The endgame for the Cubs and Marmol


The endgame for the Cubs and Marmol

Brian Wilson has the big black beard, the tattoos, the Taco Bell commercials and more than 600,000 followers on Twitter. The San Francisco Giants won another World Series without him.

Losing an elite closer is nothing like the Bulls trying to replace Derrick Rose this season. While Wilson recovered from Tommy John surgery, the Giants leaned on a 28th-round pick, a good setup guy with his own sweet beard and fist-pumping routine.

Sergio Romo had saved only three games in his entire big-league career until this year. He closed out the Detroit Tigers three times during a four-game sweep, ending it when he froze Miguel Cabrera with an 89 mph fastball.

Ideally, thats how the Cubs would like to build their bullpen. Their next closer wont be a cult of personality. Theyd prefer to grow one organically, or buy one at a discount, rather than pay top dollar.

Carlos Marmol will earn 9.8 million in the final year of his contract, which makes him an expensive, short-term asset in an organization with a long-range vision. So from next weeks general manager meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., all the way to next summers deadline, his name could be all over

When asked, Theo Epstein said hes comfortable with Marmol as his 2013 Opening Day closer. But the team presidents answer to a hypothetical question Philosophically, how would you go about finding a closer if your roster didnt have one? sounded more revealing.

I would look at it as an opportunity to try to give someone an opportunity, Epstein said recently. Either internally a pitcher that we believed in and liked and exposed them to that role (so he) could maybe develop into that type of asset.

Or go outside the organization and try to buy low on a pitcher that we really liked and then build value by putting him in that role. (Thats) value for the Cubs, and then if our season doesnt turn out the way we want it to potential value in a trade.

It didnt quite work, but Epstein went with the bullpen-by-committee when he took over the Boston Red Sox. He also went year-to-year with Jonathan Papelbon in arbitration at a time when they were locking up other young core players with extensions.

The Cubs are trying to stockpile power arms through the draft and build their bullpen from within. In the future, its hard to see them matching the kind of four-year, 50 million contract the Philadelphia Phillies gave Papelbon almost 12 months ago. They arent going to buy a brand name.

Marmol briefly lost his job and spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain in May. By the time he got back on track, no one was really paying attention to the Cubs as they marched toward 101 losses.

When theres something extreme early in the season, it dictates the narrative for the whole season, Epstein said. I think it kind of went unnoticed nationally, just the extent to which this guy turned his year around and was really effective.

Marmol converted 19 straight save chances during one stretch and posted a 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break. Whether or not that will lower heart rates among Cubs fans, or suppress that feeling of "here we go again" after the next leadoff walk at Wrigley Field, or convince a rival executive, his final numbers wound up being pretty good: 3-3 with a 3.42 ERA, 20 saves and 72 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.

Marmol also bought into what the coaching staff kept preaching: Trust your fastball. He threw it 51 percent of the time, seeing his average velocity rise back up to 94 mph, according to the online database at FanGraphs.

Big punch-out rate, more strikes and then really significantly he did it in a completely different way, Epstein said. His fastball was really useable and really effective and that hasnt been seen around here from him, maybe ever. That was a great sign, because I think its more likely to be repeated next year.

Hes got two really viable pitches now. If he had just been a straight-out slider monster and happened to lock in his slider for a couple months and faced some aggressive hitters, I wouldnt be as optimistic about him as I am now, because hes got two weapons to go at hitters with again.

After 13 seasons in the organization, Marmol celebrated his 30th birthday this month. He planned to spend his offseason riding horses, working on his farm in the Dominican Republic and ignoring all the speculation about what the Cubs might do next.

Marmol also considers Chicago to be a second home. He has become acclimated to the pressures of pitching the ninth inning here. Win or lose, he always stands in front of his locker postgame.

The statheads arent going to want to hear about a closers mentality, or being able to do it on a big stage in front of 40,000 fans. But even manager Dale Sveum who uses all the data analysis to guide his decisions thinks theres something different about getting the last three outs. Sooner or later, the Cubs are going to find out if someone else has what it takes.

Could Cubs start Kyle Schwarber in World Series game at Wrigley Field?

Could Cubs start Kyle Schwarber in World Series game at Wrigley Field?

