The Cubs announced Wednesday that they’ve placed closer Brandon Morrow on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to June 17. Morrow was unavailable in yesterday’s doubleheader due to back spasms. Right-hander Justin Hancock, whom the Cubs recalled to serve as the 26th man in yesterday’s twin bill, will remain on the roster for the time being. To this point in the season, Morrow has made good on the Cubs’ two-year, $21MM investment, pitching to a 1.59 ERA with 9.9 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 0.4 HR/9 with a career-best 53.6 percent ground-ball rate through 22 2/3 innings. Chicago has been cautious in its usage of Morrow in an effort to protect the injury-prone righty’s arm; he’s yet to pitch more than an inning in any appearance, and he hasn’t pitched on three consecutive days all season. There’s no indication as to how long Morrow will be expected to miss, though there’s little reason to believe that this’ll be a lengthy absence. With Morrow on the disabled list, righties Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop stand out as the likeliest candidates to get the call in save opportunities.
When Mike Montgomery stepped into the Cubs’ rotation following Yu Darvish’s placement on the 10-day disabled list skipper Joe Maddon characterized the move as temporary and suggested that the lefty would be bullpen-bound once everyone was healthy. After four excellent starts by Montgomery, though, GM Jed Hoyer is making no such proclamations, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes.
Hoyer suggests that the Cubs will “use common sense,” noting how well Montgomery has pitched and plainly stating that the front office has taken notice. The GM also stressed, however, that his comments don’t necessarily indicate that one of the team’s five members of the Opening Day rotation — Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood and Darvish — will be losing his spot, either.
[Related: Chicago Cubs depth chart]
The Cubs have utilized a six-man rotation in the past, and it seems that could be a possibility based on Hoyer’s comments. Darvish is set to throw a simulated game on Tuesday of this week, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat wrote last night, and Montgomery will step up and make his fifth start in place of Darvish on that same day. It’s not hard to see why Montgomery at least has the Cubs thinking about altering their plans; in 23 2/3 innings over four starts in place of Darvish, he’s pitched to a 1.14 ERA with a 14-to-3 K/BB ratio. While the lack of punchouts isn’t ideal, Montgomery has induced grounders at a 60.9 percent clip and has allowed hard contact at a below-average clip (29 percent) while inducing plenty of weak contact (21.7 percent) as well.
Of course, Montgomery has had opportunities in the rotation in the past and has not locked down a long-term spot in the Cubs’ rotation, so it’s not especially surprising to hear Hoyer imply that the four-start stretch, while impressive, isn’t guaranteeing him anything. Beyond that, the Cubs have invested significant financial resources in Darvish (six years, $126MM) and Chatwood (three years, $38MM). While both have struggled — Darvish with home runs and Chatwood with a staggering 8.2 BB/9 mark — each right-hander figures to be afforded ample opportunity to work things out given those contractual obligations.
- The Cubs aren’t yet sure what their plans are for the trade deadline, GM Jed Hoyer told Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription link). “What we may need on July 31 may be totally different than what we know sitting here right now,” Hoyer said. “I do think that right now the answers are here….Now, that might not be the answer in six weeks. But I think that’s the answer today.” Chicago already has quite a bit of depth and talent on the roster, plus Yu Darvish and Carl Edwards Jr. will provide reinforcements upon returning from the disabled list, though it would be surprising if the Cubs didn’t make at least one notable addition as they push for another postseason berth.
If Orioles shortstop Manny Machado becomes a free agent in the offseason, “the Cubs would be high on his list because of his friendship with Albert Almora,” Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe hears. Machado and Almora, the Cubs’ center fielder, have been close friends since childhood – something David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune detailed back in 2016. The two may end up on the same team as early as this summer, given the high likelihood the Orioles will trade Machado and the speculation linking him to the Cubs. Although, team president Theo Epstein threw cold water on Machado-to-Chicago rumors last month.
Top Cubs pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is slated to miss the remainder of the season, GM Jed Hoyer told reporters including Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). The recovery timeline for the lat injury he suffered recently is too lengthy to make a return plausible.
Clearly, that’s disappointing news for the Chicago organization and its prized young hurler. The 23-year-old was seen as a rising talent entering the year, topping most lists of the best prospects in a generally low-rated farm.
It surely seemed possible, at least, that Alzolay would factor as soon as the current season and certainly by 2019. He had not exactly dominated in eight starts at Triple-A, working to a 4.76 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 over 39 2/3 innings, but was (and is) still seen as a big talent within the organization.
