and the team got together after the season finale in St. Louis to toast to Strop, Ben Zobrist and Joe Maddon.

Maddon's departure was already official and while it's still possible Strop and Zobrist return, the Cubs wanted to pay tribute just in case this was the end for them, too. Strop called it an emotional and "sad" moment that he may have to leave the family he built in Chicago, but maintained hope that a reunion was in the future. 

The Cubs think so highly of Strop and his impact behind the scenes (especially on younger players like Javy Baez), Theo Epstein said last fall he hopes the veteran "can be a part of this organization when he's done playing."

Don't start lining Strop up for a coaching gig or a job as a special assistant in Epstein's front office. Not yet, anyway.

Still only 34, he believes he has something left in the tank and the final month or so of 2019 backs him up. Continued issues with his hamstring dragged down his overall season numbers (4.97 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), but Strop seemed to find his rhythm again in September with a 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 9 innings (though much of that work came in low-leverage situations).

In summing up his season, he wished he had been able to contribute in that way earlier in the year, but felt like he proved a lot in the final month. That could be a nice sales pitch to teams in free agency.

"If I'm starting a negotiation with the Cubs, it doesn't have to be that difficult," Strop said. "They already know what I'm capable of doing when I'm right and they know this is my house here. But I still don't know what's gonna happen."

The Cubs are undergoing a complete renovation of their bullpen this winter, with veterans Strop, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Brandon Morrow ticketed for free agency and Derek Holland and David Phelps likely to follow. 

Right now, it appears only Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck are locked into relief spots for 2020, opening up a plethora of options. Kimbrel is a giant question mark after his debut season on the North Side and the other three just enjoyed breakout 2019 campaigns, so there isn't much of a track record there to trust.

There's plenty of room for Strop to come back, but will the Cubs come calling? Is it prudent to chalk up his struggles to the leg injuries and not just overall wear and tear that also saw Strop's fastball velocity drop nearly 2 full mph?

If the price is right, Strop could be a good low-risk/high-reward option for the Cubs to add some veteran depth to the bullpen. Relievers don't often become huge factors in the clubhouse chemistry of a team, but the Cubs have always fed off Strop's relentlessly upbeat attitude and brutal honesty.

Plus, he feels like he has some unfinished business with the Cubs next year.

"We had a contending team [in 2019]," he said. "Teams are getting better in our division. We gotta realize that and we gotta be honest that they're getting better. We just need to come back hungry and try to win. Just go out there, not thinking about whatever happened this year and just compete. We got the guys, we got the group. It's gonna be a really good 2020 Chicago Cubs team."

Twitter user shaming Astros post-cheating scandal is a Cubs fan

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USA TODAY

Twitter user shaming Astros post-cheating scandal is a Cubs fan

Twitter user @AsterikTour has gained notoriety recently for constantly barraging the Houston Astros in the aftermath of their cheating scandal. The account (appropriately named “2020 Astros Shame Tour”) has amassed 118,000 followers and pulls no punches with its intentions. From the account’s bio:

One year to shame them all, one year to jeer them, one year to boo them all and from your seat deride them.

Asterik Tour’s sadistic nature towards the Astros leads one to believe the account's mastermind is a Yankees or Dodgers fan. Houston stole signs in 2017, when they beat New York (ALCS) and Los Angeles (World Series) in the postseason. The account's architect is a fan of neither squad, however.

27-year-old Brendan Donley is a Cubs fan.

*Gasps*

According to the Washington Post, Donley, who lives in Michigan, became obsessed with the fallout of Houston’s scandal. He wanted a centralized location to keep up with all things Astros and took matters into his own hands.

“If I’m obsessed, I figured maybe other people are, too,” Donley told the Washington Post

Donley posts memes relating to the scandal, videos of Astros players getting plunked in spring training games and fan-made signs jeering the club. He made it clear he doesn't wish for the players to be harmed but didn't think much of the team's apologies post-scandal.

“For some people, there’s nothing they could say that could return them to good graces," Donley said, "but for a lot of us, if you just said ‘I’m really sorry, I know I did something wrong, I’ll never do it again and we feel ashamed for what we’ve done,’ I feel like people would accept that.”

That's a fair assessment. The fact a Cubs fan is so passionate on the scandal shows the scrutiny towards Houston isn't going away anytime soon.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ross-ter Rundown: Can Jon Lester bring it for 1 more year?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ross-ter Rundown: Can Jon Lester bring it for 1 more year?

As the season draws closer, it's time to discuss every player that will be on the final roster on Opening Day. We start with Cubs veteran pitcher Jon Lester.

Jeff Nelson sits in for David Kaplan and is joined by NBCS Cubs writer Tim Stebbins and NBCS producer Nate Poppen to debate if Jon Lester can help stabilize the starting rotation for at least one more season, and where do you place him in the rotation.

(1:37) - One word to describe Jon Lester

(5:42) - Lester didn't start his Cubs career very well

(10:40) - Lester eventually proved why he got the contract

(14:40) - How will the relationship change between Jon Lester and David Ross

(19:00) - Lester's inability to throw to first base

(23:00) - Projections for Lester in the 2020 season

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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