Do You Trust Brandon Morrow?

The Cubs have been rumored to have interest in former Dodgers setup man Brandon Morrow, and if they really are moving on from Wade Davis, he's a viable candidate to take over as closer.

But this hypothetical forces a question that should be asked: Do we want that?

While Morrow is an exciting prospect in this role, there are plenty of reasons to be leery of him. The obvious first is that he has never been a full-time closer. This isn't to say that he can't do it, but a reliever with well over 800 innings on his arm and only 18 career saves -- 16 of which came during the 2008 and 2009 seasons -- isn't one that I'm keen on.

The second is that he will be 34 halfway through the 2018 season, making him older than Wade Davis, who has 79 career saves in just seven more career innings than Morrow. And Morrow has not logged more than 60 innings in a season since 2012, when he was still a starter. If he is going to assume the role held by Davis last season, this is a worthy concern.

The last is that he has some injury history in the last few seasons, notably a shoulder impingement that ended his 2015 campaign early and kept him sidelined for much of the 2016 season as well. He was healthy enough to get a minor league deal from the Dodgers last year and eventually become their setup man to Kenley Jansen, even filling in for two saves, but on an older arm, those past issues can easily creep up again or at least impair the durability needed of a closer.

But let's pretend for a moment that the Cubs do sign Morrow, and the prospect of him closing games in 2018 becomes a much more likely reality. Are there reasons to feel good about that?

Close to a month ago, Paul Sporer argued at Fangraphs that there are. Most notably, his uptick in velocity that contributed so greatly to his success with the Dodgers:

At age 32, the Dodgers got Morrow up to a career-high 98 mph with his fastball and backed it with a monstrous slutter that breaks into two pitches: a 92 mph cutter and 89 mph slider. All three yielded above average strikeout rates without taking anything from his newfound control. After an 11% BB rate through 2014, he has posted a 5% mark in each of the last three seasons. This year it was due in large part to a career-best and very nice 69% First-Pitch Strike rate. The key to the Morrow Renaissance was his utter domination of lefties.

But for comparison, Morrow's average velocity on his fastball had sat just below or right at 95 for years before this past season, when it suddenly shot up to 98. The difference from this change is the whiff rate that has jumped mightily (7% in 2015 to over 12% in 2017), and along with that, Morrow cut his repertoire to just the fastball, slider, and cutter, the two latter offerings being even more devastating to opposing hitters than his heater.

At best opposing hitters mustered a .087 ISO against the fastball last season, and as Sporer said, left-handed batters were even more hopeless. They managed to register an ISO of only .022 against the four-seamer, and that was the best mark of Morrow's three pitches because his slider and cutter were never touched for extra base hits last season.

So yea, the stuff is nasty, newfound as it might be. Morrow was a far superior pitcher in 2017 compared to anything he had done thus far. He was a respectable starter for a short stretch at the start of this decade, but he reached some rarified air in 2017.

There are ways that using Morrow in a somewhat limited role as the closer could work for the Cubs next season. As I reviewed here last week, they have a handful of internal options with potential, but no one worth serious consideration yet for the full-time role. So if the Cubs run with Morrow, they could fill in on occasion with a few other relievers, like Carl Edwards, Jr. or perhaps Justin Wilson or Dillon Maples. But this is farm from ideal for a contending team, and it should leave the Cubs to look outside of who is currently on the roster to find a closer.

But if they do choose Morrow, he -- despite whatever qualms there might be about his lack of experience, age, and potentially brittle arm -- was undeniably electric for the Dodgers last season.

Is this enough to sign him, even to a one year deal, and hand him the ball in the ninth inning on a regular basis? For some teams, yes, but for the Cubs, I think not. Without some demonstration of sustained ability to pitch like he did for Los Angeles last season, I'm not comfortable with handing the most important role in an already wobbly bullpen to someone who has as many strikes against him as Morrow does. The Cubs need to look elsewhere.

