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."

Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

When the Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish at the 2017 trade deadline, he was expected to be one of the final pieces to their championship puzzle.

After a solid nine-start regular season with Los Angeles, Darvish was stellar early in the postseason. In two starts (one in the NLDS, one in the NLCS), he allowed two runs across 11 1/3 innings, racking up 14 strikeouts compared to a single walk.

Things went downhill for Darvish in the World Series, where he surrendered nine runs in 3 1/3 innings across two starts. This includes Game 7, when he threw 47 pitches in 1 2/3 innings, allowing five runs in a 5-1 series-clinching win for the Astros.

Darvish became a scapegoat for the Dodgers' World Series loss and faced heavy backlash from fans. Consequentially, he had concerns about re-signing with the Dodgers when he became a free agent that offseason, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, due to fears of how the city's anger towards him would affect his family.

Two years later, and fans are now apologizing for directing their anger at Darvish for his World Series performance. Why?

Tuesday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported the Astros stole opposing teams' signs electronically during the 2017 season. This conflicts with the notion of Darvish tipping his pitches in the World Series, which an anonymous Astros player told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci was the case.

The notion of Darvish tipping his pitches is now in question altogether:

As has often been the case this offseason, Darvish had a brilliant reaction to the whole situation on Twitter:

Darvish joined the Cubs in 2018 on a six-year deal. After an injury-riddled debut season with the Cubs, he took off post-All-Star break in 2019 and is expected to be the team's Opening Day starter in 2020. Although what happened in 2017 can't be changed, it's nice to see he's moved forward.

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The Cubs' perspective on Astros sign-stealing scandal

The Cubs' perspective on Astros sign-stealing scandal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The baseball world is reeling following The Athletic's report earlier this week detailing how the Houston Astros electronically stole signs in 2017.

It was a revelation that will have a major impact on the sport — and the Astros, in particular — for years to come, but it was not altogether surprising. Sign stealing has been a staple in the game for decades and recent technology has only added different avenues for teams looking to cheat.

What was most notable here was the alleged use of a centerfield camera in Houston that allowed the Astros to determine what pitch was coming in the dugout and then relayed that information to teammates in the batter's box by banging on a garbage can.

Here's a great example of the Astros' system at work:

Theo Epstein was asked about the scandal at the GM Meetings Wednesday and initially admitted it's best for him and presidents/GMs of other teams not to comment on the matter while MLB took the lead looking into the matter.

"Certainly not something to be swept under the rug," Epstein then said. "It needs to be fully investigated and bring light to it and I'm sure there will be appropriate action taken."

Epstein said he and the Cubs have encountered similar sign-stealing tactics in the past (including in the playoffs), but wouldn't get into any specifics with teams.

"There are always a number of teams that there's rumors about or more than rumors," Epstein said. "It's just part of baseball. I'm sure some of them are based in fact and some are based in fiction. It's just important that any time this type of stuff comes up, MLB has to investigate it and take it really seriously and we understand that they are."

With the Astros in particular, their sign-stealing may have had a major impact on the career of current Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish. The veteran right-hander pitched against the Astros in the 2017 World Series and gave up 8 earned runs on 9 hits and 2 walks in 3.1 innings across two starts in that Fall Classic. The first of those two outings came in Houston in Game 3.

It was initially thought Darvish was tipping his pitches, but the Dodgers have since concluded that wasn't the case:

Those were the last two outings for Darvish before he entered free agency and eventually signed a six-year pact with the Cubs. As he went through a difficult debut season in Chicago, he admitted that the way his Dodgers tenure ended and the backlash he received from fans in L.A. was tough to deal with.

As we've seen many times already this offseason, Darvish responded in hilarious fashion to the news on Twitter:

He's also received apologies from a number of Dodgers fans who now have more context regarding Darvish's performance in the World Series. 

These latest reports on the Astros won't help the Dodgers garner a 2017 World Series trophy and it won't change Darvish's numbers, but at least it's some vindication for the Cubs pitcher.

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