Justin case for closer? Wilson gives Cubs strong option for 9th in ’18
The trades the Cubs made for two pitchers and a catcher before the non-waiver deadline Monday already have had an impact on the field and in the clubhouse.
But the full value of the deals won’t be realized until 2018, when left-hander Jose Quintana is slotted into the rotation for the full season and left-hander Justin Wilson shows whether he can help replace Wade Davis as the Cubs’ closer.
‘‘Obviously, he’s done it before,’’ manager Joe Maddon said of Wilson, who allowed a run, a hit and two walks in the eighth inning of his Cubs debut Wednesday against the Diamondbacks. ‘‘We’ll probably cross that bridge when we get to it.’’
Wilson, whom the Cubs acquired from the Tigers with catcher Alex Avila late Sunday, makes $2.7 million this season and has one more year of arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent.
With Davis a pending free agent after this season, the Cubs could go to spring training in 2018 and have three bona fide closer candidates — Wilson and right-handers C.J. Edwards and Hector Rondon — without adding anyone.
‘‘I don’t care when I pitch, how it goes,’’ Wilson said when asked about closing for the Cubs in the future. ‘‘I just want to win the game.’’
The hard-throwing Wilson was a setup man for the Tigers until taking over as their closer in May after veteran Francisco Rodriguez struggled. The Tigers released Rodriguez in June.
Wilson, who converted 11 of his last 12 save chances and had 13 saves overall for the Tigers, said he felt comfortable as a closer.
‘‘I enjoyed it,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘When I got moved there, it wasn’t under the best terms because Frankie’s a buddy and was struggling. You don’t want to see that for anyone, regardless if you’re getting some kind of promotion or not. And he’d helped me a lot, so that was tough. I was hoping he’d get back on track and make the team a lot better.
‘‘I think it probably [accelerated] me getting traded a little bit more, and I’m completely happy with that.’’
Cubs president Theo Epstein was clear about the Quintana trade during the All-Star break being as much about the next three years of club control as it was about this season. The Cubs are anticipating losing right-handers Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency after the season.
But by the time Epstein made the deal with the Tigers, the front office was all in and focused on 2017. Epstein sidestepped talk of where Wilson might fit into the Cubs’ closer plans next season.
‘‘He’s shown — this year, especially — that he has the ability to do that,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘So it’s nice to have a number of options to close games now on days that Wade is down for hopefully having saved three in a row [down the stretch].’’
NOTES: Catcher Alex Avila made his first start for the Cubs with right-hander Jake Arrieta on the mound, mostly because manager Joe Maddon wants to start Willson Contreras in the afternoon series finale Thursday.
† Left-handed slugger Kyle Schwarber (.189, 17 homers) might be on the bench for four consecutive road games next week against the Giants and Diamondbacks if those teams’ rotations fall the way the Cubs think they might. Schwarber has sat against lefties since returning from a two-week stint in the minors, with Ian Happ and Jon Jay alternating with him in left.
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