 

Filed under: Bullpen, Pitching, Rumors

Tags: Brandon Morrow, Closer

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  • I’m with you Jared. Scares the bejesus out of me. Sign Wade and be done with it already!!!!!!

  • In reply to Otto 2016:

    I said it in a different post, but I'm very much in favor of bringing Wade Davis back.

  • In reply to Otto 2016:

    Easier said than done. Davis wants a longer term deal than the front office wants to go.

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    I only like signing Morrow if they also bring back Davis.

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    he scares me &
    hell want 3 years @ $9 mil per.

    Im anxious to see the terms for Mike Minor
    hell set the tone and price.

    Ill bet Minor got similar to the deal above.

  • In reply to deport soriano com:

    4 years, $28 Mil is what I heard the Rangers are giving him.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Oops, that’s not confirmed...my bad.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Texas plans on using him as a starter. Frankly, I cant understand why his FB velocity spiked 4-5 MPH as a reliever. He also is only a 2 pitch pitcher essentially.

  • They need all the quality arms they can find regardless of role in the pen. I say bring him in. I'm a little concerned about signing Wade to a long term deal. I think he can dominate another year but not so sure about how long he will hold up going forward. He has a ton of high stress innings on his arm and had his own arm troubles prior to the cubs trading for him.

  • Here's the thing, we all want Davis back but at what cost? Boras is reportedly asking for 5/$75 mil for Greg Holland who Spotrac estimates should get a contract valued at 3/$39 mil. This is having the effect of shifting the closer market almost entirely to Davis at the moment driving his price up. Spotrac estimates his contract value at 3/$44 mil. So how much do you think makes sense for the Cubs to offer? 4/$68? That takes the extra year out of it making it a higher AAV but eliminates the fifth year. Now I don't think Holland is getting what Boras is asking for unless someone just jumps in and overpays Davis quickly and leaves him alone on the market. To be honest I see why they're looking at alternatives like Morrow. I'm not sure that given the costs that a competition for the position isn't the wise choice at this point. There aren't any easy answers here.

  • In reply to TC154:

    4 years at $68M is ludicrous even on an internet blog. That's $17M per. Maybe a typo there TC?

  • In reply to veteran:

    No typo. If Boras is insisting on 5 years at $15 mil MLB and Davis is both less risky and better it stands to reason that someone might overpay Davis with one less year to avoid Boras/Holland on this one. Plus Mark Melancon got 4/$62 mil and Chapman got 5/$82 mil why is 4/$68 mil so hard to swallow for Davis? I wouldn’t pay it but he’ll get close to that.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Should have read “$15 mil AAV for Holland”.

  • I agree we prefer not to pay too much & for not too long for a closer. I also prefer not to keep trading for 1 yr & 1/2 yr rentals because they cost us good trade chips. Yes, we won a World Series & an NLDS the following year. But here we are again back at square 1.

    The problem seems is, there aren’t a lot of closers hitting the market simultaneously, driving contracts higher. And the in-house options aren’t exactly promising.

    1 option, & looks like the Cubs might be exploring, is signing set up guys that “could” transition to closer &/or use them by a committee. But as of now, although it’s still early-ish, they haven’t added any of those...

    In my mind, this could be the one time to overpay for the best available closer for 3 yr. or 4 yr w/buyout option if need be &/or no “no trade” clauses. The market is what the market is...

  • two of the most sought after free agent relief pitchers were non-tendered and/or minor league free agents from the past 2 years (Morrow and Minor). Does the next relief surprise reside in the most recent non-tendered group?

  • Anybody else okay with Addison Reed?

    Because I am. He is healthy, he has a consistent track record, is way younger than the other options, and won't cost nearly as much as these guys.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    If the Cubs don't want to go long-term on Davis (which would be an understandable choice), I think Reed is their best option.

