Brandon Morrow underwent elbow surgery on November 6th that may keep him on the shelf beyond Opening Day, Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com was among those to tweet. It was a debridement arthroscopic surgery, or a “cleanup of cartilage,” Jordan Bastian of MLB.com added.
Morrow, 34, had a successful, if short, first season in Chicago. He finished the year with 22 saves and a sparkling 1. 47 ERA, but a biceps injury in mid-July forced him to the DL, effectively ending his season. Though news out of Cubs camp repeatedly teased a Morrow return, he never did make it back for the second half of the season.
The news is certainly a blow for the Cubs, who struggled to keep their bullpen healthy towards the end of 2018. Still, it likely does not change Theo Epstein’s plans for the winter all that much, as the plan even before the surgery was to very carefully manage Morrow’s innings load next season. Though they do not appear to be big spenders in free agency, the bullpen is one area where it would not surprise to see the Cubs add a player or two through free agency.
Morrow would be the presumptive closer for the Cubbies in 2019, though they were always going to need a couple of guys to close out games, given Morrow’s limitations. Pedro Strop is one of those arms, and he likely steps in as the ninth-inning guy if Morrow does indeed remain on the shelf through Opening Day. Strop, 33, took on closing duties for most of Morrow’s absence, going 6-1 with a 2.26 ERA while recording 13 saves, though he too struggled with injuries down the stretch after straining a hamstring while running to first base.
Morrow signed in Chicago after a resurgent 2017 campaign where he served as a dependable arm down the stretch for Dave Roberts’ Dodgers. He was especially effective in the NLCS, helping the Dodgers win the pennant by downing the Cubs before joining them in free agency. He enters 2019 on the second year of a two-year, $21MM guarantee. He earned $9MM in 2018 and is set to earn another $9MM in 2019. The deal includes a vesting option for 2020 worth $12MM or a $3MM buyout.