Cubs look to add roster depth as camp winds down, and as bullpen questions loom
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MESA, Ariz. — Cubs reliever Pedro Strop sounded sure on Wednesday that his strained hamstring wouldn’t keep him from opening the season on time and healthy.
But with closer Brandon Morrow expected to miss the first month of the season as he continues to rehab from elbow surgery and other relievers dealing with minor maladies, nobody can blame the Cubs for looking for outside help with renewed vigor.
Just don’t get too fixated on big-armed free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel, because it’s not like the Cubs have any more money in the budget for such a move than they did when they couldn’t go big (or medium) on free agents over the winter.
As owner Tom Ricketts said when asked last month why the Cubs didn’t allocate more money to spend big in free agency, it’s because “we don’t have any more.”
And insiders suggest that hasn’t changed.
But with just two weeks to go before the season opens and more depth needs creeping in, the Cubs nonetheless are projecting possible waiver wire moves and looking again into potential trades for help in such areas as backup catching and the bullpen.
“Everything’s in play,” said manager Joe Maddon, who talked this week with front-office execs about potential options. “We had a little discussion [Tuesday]. You’re trying to sift and sort through everything right now.
“You want to stay with the plan that you established over the winter,” he added, “but then as you get closer to it, you get to evaluate during camp — and not going too harshly on that — but we had a discussions, and some names have popped up there.
“There’s still opportunity there.”
Bullpen needs would seem to be taking center stage right now, between Strop’s hamstring and Morrow’s rehab.
Also, newcomer Brad Brach just returned from a case of mono after losing more than 10 pounds, and late free-agent addition
Xavier Cedeno has been limited because of a sore wrist.
At the very least, it would seem to raise the stakes on the bounce-back efforts of right-hander Brandon Kintzler and lefty Brian Duensing.
So about that Kimbrel fellow?
“We really didn’t discuss that,” Maddon said. “But I can’t tell you that it’s out of the question.”
Unless Kimbrel pulls an Andre Dawson and offers the Cubs a blank contract to choose their own six-figure salary to pay him, he likely remains out of the equation.
“I’m not worried about our guys [in the bullpen],” Opening Day starter Jon Lester said. “If we do need to fill in some spots, our guys will be there and will be ready to go.
“Hopefully B-Mo can come back a little bit sooner than expected,” Lester added. “Hopefully there’s no setbacks when he starts getting ramped up, and we can get the back end of the bullpen solidified.”
Maddon also said he has faith in the Cubs’ relief depth, along with the ability of the Cubs’ analytics department to help him match up late in games to squeeze maximum group performance from the bullpen — as the Cubs have seemed to do annually, even going back to 2015’s collection of castoffs that helped them reach the NLCS.
Besides, Strop said he’ll be fine. Brach said he’s healthy and feels good. Steve Cishek, last year’s Mr. Reliable, is still there.
And who knows, the Cubs might even find a deal out there between now and the season opener.
“If Theo [Epstein] feels like we need to make some additions, then so be it,” Lester said. “That’s above my pay grade.
“I think as starters we just need to take it upon ourselves to go a little bit deeper in games,” he said, “so we don’t have to worry about it.”