Chicago Cubs

Cubs Add Another Reliever in the Veteran Cishek

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By Todd Johnson

The Cubs signed free agent reliever Steve Cishek this morning. The side slinging righty could fit one of several roles next year including setup man and/or closer.

In 2017, the 31-year-old veteran pitched for Seattle and Tampa for 44.2 innings and put up a WHIP of 0.896. With an ERA of 2.01 and a FIP of 3.34, he will give Manager Joe Maddon another nice, but somewhat fragile, arm to mix and match at the back end of games. What I like most is that Cishek has a K to BB ratio of 2.96, something Theo Epstein has emphasized in collecting this winter.

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Cubs Add Pitcher Drew Smyly, More for 2019 than 2018

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By Todd Johnson

After undergoing TJS last summer, the odds of Drew Smyly starting for the Cubs in 2018 are very slim. However, the Cubs inked the 6’3″ starting pitcher to a two-year deal tonight. If his rehab is spectacular, he could appear in August or September of 2018.

In his brief career, the 28-year-old left-handed Smyly has started for Detroit and Tampa and was recently a Mariner but did not appear in any regular season games in 2017. He has a career 3.74 ERA in 85 games.

It looks like the Cubs are just getting started wheeling and dealing. The GM Meetings conclude Thursday with the Rule V Draft.

Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10 Cubs Prospect List is Pitching Heavy and Young

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By Todd Johnson

The prospect list season is going quick this year. Usually, the major lists are spread out over four months. Not this year. So far, four of the six major lists have been published leaving only MLB Pipeline and Keith Law to go. On Monday, Baseball Prospectus joined the early crowd with their list of top 10 Cubs prospects.

However, despite the current state of the Cubs system, there is still plenty of room for hope and plenty of time for these prospects to develop into players that can contribute at the major-league level.

Baseball Prospectus can be a little bit out there in it’s ranking of Cubs prospects. In 2015, they ranked Addison Russell at number one ahead of Kris Bryant. In 2015, BP placed Gleyber Torres first and followed that up with Eloy Jimenez last year. Heading into this year’s list, I thought it would be one of three prospects: Adbert Alzolay, Aramis Ademan, or Jose Albertos.

There was nothing shocking in the list. Right-handed starting pitchers dominated the list followed by one lefty starter, a switch-hitting catcher and a soon to be 19-year-old shortstop.

The Top Ten
1. Adbert Alzolay, RHP; 2. Jose Albertos, RHP; 3. Aramis Ademan, SS; 4. Brendon Little, LHP; 5. Alex Lange, RHP; 6. Victor Caratini, C; 7. Thomas Hatch, RHP; 8. Oscar de la Cruz, RHP; 9. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP; and 10. Alec Mills, RHP

In years past, Twitter exchanges could get hot and heavy over which Cubs prospect made a list or did not make a list. I don’t think anyone’s going to be fighting over whether Alec Mills is at number 10. Times have changed. And more importantly, that goes to show just how much focus is now on the major league club.

The Hope
One key to understanding the system and just how raw it is comes from the fact that many of the prospects who might eventually make a top 100 list are 18-19 years old and only Ademan has played  in South Bend and full season baseball. A year from now, this list is going to be totally different and filled with Albertos and other young prospects like Jeremiah Estrada, Nelson Velazquez, and Javier Assad. That’s where the hope is.

BP discussed many of them in their “second ten” section. There’s a lot of depth in the system just based on this section.

Who Is Missing?
It’s stunning what two months of a rough stretch in baseball can do to career, as well as an injury. For Trevor Clifton, he had an outstanding first half (2.84 ERA in 12 starts) at Tennessee and then fell apart in the second. I am still hopeful that he can get it back to what he was like in the first half of 2017. I don’t know how one could give up on him so fast.

Jake Stinnett missed most of the year but came back in August and also pitched in the Arizona Fall League. He showed that he could possibly be a reliever.

Coming Up
I’m looking forward to MLB Pipeline’s list which should be out sometime in January. It’s a little bit more extensive in that they rank 30 prospects. Keith Law usually waits until February to publish his list and I had not planned on doing an updated Top 21 list this winter unless there’s a trade. Who knows, anything could happen this week.

