Cubs

An underrated factor that brought Craig Kimbrel to Chicago

An underrated factor that brought Craig Kimbrel to Chicago

At the end of the day, money makes the baseball world go round and the dollars and years were there to Craig Kimbrel's liking on the Cubs' offer.

But you can't discount the allure of playing at Wrigley Field in front of this fanbase and the kind of impact it can have on a player who's already performed on the highest stage the game has to offer.

Kimbrel said he had conversations with other MLB teams throughout the free agency process, but things moved quickly last week when the Cubs stepped up to the table because of the fit from both sides.

"One thing that's important to me as well is being able to play in front of a fanbase that is as passionate about this game as I am," Kimbrel said in his introductory press conference Friday morning. "I did get to experience that in Boston and it'd be hard to leave that kind of passion each and every night — especially in the role that I am [as closer].

"I'm a very adrenaline-based player. And knowing that each and every night, those seats are gonna be full, it definitely played a huge part in the decision."

It would be easy to just write a statement like that off and chalk it up as fan service, but Kimbrel offered that up unprompted and it makes a lot of sense. 

The last time he played competitive baseball, he was part of a World Series-winning Red Sox team that got to celebrate with a parade in front of one of the most passionate fanbases in all of American sports. And if you're going to leave Fenway Park, what better stadium to call your home park than Wrigley Field — another iconic place to play?

Kimbrel played with Jason Heyward for five years in Atlanta and the two came up through the Braves system together. The rapport with Heyward and David Ross played a big role in Kimbrel signing with the Cubs, as it allowed him to get a lay of the land on the non-money topics — how the Cubs take care of players' families, what it's like to play for this organization, the clubhouse vibe...and what it's like to play in front of these fans at Wrigley Field.

As Kimbrel and his camp were discussing terms with Theo Epstein and the Cubs, Heyward sent his former teammate a long text.

"It's an awesome thing because you know it's his decision solely — he and his family," Heyward said. "I respected that space — I just let him know a little bit about what's going on here and what it would be like and told him he deserved to play for a place like this. 

"... In that one text, I told him — a place like this, he'll see. I just told him about the winning culture, what we're trying to get done — family, ownership, front office, the city to play for."

Once upon a time, Heyward was also a coveted free agent weighing his options and the best fit for the next stage of his playing career. When he was talking with the Cubs, he reached out to Ross and fellow former teammate Eric Hinske (who was on the Cubs coaching staff at the time) and used them as resources to see what things were really like with the team. 

Heyward believes the familiarity Kimbrel has with some of the guys already on the Cubs will only make it easier to gel and the veteran outfielder is looking forward to the team's new closer feeding off the vibe in the ballpark.

Those around baseball have long said the final three outs are the toughest to get in a game. The ninth inning in a close contest carries all kinds of pressure with it and a ballpark jam-packed with 40,000-plus screaming fans only intensifies that. For the Cubs to acquire a closer that not only thrives on that type of environment, but actually believes he NEEDS that energy to be successful, that's an ideal fit.

Joe Maddon spent nearly a decade managing in the AL East, so he knows all about the type of environment Kimbrel is coming from at Fenway and what he's about to step into here at Wrigley in a few weeks.

"The fact that he's thrived there — back to the mind once stretched theory — it's no different," Maddon said. "Having been successful there, he knows he can be successful anywhere. ... His answer did not surprise me — the adrenaline gig.

"Think about it: How many times have we talked about it in the past where you put a closer in the game when it's not a close situation and he does not perform well? It's all based on adrenaline, man. [The top closers are] good, plus they're adrenaline junkies. They really need that fix to get them over the top with their stuff.

"Love it. Absolutely love it. And then there's guys that just can't deal with that. The fact that he's dealt with it where he's dealt with it and the fact that he seeks it, I think is outstanding."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

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MLB NETWORK

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

Listen to Lee Smith's entire Hall of Fame induction speech in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs trade rumors: Nick Castellanos drawing interest and could be the perfect fit

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USA TODAY

Cubs trade rumors: Nick Castellanos drawing interest and could be the perfect fit

Ever since infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist hit the restricted list for personal reasons on May 8, one of the biggest talking points around the Cubs has been the team’s need for a steady, veteran bat.

Enter Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos.

Sunday, Chris McCosky of The Detroit News reported that the Cubs have emerged as a "serious suitor" for Castellanos, citing a source. 

McCosky’s report follows that of MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, who reported that the Cubs had a scout in attendance at Friday’s Tigers-Blue Jays game in Detroit.

It’s currently unclear what a trade package for Castellanos, 27, would look like, but his fit with the team is obvious. In Castellanos, the Cubs would acquire a veteran outfield bat, one that hits extremely well against left-handed pitching.

Castellanos, who is a free agent after this season, has mainly hit second and third for the Tigers and led the team with 23 home runs in 2018. He holds a .280/.339/.467 slashline, with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs this season. Those numbers are even better against left-handers — .377/.451/.639 — albeit in a small sample size of 61 at-bats. However, in his 6+ MLB seasons, he's hitting .302 with an .871 OPS against left-handed pitching. 

The Cubs have struggled against left-handed pitching in 2019, ranking 23rd in average (.243) and 28th in hits with 164. Castellanos would rank first among qualified Cubs hitters vs. left-handers in average and OBP and only trail Javier Baez’s .776 in slugging percentage.

While it's true that Castellanos hits left-handed pitching well, he'd instantly become an everyday player in the Cubs outfield. Thus, the Cubs depth chart would be hit with several ripple effects.

Albert Almora Jr.'s  playing time against right-handed starting pitching would be affected. Almora held a .282/.315/.369 slashline against right-handed pitching in 2018, but those numbers currently sit at .255/.291/.427.

Almora's numbers against lefites (.210/.247/.296) aren't better, but his 2018 slashline there (.295/.340/.402) leaves room for hope. Also, Kyle Schwarber is only hitting .224 against lefties, so adding Castellanos would likely mean Almora starts less against righties and Schwarber less against lefties. Almora does provide Gold Glove caliber defense, so the Cubs may be more inclined to let him work through his struggles at the plate.

Similarly, David Bote's playing time could also be affected by Castellanos. Without the latter, the Cubs have more of a need to play Kris Bryant in the outfield, meaning third base is open for Bote to play. Adding Castellanos might mean Bryant playing more third base and less outfield, so Bote would have to crack the starting lineup at second base, more likely than not. The same goes for Robel Garcia, though his bat is making it hard to keep him out of the starting lineup right now.

Between Almora and Schwarber's numbers and Zobrist’s absence, the Cubs have a glaring need for more outfield offense. Adding Castellanos could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Cubs offensively.

Update: Our David Kaplan added that the Cubs have also had discussions for Tigers closer Shane Greene.

Greene, 30, is arbitration eligible this offseason. The right-hander has converted 22 of his 25 save chances this season and has 40 strikeouts compared to 11 walks. However, his 3.54 FIP is a far cry from his 1.25 ERA, and the overriding thought has been that the Cubs would seek left-handed relief help rather than right-handed.

Greene entered Sunday with a lower ERA against lefties (0.64) than righties (1.29), though lefties are hitting .222 against him compared to .097 by righties. If the Cubs were to acquire him, he obviously wouldn't slot into the Cubs closer role, as Craig Kimbrel has the position locked down. As Kaplan noted, the cost to get both Castellanos and Greene would be steep, especially with the latter being a top relief arm on the trade market.

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