Can Cubs turn a free agent bust into low-risk bullpen answer with Brandon Morrow in 2020?
The once-dominant reliever appears healthy again and plans to pitch again in 2020 after missing the last year and a half with elbow problems — with the Cubs first in line for a minor-league deal.
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Maybe the Brandon Morrow Era with the Cubs isn’t over, after all.
Emphasis on maybe.
Morrow, who spent a year and a half of his two-year, $21 million contract on the Cubs injured list, had a “minor” surgery to relieve nerve pressure on his troublesome right elbow at the end of the season. And results have been promising enough so far that he plans to pitch in 2020, said his agent, Joel Wolfe.
And the Cubs are first in line for a minor-league deal that could turn one of their worst free agent signings in recent years a low-cost solution to filling a late-inning bullpen need in 2020.
The Cubs, who paid $3 million to buy out Morrow’s $12 million contract option for next season, are monitoring his rehab with an eye toward taking a flyer on him as they look to stay competitive while maneuvering around a tight payroll.
“I don’t believe Brandon would sign with anyone else until the Cubs decide what they want to do,” Wolfe said. “The Cubs invested a lot of time into Brandon, and money, of course, and Brandon feels a certain sense of loyalty and obligation back to the Cubs to stay with them if they want him on a minor-league contract or something like that.
“He signed with the Cubs because he thought they were the best organization out there for him, and he still believes that.”
No promises. And certainly no guarantees.
But Morrow, 35, was dominant the first half of 2018 before he was hurt. He also has spent much of his career sidelined by injuries to his shoulder, elbow, forearm, oblique, finger and back.
The latest injury seemed the most problematic, considered minor in 2018 when he went on the disabled list, eventually diagnosed as a bone bruise when he was shut down later that season, and then involving multiple setbacks in 2019.
Southern California orthopedists Steven Shin and Neal Attrache looked at him in September and focused on the elbow nerves, using a “hydrodissection” procedure first — which helped until Morrow increased his throwing intensity — then addressed it with the more invasive surgery.
Morrow expects to start a throwing program in three to four weeks that could result in a “normal” off-season that makes him ready for spring training, said Wolfe, who is quick to temper his optimism because of all the fits and starts to the lengthy process already.
“It was such a peculiar thing that none of the doctors could really figure it out,” Wolfe said. “As optimistic as we are with what Dr. Shin and Dr. Attrache did with him, we won’t know that they were right and they have the answer until later.”
If the latest diagnosis and fix aren’t the answers, Morrow might be forced to retire. But if the early signs hold up into the spring, the Cubs might finally get some of their value out of their investment in Morrow.
“The Cubs have paid him plenty and he just wants to get back and pitch,” Wolfe said. “He didn’t want to go out like that in his career.”