Steve Cishek Signs But What About The Closer?

The Cubs have had a clear cut, top 5 closer in all of baseball since the July 25, 2016 acquistion of Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs managed to pull off the same feat a little four months later in trading for Wade Davis. It is a comforting luxury to have that kind of guy to make a 9 inning game 8, but there are no established, elite closers reportedly available in trade currently. Zach Britton may be available, but he has his own concerns following his 2017 campaign. Also the Orioles are notoriously difficult to deal with. Instead the Cubs will likely have  bunch of interesting but risky options to finish games in 2018 with the additions of veteran righties Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow. That is unless Bruce Levine is correct in his assertion that there isn’t a 4 or 5 year deal out there for Wade Davis right now.

All indications are that the Cubs are still monitoring Wade Davis in the suddenly fast moving free agent reliever market, and you have to imagine if Davis is forced to settle for a 3 year, or 2 year with vesting option, that the Cubs would be making an aggressive offer. However, the Cubs have reportedly added another reliever capable of pitching in high leverage spots and has experience closing in Steve Cishek.

It isn’t difficult to see what the Cubs like about the veteran right-handed reliever. He is coming off of perhaps his best season as a major leaguer, and that was fueled largely by a phenomenal second half with current Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey in Tampa. Cishek’s sinker generates plenty of groundballs that provide something Maddon is often looking for in his relievers. His delivery also provides a bit of deception, and will give Maddon his much desired different look in the bullpen from the tall flame throwers that dominate the bullpen.

Steve Cishek is a quality reliever that has been consistently good. Relievers are inherently fickle, but Cishek has posted solid results in every year. Cishek did have a blip in 2015, but  Zack Moser at Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville wrote about how sneaky good Cishek has been. One of the key areas from improvement in the bullpen was walk rate. Cishek has posted a BB% of 8.1% in back to back seasons. That 8.1% rate would have been the third lowest among Cubs relievers to throw 30 innings last year. Brian Duensing and Koji Uehara were the two that posted a lower rate, and neither is likely to factor in 2018.

Cishek’s addition is a solid one but he is not without his flaws. That is clear given the price tag he signed for, but there are some legitimate concerns. His velocity has been trending downward steadily. He arrived as a 25 year old who worked comfortably in the mid 90s with his four seam and sinker. Last year his average fastball fell to just a touch under 91. Cishek’s other main drawback is his pronounced platoon splits. The past two seasons left handers have posted a wOBA nearly a 100 points higher than against right handed bats. Cishek is a lethal weapon against right handed bats, but becomes very mortal agains lefties. These are minor concerns considering the fact that it costs the Cubs a mere 2 year deal for a reported amount between $12 and $14 million.

All indications are that Brandon Morrow will be given the first chance to close in 2018. The contract is one of the first tip-offs, but the results last year also show the difference between the two. Cishek has been steady. However, his platoon splits might make him better to be deployed more strategically. Brandon Morrow actually posted reverse splits last season, but was absolutely unhittable regardless of which side of the plate. Jared talked about some of the reasons for concerns entrusting Morrow with the role.  Morrow’s injury history is the largest and most valid concern. The Cubs have given themselves some cover with the Cishek signing. The Cubs also have Justin Wilson with some closing experience. He struggled mightily when he arrived in Chicago, but and there is some reason to hope for a return of effectiveness for Justin Wilson.

Another concern raised about Morrow is that he has had just one season of elite performance. That is also one of the main reasons the Cubs were able to land him for the modest 2 year deal, but it is also not a particularly fair criticism. Morrow’s injury concerns have derailed a promising arm from delivering on its potential frequently. He was rushed to the Majors right after being drafted pitching a grand total of 16 innings in the minors prior to his debut. Not surprisingly he struggled with his command. He appeared to be piecing it together with the Blue Jays, but he never posted a BB% lower than 7.4%. Five of those eight seasons spent between Seattle and Toronto his BB% was over 10%.

Something changed when he switched to National League signing with San Diego attempting to revive his career. His walk rate was 5.6%, 4.4%, and 5.3%. He struggled with diminished velocity from various ailments, but a certain minor league pitching coordinator helped convince Morrow to give up starting. Mark Prior was the one to suggest that Morrow move to the bullpen, and when he reached Los Angeles the following year his velocity spiked to 98. The combination of elite stuff that he possessed as the pitcher selected ahead of Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer in the 2006 draft and elite command made him the reliever he was last year.

The Cubs bullpen is largely set for the 2018 season. The Cubs have 7 relievers under contract for the 2018 season. Justin Grimm has the most tenuous hold of the 7 relievers, but the Cubs have a variety of interesting relievers with options in Dario Alvarez, Randy Rosario, Dillon Maples and more. The Cubs also certainly wouldn’t let Justin Grimm prevent a Wade Davis reunion, but the odds are that those 7 on the roster currently will be the opening day bullpen. Also it seems very likely that Brandon Morrow will be the closer with a number of quality options setting him up in Carl Edwards Jr. and Steve Cishek. However, I am hoping that the Cubs might consider something a little more radical.