  • In reply to Jared Wyllys:

    He is honestly the only one I would feel "comfortable" giving a long term deal to. He is not as dominant as other options, but every single season the dude just gets the job done, be it as a closer or set up man.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yes. Wondering why he isn’t getting the “love” in articles on closers. Maybe it’s his HRs allowed, not sure... But He’s got a track record of having saves at an early age w/White sox & his whip & his K ratios look pretty good.

    I’d be ok as long as they try to groom some of their own in-house guys like a Maples or Underwood as late inning set-up w/parent club &/or closing at AAA if they don’t make club out of ST &/or optioned down if they do... Or groom other projects like Alvarez or other hard throwing guys in the system once they straighten their control/command issues. Unless they already have/are groomed some that I don’t know about. I know closing at AAA is not the same, but it’s the only way to get the highest leverage situations down there.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Yeah, he wouldn't be a long term closer, just a stop gap until Edwards/Maples/whoever figures it out or they find someone else from outside the org. And unlike the others, Reed likely wouldn't throw a fit if he would later be moved back to a setup role since that is what he has done most of his career.

    The combos of age/injury history/price tags on guys like Davis/Morrow/etc scare the crap out of me.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I know, I get it. Already having sizable contracts on the books w/Heyward, Lester & Zobrist doesn’t help matters either... A lot of research & a ton of risk goes into these decisions by the FO. Glad we have Theo & the guys making them. :o)

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I kinda would like to see Reed, Shaw, Neshek, and McGee.

    I think Morrow’s price is going to jump now.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    dont like him as a closer Mike. FB rate is too high, heas HR proneat times. His biggest positive trait is he stays healthy and doesnt walk guys. Im fine with himmas a 7th/8th inning guy, as a closer he scares me.

  • The last thing I would want is a bullpen by committee managed by Maddon. I would rather bring back Davis but, I would hope it would not be for more then 3 years. Not sure that happens.

  • If the Cubs sign Ohtani, it gives the team the flexibility of trading an outfielder for relief pitching, and keep financial flexibility for the post 2018 FA class.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    They can't keep doing that. We have already sent out most of our surplus value in the farm system the past two years to pick up stop gap closers. Combine that with the Quintana trade and the farm system is depleted of starting capable players available to plug the gap created by trading an OF. Ohtani simply cannot be counted on to be an impact MLB hitter. He will have to focus foremost on pitching, then whatever added value comes out of his hitting is just a bonus.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    We’ll see. Bryce Harper is only 6 months older than Schwarber. If you promise Ohtani playing time in the outfield, someone has to be traded. At that point, they could just take the best offer.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I don’t think the 1 has anything to do with the other. Jay is gone... & Unless he comes off the plane crushing the ball they’ll need these guys. If that happens, then they can decide who for what gets traded. Plus we don’t know if/what trades for SPs they might be considering. Too many factors unknown before jumping to OF conclusions.

  • I've seen reports that Cobb has narrowed his choice down to us and the Yankees, and could sign in the next few days. That should offer some cost certainty and clarity going forward. I also think Ohtani makes his decision well before the December 22 deadline. If we get an early Christmas bonanza of Cobb and Ohtani at less than $20M/year relatively quickly, that could definitely influence the path we take in adding bullpen arms, especially in such a deep and slow-moving market.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Yeah, I could see by the 15th or sooner. I think he wants to give teams the most time to either be able to move on from &/or his new team to add to him.

  • I would be more than OK with signing Addison Reed and his 125 career saves (including 101 between 2012-2014).

    As a matter of fact, my list includes asking the Big Red Guy to leave the following under our tree this year :

    Addison Reed
    Brian Shaw
    Alex Cobb
    Jake (resign)
    Brian Duensing (resign)

    With Anthony Rizzo scheduled to walk in 2020 and Kris Bryant following him in 2022, NOW is the time to go all in!

    Milk - hope you have "fun" adding that quintet to the "pitching staff" you put together last week.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Ha ha! That would be a Santa’s sleigh load of “fun”! Ohtani wouldn’t be half bad either.

