After a postseason that was full of some very bad relief pitching and the loss of some key bullpen pieces, the Cubs new they had to make some changes this offseason. Well, they have made their first attempt at filling the back end of their bullpen needs by agreeing to a 2 yr/$21MM deal with RHP Brandon Morrow. The deal is broken down to $9MM in 2018, $9MM in 2019 and either a $3MM buyout or a $12MM vesting option in 2020.
Last season, Wade Davis saved 32 games for the Cubs after being acquired from the Kansas City Royals in the offseason for Jorge Soler. Davis is a free agent this offseason and the Cubs don’t seem interested in paying the price Davis is looking for on the free agent market. They are also losing reliever and one-time closer Hector Rondon. From 2014-2016 Rondon saved 77 games, but in 2017 was removed from his closer duties for Davis and Rondon struggled a bit with a 4.24 ERA but did have his best K/9 ever at 10.8.
The former 5th overall pick by the Mariners in the 2006 draft, Morrow will be looked at as the closer for now unless the Cubs make another move. The 33 year old has struggled with command throughout his career, but last season he had his best walk rate at 5.3% (1.85 BB/9). The change in command also led to an outstanding 29.3% K rate (10.31 K/9), a 16% SW STR rate and a 45% GB rate. Morrow was nothing short of outstanding last season as the Los Angeles Dodgers setup man in 45 games.
He pitched in 14 of the Dodgers 15 postseason game and was really really good outside of a blowup in World Series Game 5. He faced the Cubs in the NLCS where he went 4.2 scoreless innings, with 1H, 1BB and 7 K’s. There has to be some concern over this workload as Morrow does have some serious injury history. He has had back issues, forearm problems and shoulder surgery which has transformed him from potential starter to late inning reliever. One reason some feel he will stay healthy (also control help) is the fact he has stopped throwing his curveball and split finger fastball. 2 pitches that are known to cause trouble on the arm/shoulder and also are tough to control pitches. Now, Morrow is throwing a 4-seam fastball (AVG 97.9 MPH/17th hardest for reliever), cutter (38.1% SW STR rate/5th best for reliever) and a slider.
The changes Morrow has made in his pitching repertoire have definitely shown it’s benefits and at this point could lead him into the closing role for the Cubs. There are rumors they are looking for another back end arm to compete with Morrow, but for now this is a discounted price for a potential closer. Morrow will be joining Carl Edwards Jr, Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery and Justin Wilson in the Cubs bullpen and all in all that isn’t a horrible group to go into the season with.
The Cubs have already added Tyler Chatwood to the rotation and now add Morrow. There have been rumors of Kyle Schwarber being available on the trade block and we shall see where that goes. One thing we do know, the Cubs aren’t done yet. Alex Cobb has been heavily rumored to the Cubs and that could happen this week at the MLB Winter Meetings. After that there are the other available bullpen arms of Addison Reed, Jake McGee, Brandon Kintzler, just to name a few. The Cubs aren’t done and their goal is to not go over the luxury tax while they wait for the Bryce Harper sweepstakes in 2018.