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Cubs without closer again, but catching more critical with Willson Contreras out at least a month

After trading away their depth in Martin Maldonado last week, the Cubs are scrambling to get “creative” and acquire another catcher after Contreras’ hamstring injury. Released Jonathan Lucroy is one target.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros
Could this guy be the answer to the Cubs’ catching depth with Contreras out until sometime in September? (That’s Jonathan Lucroy after a home plate collision a month ago; he cleared waivers and was released by the Angels on Monday).
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

So much for that catching depth the Cubs didn’t need last week. So much for having a closer again.

So much for October?

The Cubs have plenty of time to get whole again, but more than four months into a season of bailing water and patching holes, they face two more big ones after getting MRI results on catcher Willson Contreras and closer Craig Kimbrel.

Contreras, who already was on the injured list after hurting his right hamstring Saturday, learned Monday that he has a Grade 2 strain, which means at least a month on the IL.

Kimbrel, who felt “discomfort” in his right knee on a pitch during the ninth inning Saturday, was diagnosed with inflammation and went on the 10-day IL, retroactive to Sunday.

Kimbrel characterized his move as precautionary, said he “absolutely” could’ve pitched through the issue if it were late September or October and expects to return on his first eligible date, Aug. 14 in Philadelphia.

A bullpen that has had a closer for only one of the last seven months of baseball will go back to the mix-and-match process for finishing games it used until Kimbrel was signed and activated at the end of June.

“It’s committee time,” manager Joe Maddon said.

The lengthier injury to Contreras — which happened three days after the Cubs traded away Martin Maldonado — could be critical.

“I know we’ve had some setbacks, but — talking about Kimbrel — we built up some depth in the bullpen, too, that I think could help us get through this moment,” Maddon said. “The catching part is the more difficult one to imagine right now.”

Contreras had a similar injury in the “same area” but a “little higher” in 2017 and missed a month.

“Obviously, I did the right things in 2017 to come back stronger, which I did,” said Contreras, who emphasized not rushing the process and assuring he’s 100 percent when he returns. “It’s going to be the same or even slower.”

The Cubs’ best shot for avoiding an ugly month with a catching corps that now includes big-league backup Victor Caratini and career minor-leaguer Taylor Davis is to sign veteran Jonathan Lucroy, who cleared waivers after having been designated for assignment by the Angels.

That’s one of the few avenues left for teams to add big-league players with the August waiver-trade period having been eliminated this year, and the Cubs had shown interest as of Monday night.

“Listen, our depth is being tested, there’s no doubt,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of the challenges of filling holes after July this year. “It’s not the best time for an injury. . . . It only adds to the creativity [required].

“And we’ll do everything we can to find the right way to address our depth.”

Hoyer and other team officials talked about a theoretical scenario just like this Contreras injury when trading Mike Montgomery to the Royals for Maldonado on July 15. Two weeks later, they said they were comfortable going without the third catcher when flipping Maldonado to the Astros for infielder Tony Kemp.

“We talked about it a lot,” Hoyer said. “Candidly, a lot of it came down to player happiness. It’s hard to keep three guys happy. There’s no doubt keeping three and having that depth on the 25-man [roster] in theory works. But in practice, all three guys are playing less than they want and all three guys are good major-league players that deserve to play. That was a big part of it.”

Said Contreras: “I wish this could happen a week before, to be honest. It happens a few days after Martin got traded, and that’s just really hard for me to accept.

“But I know [Caratini and Davis] can do a really good job.”