Cubs Sign Reliever Brandon Morrow – It’s a Slight Gamble

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The Cubs went and got themselves another pitcher this afternoon in reliever Brandon Morrow.  Morrow signed a two-year deal (which I like) with an option and he fits the mold of a strike thrower (which Theo Epstein likes).

Morrow pitched last year with the Dodgers as a setup man and could be the closer with the Cubs. A former starting pitcher with Seattle, Toronto, and San Diego, Morrow has struggled in the past with injuries. In 7 seasons as a starter, he only threw over 100 innings 3 times, never coming close to 200 innings. Ironically, he started relieving in 2016 with the Padres.

He remained healthy all of last year as a reliever. With the Dodgers, Morrow appeared in 45 games throwing 43.2 IP. He struck out 50 and walked only 9 as opponents managed to hit .192 against him.

In the 2017 NLCS, Theo got a close up look at Morrow’s talents as Morrow consistently hit the upper 90s on the radar gun. Almost 70% of his pitches find the strike zone. His strikeout rate of 29.4% is impressive as is his walk rate of 5.3%.

Right now, Morrow slides into the back of the pen as a power arm with pitching experience but little experience as a closer. In his second year (2008) as pro in Seattle, Morrow saved 10 out of 12 games, 6 out of 8 in 2009, and just 2 out of 3 last year. As a result, the Cubs are taking a slight gamble and banking on Morrow’s track record the last two years out of the pen.

The Cubs are far from done in filling out their roster. They should be adding at least one more arm to the bullpen this week, likely a left-hander. It will interesting to see how that arm fits in with Morrow.

Ohtani Signs with the Angels but the Off-Season Is Far from Over

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By Todd Johnson

The dream is now over. The off season is not.

At first, I thought Shohei Ohtani would wait until next week to make his decision. Instead, he chose today. In choosing an American League team, Ohtani chose wisely. He can DH and pitch and might avoid playing in the field.

The Cubs now need to go out and get another starting pitcher or two.

It’s been obvious that the Cubs had four needs this off-season: replace Arrieta and Lackey in the rotation, acquire more relief help, sign a veteran backup catcher to a short-term contract, and possibly acquire another outfielder.

So far, the Cubs have gotten some relief help but things began to change a little bit on Thursday afternoon when the Cubs signed Chatwood to a three-year deal. At first, I thought the Cubs might be moving on from Otani. They were.

Like everyone else, I also thought signing Alex Cobb was pretty much written in stone as a pitcher the Cubs would acquire. So, if the Cubs get Chatwood and Cobb, would they be done?

As the day wore on yesterday, I kept thinking back to tweets by several people that the Cubs might go to a six man rotation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but I would not be surprised if it did. This would allow for some extra rest for the rotation. The issue would be in acquiring quality depth.

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Word also came down on Thursday night that outfielder Giancarlo Stanton would waive his no trade clause to go to the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, and Cubs. My first thought was to think one year ahead to when Bryce Harper could sign a contract to play with his best friend, Kris Bryant. My brain did not explode, but it was pretty close. It did not take long for me to realize there’s no way the Cubs could afford to take on $70 million of both Harper and Stanton in salary. The Cubs are going to get one or the other unless they trade Heyward.

The idea of the Cubs acquiring Stanton is not that far fetched. The main reason that it is plausible is that the Cubs have the money to take on all of that salary. They may not have the high-end prospects of other teams, but they do have some players who are going to be good professionals

Such a move would strip the farm system for the time being. But this is Giancarlo Stanton of 59 home runs last year. I could see him slide in the number four spot right behind Anthony Rizzo. That could be a devastating lineup for the next four years, just devastating. I can only begin to imagine the headache of every pitcher and manager in the NL Central having to face that lineup five times every day

I wish I did have a crystal ball so that I could look into the future and see what the Cubs roster looks like when spring training opens in two months. Even without Ohtani, it could still be special.

Cubs Sign Free Agent Pitcher Tyler Chatwood to 3-Year Deal

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By Todd Johnson

It is the not the news I was expecting to hear today, but signing Tyler Chatwood to be a back of the rotation starter is alright with me.

