Cubs

What is Craig Kimbrel's timeline for joining Cubs?

What is Craig Kimbrel's timeline for joining Cubs?

The Cubs have done it — they've appeased every fan who has asked for them to sign Craig Kimbrel to bolster the team's bullpen.

But now when can fans see Kimbrel suiting up in Cubbie blue, dangling his arm in an upside down "W" right before the crowd flies the "W"?

There is no surefire answer right now, but the expectation is it will take at least three weeks for Kimbrel to get up to speed to join the big-league bullpen.

That's the standard time veteran relievers take in spring training to get ramped up for the season and the Cubs have no interest in rushing Kimbrel or jumping the gun just to get immediate help in the bullpen.

"First, I'd like to find out exactly what he's been doing," Joe Maddon said before Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Rockies. "It's different because a guy like himself, I would imagine he's really been throwing a lot. Maybe he's been on a particular schedule. I don't know if he's throwing to hitters wherever he's located. 

"The first thing you do is find that part of it out. And then after that, I think you can develop the length of whatever you want to do and then set up the program regarding throw — how many days off — throw and then possibly build it up to like two in a row, something like that. But I don't know the answer. 

"A three-week window normally sounds about right. Think about relief pitchers in spring training — we normally don't start them until the first week of March and then you're ready by April. Conventionally, it would be like that kind of a window. But you gotta talk to the guy first and see what he's been doing."

If, say, Kimbrel passed the physical and was able to get out to a Cubs minor-league affiliate and throw in a game on Saturday, that would put the three-week mark at June 29. And that's if everything goes smoothly.

So it would be surprising if we see Kimbrel pitching out of the Cubs bullpen anytime before July 1.

As a window into the Cubs' line of thinking on this, look at the Pedro Strop situation last month. Strop was returning from a hamstring injury and insisted he would be ready to rejoin the team without a rehab assignment. But the Cubs sent him to Triple-A Iowa anyways and he actually made three separate appearances there before coming back up to the majors.

The reason for that was simple — the Cubs wanted to ensure Strop was 100 percent before returning and they wanted to see how his body and hamstring responded in the days after appearances. They know they're going to need to lean heavily on Strop in September and October and they don't want to push him now, in late-May/early-June,  and risk reinjury.

The same big-picture thinking applies to Kimbrel, who hasn't thrown in a game since Oct. 27 — Game 4 of the World Series.

"He's an elite talent. I'm sure he's been throwing, throwing live [bullpens], but it's not the same unless you get in the game," veteran reliever Steve Cishek said. "I'm assuming he's gonna have a couple weeks to ramp up and get his arm where it needs to be. In that time, we're just gonna continue to hold down the fort like we've been doing. When he gets here, definitely a big added bonus."

Cishek and other Cubs veteran relievers have acknowledged that it takes about three weeks to get up to speed in spring training. 

So that's the baseline the Cubs are going to try to establish for Kimbrel, who hasn't pitched competitively in a game in seven months. But that's still something they have to discuss with the 31-year-old closer and he can shed more light on what he's been doing during the first couple months of the MLB season.

But at the very least, the Cubs are planning on having Kimbrel ready to go for the entire second half of the season and — they hope — in the playoffs, as well. They also feel there could be a hidden benefit in that Kimbrel may well be fresh come September and October.

There's plenty of reason to take things slow, even amidst a hotly contested NL Central race (the Cubs and Brewers are tied atop the division entering play Friday). The Cubs have eyes on another championship ring and Kimbrel is under contract through at least the 2021 season — the same length of time as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, among others. 

"It's just about getting your arm in shape, making sure everything's sharp, but mostly, it's just getting those reps, make sure you don't blow out," Cishek said. "If you try to rush it too quick, that's when things can go wrong. 

"Getting that stamina back up to where it needs to be because when you face hitters, it's way different than throwing a bullpen. Your heart rate's up, you're throwing everything with more intent, so just gotta get back into game shape."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

This has been the offseason of Kris Bryant rumors and with his grievance still unresolved Cubs fans can only speculate what will happen to the MVP. Is Kris Bryant trying to change the system like Curt Flood did? Host David Kaplan is joined by ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers to discuss Bryant's future as a Cub, and the lackluster offseason the Cubs have had.

(1:50) - Why the Cubs have not made any moves so far

(3:32) - Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

(6:26) - Cubs need upgrades, specifically in the bullpen

(9:10) - Will the Cubs make a big move before the season starts?

(11:30) - Does Javy Baez get the big extension?

(14:45) - Will the Cubs get to 86 wins this year?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

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USA TODAY

Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are reportedly close to a deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions.

Souza had a career year with the Rays in 2017, slashing .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+. Those figures were career-bests for Souza, minus his batting average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than the MLB average (23).

The signing of Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

Assuming he stays healthy, Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. He’ll add power to the middle of the order and add a proven bat to an outfield with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another bat in case those two slump again.