CLEVELAND — “No, not right now,” Kyle Schwarber said without hesitation when asked if playing the outfield would be a possibility. The Cubs had just lost their first World Series game in 71 years, with Schwarber showing a minimal amount of rust for someone who hadn’t seen big-league action in more than six months.

Hitting with a brace wrapped around his surgically repaired left knee, Schwarber blasted a double off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and split his matchups against nasty lefty reliever Andrew Miller (walk/strikeout) during Tuesday’s 6-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

Schwarber keeps smashing all expectations, returning from a gruesome outfield collision that was supposed to keep him sidelined until winter ball — and then a return to the 2017 Opening Day lineup if everything went smoothly.

Manager Joe Maddon promised reporters that they would be surprised by how well Schwarber runs now. Schwarber estimated that video from his Arizona Fall League tune-up represented “about 50 percent” of what he could actually do.

So when the World Series shifts on Friday to Wrigley Field — where the designated hitter will no longer be an option — could the Cubs start Schwarber in the outfield?

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“I have no idea,” Maddon said before Wednesday’s Game 2. “I just want to keep an open mind. But I could keep as open of a mind as I possibly can — it’s up to the doctors to say what he can and cannot do. I would imagine that him playing and coming in today feeling normal is a positive.

“(With) his play tonight — and then we have a day off tomorrow — we can probably reevaluate. I have no proprietary information regarding what a doctor really thinks about this.

“So if it’s brought up to us, and the doc thinks he can ... but I’ve not even asked that question yet to the doctor. We were just trying to get one thing done at a time.”

The Cubs will at least have Schwarber looming as a dangerous pinch-hitter who generated five home runs and a 1.308 OPS during last year’s playoffs. Everything from that clutch performance to his middle-linebacker build to his show-choir video from high school endeared him to Cubs fans.

Just showing Schwarber’s face on the Wrigley Field video board would get a reaction during a random game in the regular season, when he essentially acted like a cheerleader in the dugout. Now imagine him walking up to home plate in the World Series.

“The fans are going to go berserk,” Maddon said. “Our fans really appreciate how hard he worked to get back for this moment. Not everybody would have done that. That’s a tough injury to come back from — really tough — and to accelerate his recovery as much as he (did) speaks to him and the training staff. And I think our fans will appreciate that.”

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

CLEVELAND - The World Series isn't over yet, but the awards are already rolling in for the Cubs.

Kris Bryant was named the Hank Aaron Award winner Wednesday evening, an accolade for the best hitter in each league. Aaron was on hand at the World Series in Cleveland to hand the award to Bryant and American League recipient David Ortiz, the now-retired Boston Red Sox legend.

"I want to thank all the fans and everyone who supported me for this award," Bryant said. "It's truly an honor to be up here with two of the best baseball players to ever play this game. I grew up watching Big Papi on the Red Sox get to this point and win a World Series, and hopefully I can do that here.

To accept an award with one of the best baseball players ever with [Hank Aaron's] name on it is a true honor for me, so thank you."

Bryant led the National League with 121 runs scored while also slugging 39 homers and driving in 102 runs. He hit .292 with a .385 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage (for a .939 OPS).

“Well, it’s ‘Hammerin’ KB,’” manager Joe Maddon said. “Just be a young player in KB’s shoes, and to win that award and then have that particular man present it to you, it’s impressive. It’s very impressive at a young age to be considered and then win it. There’s a lot of great competition out there.

“An award like this for KB could absolutely galvanize his thoughts about himself as a Major League Baseball player. It’s a great achievement for him. I’m very happy for him. And I know he will humbly accept it in the right way.”

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After winning Rookie of the Year honors last season, Bryant may also be in line for the NL MVP this year as the anchor of a 103-win Cubs team.

"Kris, I watched him all year," Aaron said. "And I must say without any pun intended, that the Cubs are my favorite, of course. And the reason for that is because my friend who is no longer here, Mr. Ernie Banks. He was an idol of mine. I loved him, and I'm sure wherever he is today, he is smiling in his grave.

"I just want to say that I am smiling with him. I just wish that he could be here to play one more game, as he always said."

Josh Donaldson was the American League winner last season while Bryce Harper took home the NL honors.

Bryant is the second Cubs player to win the award after Sammy Sosa in 1999 (the first ever Hank Aaron Award). That season, Sosa hit 63 homers with 141 RBI, 114 rusn and a 1.002 OPS.