    The more I read on Reed... the more I like that idea.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I don't think we want to go as many years as it would take to bring back Jake, but I could go for those other 4. That would also leave us with about $15-20M to add a proven 5th starter and back-up catcher and still have cushion under the luxury-tax threshold for deadline additions.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Rizzo has 2 team options in 2020 and 2021. Can't leave till 2022.

  • As much as I hope the cubs can sign otani I have this gut feeling he will go to the padres. They have a lot going for them. Minor will be used as a starter for texas too. As far as morrow I'm skeptical of his injury history but if it's a 2 year deal then I'd be ok with it prefer morrow as a set up guy instead of closer. I really don't want davis back for 4 years he had a lot of saves that were very shaky and he walks guys a lot or gets a to a lot of 3-2 counts cuz he can't throw strikes at times. The Royals are rebuilding, I'd see what the asking price was for herrera then kick the tires on betances or britton or sign reed before resigning davis.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Could you move Wilson and Zagunis for Britton? Not enough or too much?

    I definitely kick the tires on britton before signing and reliever for closer value — meaning at $12mm to $15mm per year at a 3 year minimum.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Last I read the orioles wanted to dump a salary(brittons since he is a year away from fa) so they could sign a starter. So that might be enough if the o's just want to trade brittons 14-15 mil. I just think the cubs can be creative with bullpen options over re-signing a 32 year old to a long term deal. I would look at herrera on the royals too he has a year left before fa with an escalating salary he could be attainable for prospects.

  • In reply to bolla:

    I agree w/respect to Britton... While he could possibly be good in 2018, he’s a Boras client, had a down year, missed most of May & last pitched Sep 18th for whatever reason, & might just be another rental. Reed & other wild cards may be a better use of resources for closer.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Is he healthy? He last pitched end of July & his #s (whip, walks, k/bb) didn’t look all that good before that. Also he’s only controlled thru this yr. if read BR correctly. Hate to give up chips for a guy not healthy... I don’t know is why I ask. If it’s the Britton of 2014, 15, & 16... & agrees to an extension 1 or 2 yrs, sure.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Oops my bad... forgot to hit the arrow down on the games log...

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Brittons BB rate skyrocketed this year. he allso had forearm issues, and both you and I know where that normally ends up. Id say pass on him, he might be availlable at the deadline as well.

  • Sitting back & seeing some of the pundits, blog writers, commenters around the Baseball world questioning why/how can the Cubs still be in on Ohtani got me wondering myself...

    I think the Cubs have the intangible factors compared to other non-west coast/big market teams that were eliminated. And those just can’t be dismissed when considering the fit he desire & that this team would give him.

    Obviously there’s the creativity of Theo/FO & that of Joe w/respect to playing time usage. Several guys playing all over the diamond. The charm of Wrigley, apartment buildings, rooftops, scoreboard, bricks & green ivy... But the youthful exuberance of the team & organization to the all walks of life that the Cub players come from. All over the US, Dominican, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Columbia, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, light skin, dark skin & age. The team core is mostly young, some just a yr or 2 older than him w/the SPs being the experienced vets for him to draw from. And they are good, mature, fun loving guys. The way they celebrate HRs, victories, etc.. is just fun to watch, let alone be around.

    I see where the Giants had Posey available to be in on the meeting w/him. I could see Bryzzo, Schwarber & Javy, maybe w/a Lester & the professor Hendricks being w/Theo & his team. They seem like the guys closest to the same sort of winning pedigree as him. Not to mention their families & the way they give back to the communities.

    I think the structure & fit is there for what it’s been reported he desires.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    The baseball writers & pundits rank the Cubs 5th in terms of acquiring Ohtani.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    The baseball writers and pundits ranked the Yankees an overwhelming 1st in terms of acquiring Ohtani.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    They're trying their best to guess right now. I've always thought an American League team made the most sense because of their ability to use him as a DH in between starts, but like everyone else, it's a lot of speculation.

