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Cubs reach $43M deal with free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel | TribLIVE.com
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Cubs reach $43M deal with free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel

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AP
The Cubs signed closer Craig Kimbrel on Wednesday night.

CHICAGO — At the start of spring training, when Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said he had no money to spend, Pedro Strop was asked if the Cubs could use free agent Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen.

“I’m never going to say we don’t need a guy like that,” Strop replied. “No way. Kimbrel, (Aroldis) Chapman, (Kenley) Jansen — you’re talking about the best in the business. Out of 30 teams, you’re talking about the first-, second- and third-best closers. If they were able to get him, he’d be more than welcome here.”

The Cubs didn’t pursue Kimbrel then, but according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, they agreed on a three-year, $43 million deal Wednesday night.

It made sense a contending team with 11 blown saves in 22 opportunities would go all-out to find someone reliable to close games, especially now that they won’t have to give up a draft pick.

Strop can go back to being a setup man, and the Cubs will be worry-free, relatively speaking.

Kimbrel had 332 saves from 2011 to ‘18, by far the most in the majors, and his 1.97 ERA since ‘11 was second among closers to Zack Britton’s 1.79. Kimbrel’s average of 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings was second to Chapman’s average of 15.07 per nine.

Before the fog rolled into Wrigley Field during Wednesday night’s game against the Rockies, Cubs president Theo Epstein gave a foggy response when asked about the Kimbrel rumor.

“We’ve been open about the fact that at some point we’ll probably get some help from outside the organization,” he said. “Trades are certainly a possibility. There’s usually not quality free agents rolling around this time of year, but if a guy’s out there, we’ll certainly do our due diligence and see if that makes sense.”

The Cubs apparently found room in the budget with the money they’re not paying Ben Zobrist, whose status remains in limbo while he tends to family issues during divorce proceedings. Epstein didn’t mention the Zobrist savings but said: “There are always unknowns that come up during the season that can impact your financial picture, and this year in particular there have been some unexpected variables that could possibly give us a little more flexibility than we had imagined. But we don’t talk in detail about our financial situation.”

Epstein thought he had his closer last year when the Cubs signed Brandon Morrow to a two-year, $21 million deal to replace the departed Wade Davis, who got a three-year, $52 million deal with the Rockies. Instead, the Cubs gave Tyler Chatwood, now a middle reliever, a three-year, $38 million deal and then spent $126 million on Yu Darvish, who came into Tuesday’s start with a 3-6 record and 4.99 ERA in 20 starts.

Morrow pitched well for the first half in 2018 but has been injured, recovering from surgery and rehabbing since. Epstein said he’s playing catch from 75 to 100 feet and “letting it go,” but the Cubs aren’t going to rush him after his last setback. Like Zobrist, Morrow’s return is anyone’s guess.

How long would it take for Kimbrel to get ready after missing half a season?

“I’d rather not talk about that because I have a feeling it would be taken out of context by some and inferences would be made about whatever I say one way or another,” Epstein said. “Let’s have that conversation another day.”

Manager Joe Maddon, speaking in hypotheticals, said Sunday in St. Louis it would probably take at least three weeks.

“But who knows, he could have been throwing to a junior-college team the whole time,” Maddon said.

Categories: Sports | MLB
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