The Cubs and right-hander Brandon Morrow are discussing a minor league contract that would bring the former closer back for a third season in the Cubs organization, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score/CBS Chicago reports (Twitter link). A deal isn’t close at this point and could still take a bit to be ironed out, per Levine. Mutual interest between the Cubs and Morrow was reported last month.
“The Cubs invested a lot of time into Brandon, and money, of course, and Brandon feels a certain sense of loyalty and obligation back to the Cubs to stay with them if they want him on a minor-league contract or something like that,” agent Joel Wolfe told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times in early November. Today’s report makes it all the more clear that the Cubs do indeed have interest in such a pact.
Some Cubs fans might bristle at the idea of continuing the relationship with Morrow, 35, after injuries limited him to just 30 2/3 innings over the life of his previous two-year, $21MM contract with the team. But Morrow was objectively excellent with the Cubs when healthy in 2018, pitching to a 1.47 ERA (2.96 FIP) with a 31-to-9 K/BB ratio and would’ve been a career-best 51.9 percent ground-ball rate had he sustained it for the remainder of the season.
Morrow was also one of the game’s best relievers with the Dodgers in 2017 when he posted a 2.06 ERA and a 50-to-9 K/BB ratio in 43 2/3 frames, although Los Angeles leaned heavily on the injury-prone righty in the postseason that year, as he appeared in 14 of their 15 games. The extent to which that heavy workload impacted Morrow’s first tenure with the Cubs can’t be known, but a biceps injury cut his 2018 season in half and he’s since undergone a pair of elbow surgeries without setting foot on a big league mound.
Successfully striking gold on Morrow, as the Dodgers did in 2017, would be a boon for what looks like an uncertain Chicago relief corps at the moment. Craig Kimbrel will be back in both 2020 and 2021, and the Cubs will have to hope that a normal offseason and a full Spring Training ramp-up period can help him round back into form after an ugly half-season debut in 2019. Meanwhile, veterans Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Brandon Kintzler have all set out into free agency, leaving Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick and demoted starter Tyler Chatwood among the likeliest names to be included in next year’s bullpen. The Cubs are reportedly taking a low-cost flier on righty Dan Winkler to perhaps join that group, but there’s quite a bit more work to do to turn this into anything resembling a reliable relief unit.