David Phelps

Cubs decline 2020 options on four pitchers, including former closer Brandon Morrow

Cubs decline 2020 options on four pitchers, including former closer Brandon Morrow

The Cubs have declined the 2020 team options on four pitchers, the club announced on Monday.

Tony Barnette ($3 million), Kendall Graveman ($3 million), Brandon Morrow ($12 million vesting option) had minimal-to-no impacts on the field for the Cubs in 2019. Barnette started the season in Triple-A, joining the Cubs in June for two appearances before getting sent back to Iowa. He went on the restricted list soon thereafter to contemplate his future in baseball.

The Cubs signed Graveman last offseason, a move viewed as more for the 2020 season than 2019. The 28-year-old right-hander — who holds a career 4.38 ERA in 83 games (78 starts) — underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2018. He was expected to miss at least a chunk of the 2019 season, at least, and while he made one rehab start with Iowa, he has yet to throw a pitch with the Cubs.

Morrow was stellar for the Cubs when healthy (35 games, 1.47 ERA, 22-of-24 save chances in 2018), but he last pitched on July 15, 2018. He missed the entire 2018 second half due to right biceps inflammation, eventually undergoing a debridement procedure on his right elbow last November.

That procedure was expected to keep Morrow out for at least the first month of the 2019 season. However, he suffered two setbacks during his rehab (in April and August), the latter of which ended his season. The Cubs bullpen missed Morrow dearly, struggling in high-leverage spots all season while blowing 28 saves (tied for sixth-most in MLB). Craig Kimbrel was supposed to help address these issues, but he struggled to get into a groove after missing spring training and seeing his free agency last into June.

Although Morrow didn't make any appearances to come close to qualifying for the vesting option, the Cubs do owe him a $3 million buyout.

The Cubs also declined David Phelps’ 2020 option, which rose from $3 million to $5 million because he made 40 overall appearances in 2019. Phelps joined the Cubs in a trade deadline deal with the Blue Jays, posting a 3.18 ERA in 24 appearances on the North Side.

While it’s very unlikely Barnette and Morrow will return, it’s possible that the Cubs could re-sign Graveman and Phelps. The former would provide starting rotation depth in a 2020 group that has some question marks behind Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester. And depending on the number, Phelps could be a solid bullpen piece in a group that the Cubs surely will address this winter.

The Cubs have no decisions left regarding 2020 team options. Over the weekend, they declined lefty Derek Holland's ($6.5 million, $500,000 buyout) and picked up the options of José Quintana ($10.5 million) and Anthony Rizzo ($16.5 million).

The Cubs also added right-hander Colin Rea to the 40-man roster and outrighted Allen Webster to Iowa's roster. Rea went 14-4 with a 3.95 ERA with Iowa in 2019 and was named Pitcher of the Year in the Pacific Coast League. Rea presents the Cubs with more rotation depth for 2020.

Chicago's 40-man roster now stands at 32 players.

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Craig Kimbrel looks to be finding his chill-inducing form again for Cubs

Craig Kimbrel looks to be finding his chill-inducing form again for Cubs

Craig Kimbrel is once again starting to look like the lockdown closer everybody expected him to be.

And it couldn't come at a more perfect time for the Cubs.

Kimbrel was activated off the injured list last weekend following a bout of right knee inflammation and after allowing a solo homer in a blowout Sunday, he picked up back-to-back saves Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Cubs have not wanted to push Kimbrel all season and that's especially the case when he's fresh off the IL. So after working consecutive nights, Joe Maddon turned to Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick to pitch the ninth inning of Thursday's 1-0 nail-biter.

The 31-year-old Kimbrel tossed two perfect innings against the Giants in the series, striking out half the batters he faced and in the process, took over the team lead for saves on the season from Pedro Strop.

Kimbrel has now gone 11-for-13 in save situations despite a 5.28 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 15.1 innings and the pair of appearances at Wrigley Field this week was as encouraging as it gets.

"He looked really good [Wednesday] night - possibly the best I've seen him," Maddon said. "The fastball was that good; the curveball was that good."

The Cubs signed Kimbrel to a three-year, $43 million deal in June to help shore up the back end of the bullpen, but they still are tied for the MLB lead with 24 blown saves.

That's been a byproduct of multiple late meltdowns on the road, which includes a couple of issues in Pennsylvania on the most recent trip when Kimbrel was on the shelf. But he's also been a part of that problem, serving up a pair of homers July 27 in Milwaukee and also taking the loss July 3 in Pittsburgh to blow late leads.

Then again, nobody's perfect and Kimbrel - who is on a Hall of Fame trajectory with 344 saves to his name and a career 2.00 ERA - hasn't blown a save in nearly a month now. 

Fans aren't the only ones who get caught up in the moment when "Sweet Child O' Mine" starts blaring over the Wrigley loudspeakers.

"It's Craig Kimbrel. You can't help but just watch him run in from the bullpen every time and get chills," Anthony Rizzo said. "I'm fortunate enough to play with him and - in my opinion - another Hall of Fame closer in [Aroldis] Chapman. It's fun to see these guys just come out."

Kimbrel hasn't exactly had a normal year, missing spring training and the first two months of the season while in a free agency stalemate with the rest of the league. So it's understandable there would be a bit of a build-up period as he find his form again.

When he signed, the Cubs felt they were addressing their biggest weakness and elongating the bullpen. 

They need him to be that right now in a tight divisional race, especially as we move into September and the Cubs playing their best baseball of the season. 

Thursday's win over the Giants ensured the first winning streak of at least five games since April 27-May 5, when Kimbrel was still throwing bullpens to his buddy on his Alabama farm.

The Cubs haven't had much time this season with their bullpen truly at full strength, but it looks to be the case at the moment, as Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop are all off the injured list and Kimbrel is starting to get locked in. The emergence of Wick and Ryan have been huge and Maddon is still finding the best spots to work the newest additions - David Phelps and Derek Holland - into the mix.

A lights-out Kimbrel would make things so much easier for the Cubs and their fans, reducing the sales of Rolaids in every corner of Chicago.

"He brings a lot of stability to our bullpen," Phelps said. "We got a lot of really talented arms out there and I think as this season continues to progress, our ability to get the ball to Craig is gonna really be what determines whether we win a lot of games or not. 

"Being on the other side for a number of years, seeing him come in and close things out, we know what to expect when he takes the ball. Anytime we see him running out with the lead in the ninth, it's a good feeling. He has the ability to come in and just dominate. I think that's what we're starting to see now that he's getting more comfortable out there - the stuff's back to what it is. 

"He's fun to watch, whether he's just playing catch or throwing off a mound or throwing in a game - just watch the way the ball comes out of his hand. It really is a treat to watch him get after it."