Cubs Looking Internally, Externally For More Pitching

"You're always looking to upgrade," Theo Epstein says.

Bruce Levine
July 22, 2018 - 2:32 pm
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

Categories: 

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Time is of the essence for the Cubs and other contenders as they eye the addition of important pieces ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.

"You' re always looking to upgrade," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "When you have a competitive team, no matter how well your pen has pitched, there is always a desire to look around and see if you can tweak it or improve it. You are always cognizant that it is harder to address injuries after July 31."

The Cubs have dealt with wear and tear on their bullpen, including closer Brandon Morrow hitting the disabled list recently. Chicago already added long man Jesse Chavez in a trade with Texas last Thursday to help fortify its bullpen.

"I don't think the Morrow injury fundamentally changes how we look at things," Epstein said. "Chavez filled a real need for us being a multiple-inning versatile pitcher who throws a lot of strikes and can execute a game plan. He can do a lot of things and is a real stabilizer and lifts the floor of our pitching staff quite a bit. Yes, we are certainly looking for ways to improve it."

The hope of injured right-hander Yu Darvish coming back and being a difference-maker isn't something the Cubs can count on at this point.

"Just making an educated guess," Epstein said. "You can't be overly reliant on someone who hasn't been able to go out there and perform this year. At the same time, you do track the rehab closely. You try to figure out what he may be able to do because for a long time, he felt really well. However, if you put yourself in a position where you are overly reliant and defending on it at this point, it is on you then -- the fates."  

Darvish is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA in eight starts this season and hasn't pitched in a big league game since May 20. He hasn't thrown off a mound in three weeks since nagging elbow soreness shut down his return. 

Darvish threw off flat ground at 125 feet Sunday and is expected to throw off a mound later this week, Epstein said. Building his pitch count up to 75 will take weeks. 

In the meantime, Cubs left-hander Drew Smyly is progressing well in his comeback from Tommy John surgery last summer. Smyly has simulated game experience and could be sent out on a rehab assignment soon, Epstein said. He will continue to be stretched out as a starter and, if everything goes to plan, will join the bullpen as another option down the stretch.

"Pitching is our main need," Epstein said of the focus ahead of July 31. "We will probably look in August for someone who can play defense or steal a bag. We are pretty focused on pitching."

The task for Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer is more difficult in some ways with their farm system thinned from past deals. Contenders are quite reluctant to trade off their big league roster in the middle of a pennant race. 

That's especially true for making a high-profile trade.

"We are in a more difficult position to do so," Epstein said. "I don't think it's impossible. Every year is different, because you want to keep growing the farm system, the nature of what is available. We are pursuing a lot of different things. As to what is realistic for us, we are going to be a little more selective and opportunistic. That's fine. Sometimes those end up being the best deals."

Epstein expects the Cubs to be active in the next nine days.

"I think we make a deal," he said. "We will likely make one before July 31. We definitely will make some moves before September 1."

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