Kimbrel To Cubs? Probably Not, 'But You Never Know'

"Trades are more likely than free agents" to address the bullpen, Theo Epstein says.

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May 22, 2019 - 3:11 pm
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(670 The Score) Cognizant of his team's need to upgrade its bullpen, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein on Wednesday poured some cold water on the idea of the club signing star free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel without completely ruling out the possibility.

Kimbrel went unsigned this past offseason after posting a 2.74 ERA and 0.99 WHIP and converting 42 of 47 save chances for the champion Red Sox in 2018. Kimbrel, 30, has a career 1.91 ERA and 0.92 WHIP to go with 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

"There's not too many free agents out there," Epstein said on 670 The Score while speaking generally. "I think trades are probably more likely than free agents, but you never know. Anyone who's still out there, you're obviously, if they can help you, you're engaged with them. It's just trying to find a way to make it work. Obviously, it's been well-documented that we weren't that active in free agency this winter. And there are a number of reasons for that, and those reasons still apply. But you don't want to look past any opportunities. It's just a matter of making it work. That said, typically June and July is the time where the trade market really comes into focus. But as you do that, you keep your mind on the talent out there that's available without having to give up prospects. Free agency, you'd love to find a way to make that work. It's not going to be easy."

Epstein emphasized that he and the organization understand the importance of fortifying the bullpen. Cubs relievers have posted a 3.97 ERA in 2019, which ranks 12th in MLB and fifth in the National League, and the group has done so without the services of projected closer Brandon Morrow (elbow) for the whole season and high-leverage reliever Pedro Strop (hamstring) since early May. 

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Epstein has been proud of the work his relievers have done with such nightly uncertainty and a mix-and-match approach.

"Considering that we've been without our ninth-inning guy and our eighth-inning guy, this bullpen has done a really nice job," Epstein said.

"We got (Steve) Cishek, (Brad) Brach, (Brandon) Kintzler, (Kyle) Ryan and (Tyler) Chatwood all performing at a high level, and they deserve a lot credit for us righting the ship after that first road trip. But I think you're always looking to make the 'pen better, and this is a year where that's pretty clear. We're going to be looking to do that.

"We've done it each year -- '15, '16, '17, '18, we always add from outside at some point in the bullpen. We should be looking for ways to make a championship-caliber bullpen at some ptoing during the year and ride it down the stretch when the games matter the most. That's an obvious area of focus, but I don't want to overlook the job the guys (here) have done."