SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Cubs are trying to find the next great closer – not repay Aroldis Chapman after an epic World Series celebration or reward Kenley Jansen for what he’s already done with a Mariano Rivera-like cutter.
Chapman is looking for $100 million, said one plugged-in agent posted up at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa during the general manager meetings. If Chapman’s camp can draw the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers into a bidding war, then maybe the 100-mph closer gets a five-year deal and doubles the $50 million guaranteed the Philadelphia Phillies would regret giving Jonathan Papelbon after the 2011 season.
The Cubs will be “targeted” in their approach this winter, GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, after essentially combining two offseasons into one as a hedge against a weak overall free-agent class. “I don’t think it will be an extravaganza, as it was last year. We don’t need to do that. But we are going to be looking at a lot of ways to acquire pitching.”
Because manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup on his iPad Pro tomorrow. And Theo Epstein’s front office sees enough rotation options to feel comfortable declining a $12 million option on Jason Hammel, buying out a 15-game winner for $2 million.
The Cubs will still make their bullpen a priority as they put the finishing touches on the team that will defend the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years. Just don’t think only in terms of brand-name closers, a group that also includes three-time All-Star Mark Melancon.
“We’re going to explore every avenue,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, there’s an appeal to guys in the free-agent market that have had great track records. But I think closers come from all over. Generally – when you sort of start looking at where those guys come from – some (have) had some bumps along the road and established themselves later on.”
Before Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP with the Cleveland Indians, he had been a failed starter with the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins. Within a matter of weeks after the 2010 season, Epstein’s Boston Red Sox traded Dustin Richardson for Miller, non-tendered him and then signed him to a minor-league deal, allowing the 6-foot-7 lefty to finally blossom.
“Andrew Miller’s the perfect example,” Hoyer said. “Trying to be creative in finding bullpen pieces is something that we should always challenge ourselves to do, because the great reliever of next postseason may be a guy no one’s even thought of right now.”
Hoyer pointed out how Wade Davis had been “a secondary consideration” in the December 2012 trade between the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays. While James Shields and Wil Myers made all the headlines, Davis became an integral part of Kansas City’s lights-out bullpen, helping the Royals win back-to-back AL pennants and the 2015 World Series.
The Cubs once discovered Hector Rondon – a 30-save closer last year – through the Rule 5 draft. Rondon didn’t complain when the Cubs acquired Chapman from the Yankees in late July, though a triceps injury and uncertainty about his role would ultimately limit his effectiveness.
It’s a different look, but Maddon already sees right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. as someone with the potential to make a Miller-light impact with his explosive fastball, feel for pitching and ability to throw multiple innings.
The Cubs also completely rebuilt their bullpen on the fly during last year’s 97-win season, acquiring Clayton Richard for a dollar from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, signing Trevor Cahill to a minor-league deal (after he was released by the Atlanta Braves and Dodgers) and scooping up Fernando Rodney when the Seattle Mariners designated a two-time All-Star for assignment.
“You never know who that guy’s going to be,” Hoyer said. “If you stop thinking that way, you have no chance to find that guy. You always want to think like: ‘OK, who is going to be that next Andrew Miller? Who’s going to be that next Wade Davis?’”