  • In reply to Jared Wyllys:

    I admit I probably over-valued the option of the DH myself. But the more I've read and thought about it, he only gets guaranteed AB's in the NL, where we play real baseball. It is very possible he just isn't good enough to automatically displace an entrenched DH, and it's also possible an AL manager won't want to take AB's away from a DH and have to use pinch-hitters after he leaves a game even on the days he pitches. Looking at his list of potential teams, he is taking this reality into consideration.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    After the final 7 teams were announced is when the Cubs ranking of 5th came out. The surprising leader was San Diego followed by Seattle. This is with additional information from Ohtani.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    Rankings pre-decision making are just like polls & ranks pre elections & pre-seasons... They mean nothing.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    find out soon enough

  • Former Brave IFA Maitan signs w/Angels. Supposedly may not affect this yrs bonus pool keeping their maximum amount of bonus to go after Ohtani... but then it would affect next yrs.

    Side thought: I wonder if Angels feel they’re out of the running or are super long shots.

  • From the SF Chronicle. A hot stove bogus rumor? Or something more....

    "These are preferences, not requirements. While there are more examples of how the Giants meet the criteria -- in fact, the person aware of Ohtani’s thinking said he heard the Giants and (surprisingly) the Cubs could be his final two choices -- a prevailing theme in the player’s decision-making process is he’s considering others and not just himself."

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Rumors are that the Padres and Seattle are the top 2 choices

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    Meh. The only person I’m listening to now is rbrucato. He’s been right so far.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I also know that part of the Giants pitch was showing Ohtani their plan to give him 400+ ABs. They figured 75 would come from pitching, and the remain ABs from playing the outfield.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Lies, damn lies, and statistics (does 400+ AB's count as statistics?). :)

    There is so much speculation and rumors floating around claiming to know what Ohtani wants, and the way I read it all is rationalization for he should come to that author's favorite team. Ohtani himself, and his agency, have been tight-lipped.

    The one thing I know for sure is the 7-point questionairre he sent out to the various teams. There were questions about cultural assimilation and market dynamics, but what I got out of that unique insight was his interest in performance-based infrastructure. He wants to know about training facilities, medical support, and organizational philosophies regarding player development. I my mind, the driving factor behind Ohtani's decision is his desire to become the best baseball player he can be. In that light, I like our chances.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I wouldn't say that 400 ABs is a statistic. But it has been widely reported out here that the Giants would play him in the outfield, and that they mapped out a plan to get him 400 ABs. I like that, because my guess is that Theo and Hoyer will outline a very detailed plan on exactly how many ABs he would get, how they would use him, how they would develop him as a hitter and as an outfielder. If it comes come to things like that, then I love the Cubs chances.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I could see him getting 75-85 PAs pitching since he might bat 6th or 7th & get his due at bat before being taken down for the next pitcher. Wouldn’t have to pinch hit for him.

    Depending on how good he hits would depend on how many games he bats/plays field. He could DH in inter-league away games that he doesn’t pitch. Get a couple games a week playing OF & pinch hit the others, so I could see any where from 350-400 PAs being possible. But again, it’s gotta be performance based & not a willy nilly guarantee no matter what.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I looked again at the Giants article. They said 300 - 400, not 400. So that aligns more with what you are saying. The Giants have the "advantage" of having the worst outfield in the NL. So find playing time for him would be easy!

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Yes, I agree, especially for the Giants PT. Cubs could still get him close to that, maybe 325-375 used in a similar fashion & especially if they traded one of their OFers. Which I wouldn’t do unless blown away in an offer &/or Ohtani proves he can do both at a big league level of performance. So probably wouldn’t until the trade deadline at the earliest.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    What do they do if, as a first time major leaguer, he hits .230? If he still gets his 400 ABs, the Giants are in trouble. What happens if his hitting effects his pitching? I too would hope the Cubs prevail but don't think he's really the end all, be all.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Just a made up silly article. Pure fiction.

    The last Paragraphs says it all.
    "The Giants and Dodgers are the lone teams still in on both Giancarlo Stanton and Ohtani, who would be a much cheaper option than trading for Stanton, who’s five years older and due $295 million over 10 years."

  • Glad to be talking offseason rumors again. I would like for Cubs to sign Ohtani AND Cobb AND go to a 6 man rotation. It could be a plus for Ohtani, it would probably be good for Cobb, Lester would hate it, and not everyone here will like it. Just trying to think outside the box which may be needed to get Otanhi.

  • In reply to Cphil:

    Six man rotation is not happening

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    “Shohei Sunday’s” — coming to a park near you courtesy of the Chicago Cubs. 24 starts and keep the mileage down for a few years.

  • In reply to Cphil:

    I want to land Ohtani as much as anyone, but that is because of the potential of a 23-year-old potential ace SP with 6 years of control starting at the league minimum salary. I'm not buying the Babe Ruth thing at all. We could and would use him as a two-way player, and if he proved worthy, that could turn into something special. But if not, you still have a 23-year-old with ace stuff and six years of control.

    I don't see us altering our entire pitching structure to accommodate him, and especially not to falsely lure him. Any team that does is foolish and/or just trying to sell tickets and draw advertising dollars. We have gone to a modified six-man rotation at times due to our perennially deep postseason runs (!!!), but I don't see us altering Lester, Hendricks, and Quintana's life-long routines to fit Ohtani.

    I think Ohtani is a big boy who wants to be spoken the truth, and in the very limited verifiable comments I have heard from him, he wants teams to shoot straight about their opinions of his abilities.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I think all teams are "trying to sell tickets and draw advertising dollars." Well, maybe not the A's. But I agree going to a 6 man rotation just for Ohtani probably not going to happen. I think they will have a spot starter several times durning the year like they have the last couple years whether they get Ohtani or not.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I don't think you will get 6 years of control. After 2 years he will get an extension buying out arb years.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    Very true.

  • Ny writer suggested betances and chance adams for schwarber

    I'd do that in heart beat.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Hell no. As a Cubs fan, I make a counter-proposal: Justin Wilson and Duane Underwood for Aaron Judge.

  • In reply to bolla:

    I was actually thinking along the same lines. Not Betances, necessarily, although he’d be great. But a cheaper relief pitcher that the Cubs could control for 2 to 3 years. Although I would want to do that really if they sign Ohtani, the. Schwarber becomes very expendable. And the Cubs will be well positioned to target Harper next off season.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Exactly

  • I see the DirtyBirds have signed Miles Mikolas. This hurts in so many ways. Not only was he one of my dark-horse candidates for the #5 spot, but has the coolest nickname ever. I have to pull for a guy known as the "Lizard King", even though that moniker allegedly came from eating a reptile during a game rather than an affinity for the poetry of Jim Morrison.

  • Ken rosenthal tweeted the cubs will meet with otani today along with the mariners and rangers meetings with otani today. Tomorrow it's padres and angels.speculation he'll pick a team before the winter meeting start(sunday)

  • In reply to bolla:

    *Update* the angels had their meeting with otani monday so otani met both l.a. teams and san francisco monday. Cubs,rangers and mariners today. Only the padres haven't been confirmed to have a meeting with otani yet.

  • Also Jon morosi said cubs have shown interest in brandon kintzler, talks aren't at advanced stage

  • Padres get him all to themselves tomorrow. They’re the favorite, get last word, and most time to prepare. He has a long history with them. We can talk all we want about our FOs creativity, player development, etc., but I can’t imagine anything keeping him from SD, excerpt maybe the positive perspective Ichiro, Iwakuma, et al. can share on behalf of Seattle.

  • While I hope Otani becomes a Cub, I would guess the Angels if the press reports about him are correct. Anahein is a small market in a larger metro area. The Angels are the underdog to the Dodgers. West Coast market. He gets to be a teammate to the best player in the game (Trout) and be mentored by the best hitter in the last 15 years (Pujols). Stable manager. Hole to fill in the OF. The only negative is he can't DH because of Pujols.

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