Chatwood will turn 28 next week on the 16th. The 3-year $38 million deal is a pretty decent sign for a guy whose ERA away from Coors Field  last year was 3.49. In 77.1 IP in other parks, Chatwood struck out 62, walked 40, and opponents only hit .200 against him. He does throw 5 pitches. However, after having 2 TJS (one at age 16), he was reaching the mid 90s (averaging 94.84) on his fastball summer, the highest peak since his last surgery in 2014.

Originally drafted the Angels in 2018, he debuted with the Angels in 2011. Chatwood has spent most of his pro career in Colorado – not an ideal location for a pitcher.  His best year was 2013 (a year before TJS) when he made 20 starts with a 3/15 ERA.

(Graph courtesy of MLB.com)

Still young, Chatwood will be entering the prime of his pitching career as a Cub.

Hopefully, he will not be the only addition this week to the Cubs’ rotation.

The Cubs’ Bullpen Looks to Be Gutted

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By Todd Johnson

Pedro Strop.
Carl Edwards, Jr.
Mike Montgomery.
Justin Grimm.
Justin Wilson.

Those names don’t exactly exude confidence to get the final three to nine outs of a game. After yesterday’s announcement that the Cubs did not tender a contract to reliever Hector Rondon, new pitching coach Jim Hickey’s job just tougher, a lot tougher. At over $6 million, Rondon’s contract was getting too pricey to just be a setup man. The Cubs essentially said, “Thank you for service, but no thanks for 2018.” As a result, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer now have their work cut out for themselves this offseason.

Originally, just Wade Davis and Brian Duensing had left via free agency. The Cubs now have to replace half their pen and add depth to stash at AAA Iowa, which appears to be well underway.

Since the end of last season, the Cubs have taken some flyers on some arms with minimal MLB experience. Righty Luke Farrell could relieve, he could start. He has 13 career MLB innings. Righty Cory Mazzoni has 16 career innings to go with his shiny 17.28 career ERA. Lefty Randy Rosario’s career ERA is a whopping 30.86 in just  2.1 innings. And this week, the Cubs signed 29-year-old lefty Dario Alvarez. He might be alright. He threw 16 IP in 2017 with a 2.67 ERA but also put up an unsustainable whip of 2.02. He walked 14 batters. I thought his signing was a little odd as Theo talked about adding strike throwers in his offseason press sessions. I don’t think that is what he had in mind.

After seeing those stats, I am not brimming with confidence. I am not in sheer terror either, but I am concerned. The Cubs will need to find a closer and a couple of setup men while adding depth at AAA.

Theo is going to have hit the free agent market and maybe use the Rule 5 Draft (Kohl Stewart of Minnesota is one name I like) as a cheaper option. Theo has been able to find arms in the past rather cheaply and I am sure he will again. In addition, I would not be surprised to see Theo make a trade for an arm or two rather than overpay in the free agent market or in an international free agent.

Here are some free agent names to look for to see if the Cubs are associated with or show interest in over the next month:
Brian Shaw, Brandon Morrow, Pat Neshek, Brandon Kintzler, Addison Reed, Juan Nicasio, Luke Gregerson, Fernando Rodney, Matt Albers, Tony Watson, and Jake McGee.

As for internal options…
Dillon Maples is close to being ready. While he has top flight MLB pitches, it is just a matter of controlling them. At 25, he now stands a better chance of making the 25 man roster. I always thought that Jen-Ho Tseng’s change-curve combo would play better out of the pen than as a starter. He could get that chance in 2018. While Rob Zastryzny is an option, but I don’t know if I see him as a long term option. Justin Hancock is another strong arm. He had an up and down year year for three MiLB teams in 2017, but he does throw in the upper 90s. David Garner finally made it to AAA in August but struggled in his one month there. He is going to need some seasoning at that level. One name I like is Tommy Nance. He spent all of 2017 injured. He reminds me of Brandon Webb in that he throws a “hard” ball that breaks a lot of bats. Nance would be a very longshot to make the team, but I could see him getting a shot later in the summer if all goes well with his health.

In the end, adding three to four more arms to a corps that struggled to find the plate in 2018 is a bit concerning. All last night I kept wondering if Theo would overpay for pen security or would he try to find undervalued arms somewhere. However, heading into day 2 of the Shohei Otani watch, rebuilding the pen could take a while as the Cubs do have more pressing needs at starting pitching. Once the Otani dust settles, it should be interesting to see how the bullpen shakes down.