Cubs Bullpen Without Closer Solution

Manager Joe Maddon has declined to designate a regular Cubs closer.

Bruce Levine
April 22, 2019 - 8:21 am
Cubs reliever Pedro Strop

Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports


CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Brandon Morrow's latest setback in his attempt at coming back from elbow surgery has been scrapped for now due to some discomfort in the right elbow area. 

The Cubs' closer in the first half of 2018 has not thrown a pitch in a major league game since July 15 of last season. Counting on his return any time soon to top form -- closing three or four times a week -- appears more hopeful than realistic right now. 

The front office is working on adding depth to the back end of the Cubs bullpen. They have been proactive in talking to other clubs about available arms since spring training.

Seven-time All-Star reliever Craig Kimbrel is still a viable addition for the Cubs if they believe in his ability and want to pony up $15 million a year. Ken Rosenthal of The Atheltic reported that Kimbrel is still seeking three years and close to $50 million. Kimbrel has been a free agent since November of 2018 and started out asking for a six-year, $100 million contract.

Related: David Bote Delivers In Cubs Walk-Off Win

In the meantime, Joe Maddon has refused to name a permanent closer from his veteran reliever corp. Pedro Strop has been Maddon's choice at the end of games for the most part since Morrow's initial injury last July.

Strop surrendered a solo home run in the ninth inning of Sunday's game with the Diamondbacks, creating a 1-1 tie at the time. However, David Bote would hit a walk-off single to score Javier Baez in the bottom half of that inning, giving Strop and the Cubs a 2-1 victory.

Maddon has said since he will use Strop in big situations before the ninth inning. However, he will not call him or anybody else in the pen his exclusive ninth-inning man. The Cubs have two saves in their first 19 games and both belong to Strop.

"I just like the freedom to use everyone," Maddon said of the Cubs' closer spot. "I do think if there is a guy that is the closer for the rest of the group it defines their  roles a little bit. But our guys are used to his method right now.

"I just think this is a better way unless you have a Kenley Jansen. For me, it makes it an easier to plan. I have done it many actual years without the closer. Almost always the groups have had a lot of success with it too."

The return to form of Carl Edwards, who was sent to Triple-A early in the month, could be an important addition for the Cubs if he can get his process straightened out. Triple-A reliever Dylan Maples has a big arm and could find his way back to the majors if he can command his fastball.

The pen has three men going through injury rehab besides Morrow. Mike Montgomery will pitch in Tennesse on Monday coming back from a left lat strain. Tony Barnette and Xavier Cedeno are progressing in rehab outings as well. 

Closing a game is a bit different from the setup innings, according to those who have done both.

"Doing it in the ninth inning is more of an adrenaline thing," said reliever Brandon Kinzler, a closer before arriving with the Cubs. "We are all trained to pitch in the other innings. For me, I tried to change the thought process in the middle innings and it has helped me stay centered. Lots of guys love the closer role because there is no one in the gate behind you. My old teammate LaTroy Hawkins told me a long time ago we are all closers of our own innings."

Maddon said someone could eventually get the title as a closer, but from his group now, he is good with the roles being decided on a daily basis.

"I still refrain from using those words," Maddon said. "Sometimes when they hear that attached to their name it can impact their pitching abilities."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.