Cubs land top bullpen target, agree to 2-year deal with Brandon Morrow

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Morrow pitches in the World Series against the Astros.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. —The Cubs wasted no time getting to business at the Winter Meetings after losing out on Japanese free agent Shohei Ohtani.

Looking for starting pitching and relief, the Cubs agreed to a two-year deal Sunday with their top bullpen target, right-hander Brandon Morrow.

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With the Dodgers, Morrow played a key role in their bullpen’s dominance over the Cubs in the 2017 National League Championship Series.

It’s a $21 million deal, pending a physical, that pays $9 million in 2018 and ’19 with a $3 million buyout on a vesting $12 million option, according to which includes an option for 2020, is worth $10 million to $11 million a year, according to MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal.

An announcement could come by Tuesday afternoon.

Morrow, 33, is expected to replace Wade Davis as the closer.

The Cubs have looked at Morrow for more than a year as a potential future closer as he worked his way back from shoulder surgery with the Padres. He had a breakout season for the Dodgers as a setup man after signing a minor-league deal in January.

The 2006 fifth overall draft pick by the Mariners had a 2.06 ERA in 45 games with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings (1.9 walks per nine).

He held the Cubs to one hit and a walk in four appearances during the NLCS, then became the second player to pitch in all seven games of a World Series.

The Cubs signed starter Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal last week.

Here’s the Cubs’ outlook for the rest of the meetings this week:

The big prize

The Cubs are looking for at least one more starting pitcher, and after focusing early on free agent Alex Cobb, they could be close to reuniting him with his old Rays manager (Joe Maddon) and pitching coach (newly hired Jim Hickey).

Keep your eye on . . .

Relief pitchers. The Cubs aren’t done restocking their bullpen yet, and that could be a focus for the next month or more in a comparatively deep free-agent market.

Dollars and sense

The Cubs no longer are limited by revenue-to-debt issues when it comes to payroll decisions, but they’ve got one eye on the $197 luxury-tax threshold ($180 million to $185 million considering the MLB benefits factored into the total) and the other on what they might be able to do in next year’s market. Escalating contracts for young core players will make that a bigger challenge. But they appear to have $30 million to $40 million to work with, depending on how they want to position themselves for next year.

Deal or no deal

If they can sign Cobb, then trading off the big-league roster from the young hitting core — something team president Theo Epstein said was possible this winter — becomes less likely. It at least gives the Cubs a position of strength in those talks with the biggest needs already filled. If they do make a trade, they’re in the right state for it, with the Marlins and Rays looking like sellers. If they don’t, a valuable chip such as Ian Happ could make the July trading deadline especially interesting.

X-factor

The Rangers have been after some of the same players the Cubs have pursued, including Cobb and reliever Mike Minor, signed by Texas last week.

Bold prediction

The Cubs continue to stay in the more affordable waters of the acquisitions this time around to put their big money on No. 34 at next year’s roulette table: Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the big free agent-to-be who suddenly looks more attainable after the Yankees’ trade for Giancarlo Stanton. What better place to reunite old Las Vegas childhood pals? The Winter Meetings are in Vegas next year.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com


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