As Hoyer put it, via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat (on Twitter): “It’s a setback for 2018 but we don’t see it as a setback for his career. We love the makeup, love the stuff. We think he’ll help us a lot in the future.”
It’s obviously still possible that Alzolay will be a notable part of the Cubs’ depth chart next year. But the loss will tell. He will miss a lot of development opportunities, while the team will not get to evaluate him as fully. Most notably of all, perhaps, is the simple question of innings. Alzolay had not previously topped 120 1/3 in a full season. Even if he is able to log some frames in fall or winter ball, that’s not going to make the Cubs comfortable pushing him out next season.
Fortunately for the Cubs, the 2019 rotation is already fully accounted for (assuming full health). Still, Alzolay’s injury situation will impact the team’s planning. Per Hoyer, via ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers (on Twitter): “We’ll be on the lookout for rotation depth and in the bullpen, no matter what, but this [injury to Alzolay] underscores that a little bit.”
First baseman Efren Navarro has officially been released by the Cubs and reached an agreement with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. The Tigers themselves announced the agreement.
Navarro, 32, was designated for assignment by the Cubs back in late May and cleared waivers. The Cubs organization placed Navarro on the temporarily inactive list in the minors while apparently hammering out compensation with the Tigers in exchange for granting Navarro his release and allowing him to make the jump to NPB.
A longtime Angels farmhand, Navarro has seen action in parts of six Major League seasons, appearing in 157 games and hitting .241/.304/.331 in a limited sample of 355 plate appearances. He’s a career .304/.371/.428 hitter in parts of eight Triple-A seasons, though, and had been enjoying a strong year there in 2018, hitting .310/.386/.440 with the Cubs’ top affiliate in Iowa. Navarro has struck out in just 15.8 percent of his career plate appearances in Triple-A and walked at a 9.7 percent clip, so he’ll bring a mix of plate discipline and on-base skills to his new club overseas.
Here are the day’s deals of note from the top few rounds of the draft (rankings referenced are courtesy of Baseball America, MLB.com, Fangraphs and ESPN’s Keith Law — with the scouting reports from MLB and Fangraphs both coming free to the general public) …
- Athletics second-round pick Jeremy Eierman will receive a $1,232,000 bonus, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). That’s well over the $872,400 slot value that came with the 70th pick. The Missouri State produce drew big grades from BA (#26) and MLB.com (#29) as the top collegiate shortstop, with both a history of productivity and an intriguing power/speed offensive profile for a player who could potentially stick at shortstop. Analysts also note that an offensive downturn in the just-completed season introduced new questions about his long-term outlook.
- The Cubs are in agreement with second-round pick Brennen Davis on a $1.1MM bonus, Callis reports on Twitter. That checks in just north of the 62nd pick’s $1,060,900 allocation. Davis ranked 81st on the Fangraphs board, with physical tools and projection driving the outfielder’s draft standing. He had been committed to the University of Miami.
- The Padres will pay out $2.6MM to land supplemental first-round choice Xavier Edwards, according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis (Twitter link). A consensus first-round talent, Edwards went 38th overall ($1,878,300 allocation) and required a well-over-slot bonus to give up his commitment to Vanderbilt. Fangraphs was the highest outlet on the Florida high-schooler, ranking him 17th among all eligible players based upon his outstanding speed, quality bat, and promising outlook as an up-the-middle defender.
- The Rays have deals in place with compensation selection Nick Schnell and competitive balance Round B choice Tanner Dodson, according to reports from Callis (Twitter links) and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (also on Twitter). Schnell will receive $2.3MM; the high-school outfielder was chosen with the 32nd overall pick, which comes with a $2,171,700 slot value. He’s credited with a quality tool set and what MLB.com calls an “extremely projectable frame.” Tampa Bay will save some money on Dodson, whose $997,500 bonus falls shy of the $1,228,000 slot value at #71. He’s valued most as a power pitcher but is also said to have legitimate talent as a switch-hitting outfielder, which could give the Rays another multi-functional prospect to work with.
- Second-round choice Nick Sandlin will go to the Indians for $750K, Callis tweets, which will leave some savings against the $939,700 pick allocation. With the signing, the Cleveland organization will add a highly effective collegiate hurler who is known less for his pure stuff than for his wide pitch mix and use of varied arm angles. Sandlin cracked the top 100 list of the Fangraphs team and landed within the top 200 draft prospects as graded by Baseball America and MLB.com. It certainly seems he’ll be an interesting player to follow as a professional.
Left-hander Drew Smyly threw a 25-pitch live batting practice session over the weekend and feels that he’s getting close to the end of his rehab from Tommy John surgery, writes Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription link). General manager Jed Hoyer and president of baseball ops Theo Epstein watched the session, and Hoyer tells Mooney that Smyly looked “free and easy” in his first throwing session against live hitters. “He is going to be in the back of our mind as we think through the rest of our season and how we approach both deadlines in July and August,” says Hoyer of Smyly, who is coming up on the one-year anniversary of his TJ surgery later this month. Mooney speaks with both Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon about the struggles of Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood thus far. Both expressed optimism that the righties can turn things around, though Hoyer acknowledged the importance of eventually getting into “sustained turn-after-turn consistency” in the starting rotation in order to best position the team to win the division and embark on a deep playoff run.
Here’s more out of the North Side of Chicago…
- Offseason pickups Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek have been outstanding for the Cubs, writes Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago/670 The Score, but the team will need to eventually receive more innings out of its rotation if it is to sustain its current pace. Cishek is on pace for 80 appearances, while the trio of Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Justin Wilson are all on pace for 72 to 75 games pitched. Levine speculates that both Kelvin Herrera and Brad Hand will be deadline targets for the Cubs, writing that Chicago tried to pry Hand away from the Padres last summer but balked when San Diego asked for Javier Baez in return. Levine chatted with an NL East scout to get an opinion on both Herrera and Hand, each of whom is off to a brilliant start in 2018.
- Epstein spoke with Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times about his team’s approach to the 2018 trade deadline, noting that it’s still too early to assess just what type of players the Cubs will pursue. Epstein noted that in some seasons, it’s clear what areas of need a team will need to address for months in advance, but he doesn’t feel that to be the case with his 2018 club. “[A]s talented and as deep as we are in most areas, it’s more about observation and maintenance and trying to stay ahead of the depth areas,” said the Cubs president. Epstein noted that maintaining starting pitching depth is especially important but characterized that as more of a “contingency” than a need, adding that the team isn’t looking to supplant any of its starters. Wittenmyer writes that the Cubs plan to check in with the Orioles on Manny Machado once he’s more aggressively being shopped. However, the left side of the infield isn’t a need for the Cubs like it is for other teams, and Wittenmyer feels it’s “doubtful” that Chicago will be among the most aggressive suitors.
The Cubs are closing in on an agreement with first-round pick Nico Hoerner, reports Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (via Twitter). The former Stanford shortstop is expected to sign for the full slot value of $2.724MM that comes with the No. 24 overall selection, according to Mooney, and he’ll begin his pro career with the Cubs’ short-season Class-A affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds. MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat tweets that all that remains for the deal to be finalized is a physical, which should happen later this week.
Chicago, it seems, was a bit more bullish on Hoerner than most pre-draft rankings. Hoerner ranked 37th in the class in the estimation of Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, while ESPN’s Keith Law pegged him 39th, Baseball America ranked him 42nd and Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com tabbed him 52nd.
Those reports indicate that there’s somewhat of a split among scouts as to whether Hoerner can remain at shortstop or will require a move to second base or the outfield. BA makes note of his impressive exit velocity and strong hands, while all of the reports note his quality bat-to-ball skills and above-average speed. McDaniel and Longenhagen note that he has drawn some comparisons to Arizona’s Chris Owings.
Hoerner hit .345/.391/.496 at Stanford this past season, with two homers, 17 doubles, six triples and 15 steals (in 19 attempts) along the way. More impressively, he struck out just 22 times in 57 games played while drawing 20 walks in that time as well.
The Cubs have selected the contract of right-hander Anthony Bass from Triple-A Iowa, clearing space on the 25-man and 40-man rosters by optioning Cory Mazzoni and transferring Eddie Butler from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL (Twitter link via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune).
Bass, who turned 30 this offseason, has only pitched 5 2/3 innings in the Majors over the past two seasons, all coming with the Rangers last season. He spent the 2016 campaign with Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters, working to a 3.65 ERA in 103 2/3 innings.
That said, Bass still brings a fair bit of Major League experience to the table. The right-hander has logged 284 career innings, working to a 4.60 ERA with 6.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and a 47.6 percent ground-ball rate in the big leagues. He’s spent the season to date in Triple-A, pitching to a pristine 2.28 ERA with 20 strikeouts against six walks in 23 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.
Butler, meanwhile, has been out since April 20 due to a groin strain and has yet to be sent out on a minor league rehab assignment. He’s already nearing the 60-day mark on the disabled list, and being transferred over won’t reset the date on which he’s eligible to be activated. He’ll technically be eligible to activated later this month, though there’s no indication from the Cubs as to when he’ll be healthy enough to return.