Theo Epstein: Craig Kimbrel's late arrival was the 'single biggest reason' for his struggles


Theo Epstein: Craig Kimbrel's late arrival was the 'single biggest reason' for his struggles

Craig Kimbrel signed with the Cubs with plenty of fanfare in June. His on-field performance didn’t match the hype.

Kimbrel entered Thursday with a 6.53 ERA and a 1.6 WHIP in 20 2/3 innings with the Cubs. The highest ERA of his career before this season was 3.40. He hasn’t had a WHIP above 1.1 since his rookie year.

Theo Epstein has a theory why Kimbrel struggled, although there’s nothing surprising about it.

“We knew that given that he wouldn’t have a normal spring training, given that he was trying to do something that very few had ever done before, which was join the team midstream in a closer’s role, that there would be some risk,” Epstein said in an interview on 670 The Score on Thursday. “We felt it was certainly a risk worth taking. I think it’s impossible to pinpoint how much of his struggles have been because of that, but from my perspective it’s the single biggest factor. He’s never struggled like this before. He’s never even been close to having this type of performance before.”

Kimbrel’s strikeout rate remained high at 13.1 per nine innings, but that was still the lowest mark of his career. He walked 12 batters in his 20 2/3 innings, which was also high, but he’s had control issues before and been able to overcome that. The biggest area of regression for Kimbrel this year was in hits allowed, especially home runs.

The 31-year-old has given up nine home runs with the Cubs, which was highlighted by the back-to-back home runs he gave up against the Cardinals in Saturday’s 9-8 loss.

Kimbrel signed a three-year deal, which means the Cubs have two years to figure out what went wrong and fix it. Was it as simple as him getting a late start on the season?

“We’ll find out next year,” Epstein said. “He’s going to have to have a real productive offseason and have the benefit of the foundation of a spring training underneath him. I think the best bet would be to have him perform at his previously established level.”

Epstein said he had no regrets of the signing, calling Kimbrel an “elite talent.”

“It’s something that I would do over again, albeit I recognize that that is not a move that panned out this year despite Craig’s best efforts and we do look for better in the future,” Epstein said.

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Trading Kris Bryant for Mookie Betts solves literally nothing but it absolutely needs to happen


Trading Kris Bryant for Mookie Betts solves literally nothing but it absolutely needs to happen

Kris Bryant lost his grievance case this morning, which was a big win for the Cubs. Congrats on further alienating one of your best players! Any time you get the chance to ruin your relationship with the only player to ever win the Golden Spikes, Minor League Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and MVP in consecutive years, you've just gotta. Take THAT, Scott Boras! 

So what happens next? Given the Cubs' track record this offseason, probably absolutely nothing – but that doesn't make for an interesting article. So here's my idea, and friends, it is dumb: 

The Cubs and the Red Sox are sort of in the same position regarding these two. Both front offices are sufficiently spooked by the idea of market value, which means both players have found themselves fully wrapped up in the trade rumor mill. So why not trade them for one another? (this is rhetorical please stop yelling) Cubs fans deserve something this offseason besides shrewd minor league contracts. 

Here's the Cubs' logic/common sense in general: Mookie Betts is probably the best position player in baseball not named Mike Trout. He's coming off a "down" year in which he posted a 135 wRC+, which was only the 23rd best mark in 2019. What value! He was roughly a 6-win (6.6 fWAR) player in 2019. To put that in perspective, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, and Jason Heyward were worth 6.5 wins combined. All of Statcast's fancy numbers say that Betts was basically the same as Heyward in right field last year, too. So Betts, at least last year, was quite literally a combination of Jason Heyward's glove and Kris Bryant's bat (135 wRC+). They're clearly itching to stop paying both of them, a bill that'll end up costing them about $41 million this season; Betts will run the Sox $27 million. Getting the same amount of production for $14 million is quite literally the Ricketts' dream.

There are lots of problems. That move, in a vacuum, would get the Cubs under the luxury tax – but just barely. It'd require the Red Sox, who are ALSO looking to get under the luxury tax (being a big market team is just such a burden), to probably take on an albatross of a contract that prevents them from that. The Sox also have Rafael Devers at third, and just brought Mitch Moreland back to handle first base. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi are by no means blocking Bryant from those spots, but the organization specifically brought new GM Chaim Bloom on to avoid these types of deals. 

Both teams would want prospects, too. Neither farm systems are particularly flush with established talent at the moment, but there's actually a lowkey-fun fit there. The Red Sox system's Top-10 is RHP-heavy, which has been the bane of Chicago's existence. There's quietly more upside in the Cubs' minors than they get credit for, so maybe that's a starting point? The Cubs get some righties for The Pitch Lab, and the Sox get some high-ceiling guys that can help better fill out their Top-10. 

To be clear, this won't happen. Bryant-for-Betts doesn't make nearly as much sense as, say, Bryant-for-Arenado might, and trading for Betts would mean shedding even more salary than they already have. But it'd be FUN, and that's something that Cubs baseball could undoubtedly use. I told you guys this was dumb. There's a reason no one liked the Tweet. 

Brewers reportedly agree to deal with former Cubs reliever David Phelps


Brewers reportedly agree to deal with former Cubs reliever David Phelps

David Phelps logged all of 17 innings with the Cubs in 2019, but Cubs fans are likely to see him multiple times in 2020.

The 33-year-old right-hander has agreed to a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers according to Ken Rosenthal.

Phelps landed with the Cubs last trade deadline in a deal with Toronto for minor league pitcher Tom Hatch. Phelps had a 3.18 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings.

Control problems aside, he provided some extra depth to the Cubs bullpen. He now heads to the NL Central rival Brewers a day after the Cubs agreed to a deal with former Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress.