- While the Cubs “are kicking the tires of every free-agent starter” as they look for a top-of-the-rotation arm, they’re unwilling to meet any of their asking prices as of now, Bob Nightengale of USA Today relays (Twitter link). Of the best starters available – Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn – the latter is the only one who hasn’t drawn reported interest from the Cubs this offseason. Although, one could infer from Nightengale’s tweet that the Cubs have at least given the longtime Cardinal some consideration.
- Speaking of the Cubs’ pitching search, they were in the thick of the Shohei Ohtani derby earlier this month before he signed with the Angels. Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks told Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago that he was involved in the team’s recruiting pitch to Ohtani. The Cubs had Hendricks join them in their Los Angeles meeting with Ohtani because his low-key demeanor is similar to the Japanese superstar’s, per Levine. “It was very humbling and pretty cool to be invited,” Hendricks said. “It was great to be in the room and see the process. He is such a great talent, and it was enjoyable to see what type of guy he is — very down to earth and a humble guy. Even with the language barrier, Theo let me know what his personality was like. He was all baseball all of the time. We have some similarities, so it was fun to go there and talk baseball with him.”
Dec. 16: The Cubs have announced the signing. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports that the two-year deal is worth $13MM. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish adds that the deal includes up to $1MM in performance escalators based on appearances.
Dec. 14: The Cubs have agreed to terms with righty Steve Cishek, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Once he passes a physical, the Jet Sports Management client is expected to receive a two-year deal worth somewhere in the range of $12MM to $14MM, per ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter).
Cishek, 31, has had a few ups and downs at times in recent years and has played with four organizations in the past three seasons. For the most part, though, he has continued to function as a quality setup option.
In the 2017 campaign, Cishek opened with the Mariners and ended up moving to the Rays via mid-season trade. With an excellent push down the stretch in Tampa Bay, he ended the season with 44 2/3 innings of 2.01 ERA ball and 8.3 K/9 with 2.8 BB/9. As usual, Cishek was tough to square up; he permitted just 26 base hits and three total home runs on the season.
Those results came despite a notable velocity drop from Cishek, who delivered his two-seam fastball at less than 91 mph for the first time in his career. His slider came in eight ticks slower than it did in his debut season, continuing a trend, though it also gained horizontal movement.
The sidearming Cishek will offer a different look out of a re-worked Cubs pen. He joins Brandon Morrow as multi-year free agent additions for Chicago thus far. It still seems likely the organization will look for additional pieces over the coming weeks.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
According to Bruce Levine of CBS Sports Chicago, the Cubs and Indians have “had trade talk conversations,” and right-hander Danny Salazar’s name has come up. The Indians are reportedly asking for left-handed hitting in exchange. Levine adds that there is “nothing close at this time.”
That the Indians are willing to entertain trade scenarios involving Salazar is a bit unexpected, but makes some sense considering the depth of the team’s rotation and the 2017 emergence of Mike Clevinger as a solid starter. With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer also in the fold, the Indians are one of very few MLB teams who have an abundance of viable major league starters.
Perhaps the bigger surprise is that the Indians are asking for lefty hitters in exchange. Based on a quick glance at the Tribe’s roster, one might guess that the Tribe would want players who hit from the right side of the plate. Their projected Opening Day lineup for 2018 (via Roster Resource) includes six players capable of hitting left-handed (switch-hitters Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez among them), while their righty options beyond Edwin Encarnacion haven’t proven themselves to be above-average hitters. If the Indians are indeed looking for a left-handed hitter, perhaps it’s an indication that trade talks for Jason Kipnis are in the more advanced stages, though that’s purely my own speculation.
It’s unclear whether the talks for Salazar came before or after the recent signing of Drew Smyly, who carries both similar upside and similar injury risk. If they came (or continued) after the Smyly signing, one might wonder whether the Cubs intend to use one of Salazar or Smyly as a bullpen arm; four rotation spots would already seem to be filled by Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and the newly-signed Tyler Chatwood. Of course, Chicago might simply be taking a page out of the 2017 Dodgers’ book; L.A. patched together a rotation of oft-injured, high-upside starters who bounced between the rotation and the DL over the course of the season.
As for Salazar, he carries tremendous upside. The right-handed fireballer has been known to hit the high nineties on the radar gun, even touching 100 on some occasions throughout his career. He mixes in a split change which ESPN’s Mark Simon once rated as the best pitch in MLB. Salazar also routinely carries one of the best strikeout rates in baseball, and though his career 3.82 ERA doesn’t jump off the page, his 3.42 career xFIP suggests he’s been quite a bit better than that number would indicate.
Consistency and health are what hold Salazar back the most. Although he’s shown flashes of utter dominance (his first five starts back from the DL this past season come to mind), he’s never proven he can sustain his success over extended stretched of the season. As for his health, the righty has only topped 140 innings once during his major league career. He’s been through Tommy John surgery in the past, and has experienced a variety of elbow and shoulder issues in recent years.
That being said, his upside is tremendous, and if Salazar is truly available, I’d expect the Indians will field a lot of calls on him. In particular, it seems likely that the clubs interested in Matt Harvey would want to reach out to Cleveland’s front office.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery wants to be a starting pitcher, and would like that opportunity with another team if there isn’t a spot for him in the Cubs’ rotation, sources close to Montgomery tell The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Montgomery hasn’t told the Cubs about any desire to be traded, though he has told the team about his preference to start. The 28-year-old has been a valuable swingman for Chicago since he was acquired in a trade from the Mariners in July 2016, and the team has been so actively looking for starting pitching that it seems Montgomery’s role won’t change in 2018. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times and other media that Rosenthal’s report “kind of caught me by surprise….There hasn’t been any dialogue that should have spurred a report like that. You just don’t know where it comes from. But sometimes that happens. Mike’s a great teammate.” Montgomery is a valuable asset with four remaining years of team control, though he could also become a big trade chip for the Cubs if they did consider moving him.
8:46pm: The contract breaks down as a $3MM salary for Smyly in 2018, then $7MM in 2019, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). The latter season contains $6MM in incentives based on Smyly being a starter, with the other bonuses coming if he works as a reliever.
8:01pm: The Cubs have signed left-hander Drew Smyly to a two-year deal, the team announced. Financial terms weren’t released, though The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that Smyly will earn $10MM in guaranteed money, with more than $7MM also available in incentives. Smyly is represented by Frontline.
Smyly underwent Tommy John surgery last June, and is probably unlikely to pitch in 2018 given the procedure’s usual 12-15 month recovery timeframe. This led the Mariners to non-tender Smyly rather than pay the southpaw a projected $6.85MM arbitration salary in 2018. Smyly was entering his final year of arb-eligibility, so this deal with the Cubs will also cover his first free agent season.
The two-year commitment represents a lottery ticket for Chicago, who have the resources to take a flier on a still-promising 28-year-old in the hopes that Smyly can be healthy and ready to contribute in 2019. Cubs manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey are familiar faces for Smyly from his time with the Rays from 2014-16.
Smyly has a 3.74 ERA, 8.7 K/9 and 3.43 K/BB rate over 570 1/3 career innings with the Tigers and Rays. He came to Tampa as part of the blockbuster deal that sent David Price to Detroit at the 2014 trade deadline, and Smyly was also involved in a notable trade last January, going to Seattle for a three-player package that included Mallex Smith. Unfortunately for the M’s, Smyly ended up never throwing a pitch in their uniform, as he battled elbow problems all season long before finally succumbing to the TJ surgery.
TODAY: The Cubs have officially announced the signing.
SUNDAY: The Cubs have reportedly agreed to a contract with free agent reliever Brandon Morrow, pending physical. Morrow, a Wasserman client, will be guaranteed two years and $21MM if the contract is finalized. He’ll earn $9MM apiece in each season along with a $3MM buyout or a $12MM vesting option for the 2020 season.
Chicago had a clear need in the late-inning mix, as the team has cut ties with Hector Rondon and has not (at least to this point) re-signed any of Wade Davis, Brian Duensing or Koji Uehara. Those four were among the relievers Chicago relied on the most last season, leaving the club in clear need of bullpen help to complement top holdovers Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery and Justin Wilson. Consequently, in addition to Morrow, the Cubs are likely to acquire one other late-inning reliever, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link).
[RELATED: Updated Cubs Depth Chart]
The 33-year-old Morrow will provide a significant boost to the Cubs’ relief corps if last season is any indication. In his first full campaign as a reliever, the former Mariners, Blue Jays and Padres starter put past shoulder issues behind him to toss 43 2/3 innings with the National League-winning Dodgers and pitch to a 2.06 ERA, also notching 10.31 K/9 against 1.85 BB/9 and a 45 percent groundball rate. Moreover, the right-hander finished third among relievers with 40-plus innings in infield fly rate (20.6 percent) and 18th in swinging-strike percentage (16.0).
Statistically, the hard-throwing Morrow wasn’t quite as successful during the Dodgers’ run to the World Series as he was in the regular season, yielding six earned runs in 13 2/3 innings, but four of those came in one disastrous appearance in Game 5 of the Fall Classic. He was highly effective otherwise – including when he held the Cubs scoreless over 4 2/3, one-hit, seven-strikeout innings in the National League Championship Series – and became the second hurler in major league history to pitch all seven games of the World Series.
Morrow’s workload in last season’s playoffs, in which the Dodgers deployed him in an eye-popping 14 of 15 games, and injury history stand out as obvious concerns, but his 2017 dominance nonetheless has him in position to secure a lucrative contract. That’s quite a change from a year ago when Morrow had to settle for a minor league pact in late January.
Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com first reported the sides were headed toward agreement (Twitter link). Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweeted details on the deal structure, with Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweeting financial parameters. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the full deal structure.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Some items from Wrigleyville…
- The Cubs aren’t one of the teams that have shown early interest in trading for Manny Machado, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports (via Twitter). Kris Bryant is obviously locked in at third base, though with Machado reportedly looking to return to shortstop, there’s at least some room to imagine Machado playing at the Friendly Confines if the Cubs were willing to move Addison Russell. Trading significant assets for just one year of Machado (who is a free agent after 2018) doesn’t seem to fit the Cubs’ long-term plans, however, especially since the team has already moved several other young prospects in other trades over the last two years.
- Cubs GM Jed Hoyer believes his team will add at least one more pitcher before the Winter Meetings are over, ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers reports. Chicago has been linked to a wide array of starters and relievers this offseason, with Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow already joining the roster.
- Speaking of Chatwood, the Baseball Writers Association Of America is considering making him ineligible for NL Cy Young Award voting due to a clause in his contract, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. If Chatwood receive even one vote for the Cy Young Award in either 2018 or 2019, his 2020 salary will rise from $13MM to $15MM; a single Cy Young vote in both seasons will boost Chatwood’s 2020 figure to $17MM. This creates a conflict of interest for writers covering Chatwood, and the BBWAA, the league and the players’ union had an unspoken agreement that such clauses would no longer be used in player contracts. The last such contract to include such a clause was Curt Schilling’s deal with the Red Sox in 2007, which was overseen by then-Red Sox GM and now Cubs president of baseball ops Theo Epstein.
The Padres could play a major role in the market over the next few days, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes on Twitter. Indeed, the organization has already made one interesting move today. San Diego is looking around for a controllable shortstop and could conceivably match up with the Cubs, Passan suggests. (From an outside perspective, it seems ace reliever Brad Hand would be the most likely Padres piece to pique Chicago’s interest, but that’s just speculation.) Also, the team’s interest in free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer is seemingly increasingly serious. Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets that the Friars are “strongly in [the] mix” for Hosmer, while Passan says the sides have gained “traction” in discussions.
Here’s more from the position-player side of the market:
- At this point, at least, the Braves are not engaged on the market for third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio (via Twitter). Atlanta does have interest in improving at the hot corner, but it seems that new GM Alex Anthopoulos is not all that intrigued by the powerful but OBP-challenged Moustakas. Of course, there’s still time for the market to develop.
- Free agent second baseman Neil Walker is still looking for a four-year deal, according to Heyman (via Twitter). That seems like a lofty ask, though, for a 32-year-old player on a market full of possibilities at second. Walker has been a steady producer, to be sure, and finished with a strong .267/.409/.433 run with the Brewers, but with so many other options out there it seems more likely he’ll end up settling for a two or three-year guarantee.
- The Mets have some interest in free agent Mike Napoli, per the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Indeed, the club’s new skipper, Mickey Callaway, has reached out to Napoli to discuss the possibility. (The two share a connection from the Indians.) Presumably, Napoli would share time with Dominic Smith at first base, with the organization arranging a natural platoon pairing and then allowing things to play out based upon performance.
- As the Cardinals continue to seek ways to upgrade after missing on Giancarlo Stanton, they have been scanning the market for alternatives. The team’s preference, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, is to “turn two of their excess outfielders into one newcomer.” That would seemingly represent a fairly clean way to improve the roster, though of course it will likely also require a rather particular trade partner. It is not difficult to imagine such a team also wishing to receive a sweetener in exchange for giving up a premium asset for volume. There are plenty more details and quotes from the Cards front office in the post.
- The Diamondbacks have been contacted by other organizations about the availability of their middle infielders, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Arizona certainly has quite some volume of MLB-level options up the middle, though it’s also not entirely clear at this point just which players (if any) have firmly secured places in the club’s long-term plans. It’s possible that market demand could help dictate the decisonmaking process, too, as the organization seeks ways to navigate a tricky payroll situation. Though none of the team’s top middle infielders are very costly, that very feature might allow the D-Backs to bring back equally affordable pieces that meet needs or perhaps structure a package deal to shed other salary. Chris Owings ($3.8MM arb projection) has only two years of control left, while Nick Ahmed ($1.1MM) has three and Daniel Descalso will hit the open market after earning $2MM in 2018. Ketel Marte and Brandon Drury are still shy of arbitration.
Starting pitching is in the news this morning, with several notable names being discussed. But there are a whole lot of other moving pieces out there. Let’s run down the latest chatter on the pitching market:
- The Brewers have chatted with the Rays about their potential rotation trade pieces, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter), who cautions that there’s no indication to this point that “any traction was made.” It’s not immediately clear which Tampa Bay hurlers have piqued the interest of the Milwaukee front office, though surely they’d have the trade pieces necessary to swing a deal for just about anyone. Chris Archer remains the big name to watch, though we don’t yet know whether he’s truly available. The Brewers could conceivably have interest in other pitchers, too, including veteran Jake Odorizzi, but it’s all speculation at this stage.
- Meanwhile, the Brewers are said to have interest in righty Jesse Chavez, Haudricourt also tweets. We heard yesterday the veteran swingman was likely to find a new home this week.
- Veteran closer Fernando Rodney has met with the Rangers and Twins, per MLB.com’s TR Sullivan (via Twitter) and Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (via Twitter). It’s not clear at this point how serious the interest is, though Rodney might conceivably be an option for either club, both of which have largely unsettled ninth-inning plans.
- Another interesting possibility on the rotation market is Royals lefty Danny Duffy. He has drawn interest from the Cubs, per Robert Murray of Fan Rag. Indeed, K.C. has been contacted by rivals on Duffy and a few other notably interesting assets, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan tweets. It’s entirely unclear at this point what kinds of scenarios might be pondered on Duffy, but the Royals will surely want a significant return for a player they only recently extended. His contract runs through 2021 and promises him $60MM. While a DUI arrest and elbow surgery introduce some uncertainty into the situation, from a pure on-field perspective Duffy remains a valuable asset as he nears his 29th birthday.
- The Mets are among the organizations with interest in free agent righty Juan Nicasio, according to Tyler Kepner of the New York Times (via Twitter). The 31-year-old pitched quite well throughout 2017, both before and after an odd series of August transactions. He ended the year with a 2.61 ERA over 72 1/3 innings, with 9.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
- We’ve heard some possibility that the Nationals could have interest in free agent righty Jake Arrieta, and ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that agent Scott Boras is working to sell that potential fit to the team’s ownership. Then again, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post characterizes the Nationals’ interest as “tepid” in a tweet. The division-rival Phillies are reportedly also a possibility, along with several other teams, as we covered this morning. Given that the Nats have an opening in their rotation, it isn’t at all surprising to hear that Boras is pushing for it to be filled by Arrieta; after all, his connection to the organization’s ownership is quite well-established by this point. Of course, adding yet another high-priced starter would carry some pretty notable risk for the organization, so it stands to reason that the club will explore other possibilities before deciding whether to join the pursuit of the 31-year-old Arrieta. Crasnick also takes a broader look at Arrieta’s still-developing market, including an extensive examination of Boras’s marketing strategy.
- While there is action at the top of the pitching market, the Blue Jays seem to be taking a patient approach, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. While GM Ross Atkins says there’s a lack of depth in the rotation market, he also has indicated no interest in pushing hard to strike a deal. It seems the organization’s inclination remains to seek value in bolstering the rotation depth.
- For the Diamondbacks, meanwhile, the team may at least be preparing to consider deals involving some fairly surprising players. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic runs down the team’s options for trade candidates who might free up some payroll space and enable the team to achieve future value. At the top of the list are center fielder A.J. Pollock and lefty Patrick Corbin. Meanwhile, the D-Backs are certainly still looking to field a competitor in the near term as well. They are one team with some level of interest in reliever Seung-Hwan Oh, according to Murray. Oh was not able to match his compelling MLB debut season in 2017, but still posted 8.2 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 while carrying a 4.10 ERA over 59 1/3 innings.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein met with reporters (including The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma) on Monday to discuss a number of hot stove-related subjects. The highlights…
- Epstein alluded to the team’s agreement with Brandon Morrow without officially making a confirmation, saying the Cubs were “pretty close” to the signing. The pitcher in question was described as someone the Cubs would be “comfortable” using as a closer, though “he’s the type of team player that would be willing to take any role depending on what the rest of the team looks like.”
- In that vein, the Cubs could acquire a more established closer, and a reunion with Wade Davis is still a possibility. Epstein said he planned to meet with Davis’ agent either during the Winter Meetings or just after. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweeted earlier today that the Cubs were open to bringing Davis back if an “affordable” deal could be worked out. MLBTR predicted Davis for a four-year, $60MM free agent contract this winter, which might fall outside of the Cubs’ comfort zone if they can land a less-pricey arm to further reinforce their bullpen.
- Sharma reports that free agents Bryan Shaw, Anthony Swarzak, and Jake McGee are also on the Cubs’ radar as they continue their wide-ranging search for bullpen help.
- Epstein downplayed any Kyle Schwarber trade rumors, saying that “he’s always been someone that teams have had an interest in, I guess. But we have probably the most interest.” Reports from earlier this week identified the Red Sox as a team interested in the young slugger.
- The Cubs will stay in touch with Scott Boras about Jake Arrieta in case there’s any path to the free agent righty returning to Wrigley Field. It has been widely assumed that Arrieta would be signing elsewhere this winter, as the Cubs have already signed Tyler Chatwood to join Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jose Quintana in the rotation, and have been heavily linked to Alex Cobb. Still, given the number of other teams pursuing Cobb, it makes sense that Chicago would remain open to Arrieta, even if his price tag would be significantly higher.
- Of course, the Cubs almost made another big rotation splash as they were one of the seven finalists for Shohei Ohtani’s services. Epstein was proud of his team’s presentation to Ohtani and came away impressed by how the Japanese star handled himself in meetings with Cubs officials. Even getting into the final seven was an accomplishment in Epstein’s eyes, as the Cubs were neither a West Coast team or an AL team that could offer Ohtani DH at-bats.
- Chicago was also one of the four teams Giancarlo Stanton would’ve waived his no-trade clause to join, though it doesn’t seem talks got very far between the Cubs and Marlins before Stanton was dealt to the Yankees. “There wasn’t much interaction given the makeup of our roster, our future payroll commitments and some plans that we have,” Epstein said. “Great player and great opportunity, but not necessarily the right one for us at the time.”