Theo Epstein took over the Boston Red Sox in 2003, and one of the first experiments was the infamous closer by committee. The Red Sox bullpen struggled out of the gate that year, and Theo Epstein abandoned it quickly with adding Keith Foulke in 2004. The Epstein led Red Sox had Foulke or Jonathan Papelbon closing for the rest of his tenure. It turns out that it was not some grand experiment as Bill James revealed in 2012. Instead the Red Sox were in a somewhat similar situation as the Cubs are now with the hope that someone would emerge as the guy. However, the lack of roles can be advantageous. Joe Maddon talked about this in 2015:

“But the nice thing, also, about not necessarily having it designated that way is that you get this more cleaner, clear opportunity to use your best pitcher in the eighth inning against the middle of the lineup. Whereas you can send somebody with lesser ability against three, four, five or two, three, four so you can save ‘the dude’ for six, seven, eight or seven, eight, nine. That’s where it gets skewed sometimes,”

The Cubs have perhaps a unique opportunity given the lack of egos involved. Brandon Morrow by all accounts is a team first guy. Steve Cishek has no expectations of being the guy, and Justin Wilson also has experience closing with no expectations at the moment either. There will be times when the eighth inning has the best opposing hitters and lefty sluggers. If Maddon is freed to use Morrow facing those hitters, and then Cishek could take the ninth against the bottom of the order. Maddon’s preference is clearly and understandably to just have a traditional closer, but the opportunity is there to take advantage of the higher risk involved in the construction of the 2018 Cubs bullpen.


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  • fb_avatar

    This is like last year when Theo signed a number of pitchers and just waited to see who stuck. This year is the same. All have had quality years and I can see us having one of the best bullpens in the NL this year. I'm also seeing Justin Wilson coming back--for many players the first year of a trade is hard and then they get settled. JHey's troubles in his first year have been discussed so often, unfortunately they continued in his 2nd season too, but at least he didn't let it affect his work in the field. Maybe if Wilson can't close he'll still be better as a set-up man, and all the others too.

  • A late-inning combination of Morrow, Cishek, Edwards, Strop, and maybe Wilson and maybe Maples isn't a bad combination - that's for certain.

    I'm not a huge supporter of the BP by committee - but that's not a bad committee - especially if somebody like Montgomery or Zastryzny is there to eat some swing-man innings.

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    Please sign Ross

  • With the Bitcoin the Cubs are throwing around, they could have signed Davis by now. Who's backing up Contreras? Did they keep Avila? What's happening with the leadoff spot? Sorry to ask off the main topic, but I live out in Oregon. All they talk about is Soccer. And Beer. Geesh!

  • In reply to LRCCubsFan:

    I like the Pinot Noir from the Willamette valley & Columbia river gorge areas...

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    They make some good Gewürztraminers up in that area too. Got to be in the right mood for them though.

  • In reply to LRCCubsFan:

    I smell a trade coming. I just don't know who is going and is coming. Look for a lead off and cost controlled starter.

  • In reply to LRCCubsFan:

    Maddon mentioned Schwarber could lead off next season.

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    Joe would not do that without Kyle's blessing, but even if they are both stubborn enough to give it another try, that dog won't hunt. I don't care if Schwarber makes body look like Billy Hamilton's.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Maddon just recently mentioned he was revisiting the idea for 2018. I don't understand his love affair with leading Schwarber off either.

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    Maybe he knows, but idk, if Schwarbs hits like he did last year at the start, Kyle might have to sign with Japan in 2019.

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    In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    It's not necessarily his love affair w the Schwarbenator. It more has to do w his love affair w himself and his ego that believe he's knows more about baseball then anyone whose ever been involved w the game. He also feels he has transformed the old, "our parents baseball " into a more modern lovable game for all.

    If he puts his back at leadoff, he's an absolute idiot, and I hope some of the sheep finally can see he's not perfect. A great manager, maybe the best in recent cubs history, but not infallible like many want to believe.

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    In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Well put.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I don't know anyone who says Maddon is infallible. He is very good though and one of the best managers. Our FO seems to like the job he is doing and if they are happy with Joe, I am happy.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    No, no - he's the perfect manager. Baaaaaaaaaaaaa.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I'd rank Maddon a top 4 or 5 manager of the game ... in the division.

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    Beer, yes. Soccer,no.

  • In reply to Ray:

    What would this world be without a cold beer and baseball?

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I don't want to know.

  • That pen makes me a little nervous. Davis would round in off.

    I use to watch the nhl, nba, nfl and now I'm down to just baseball year around. My wife says I'm more engaged in the world around me.

  • Almost wondering (out loud) if the Cubs need a real lock-down 9th inning closer (like Wade Davis or Addison Reed or Holland) to solidify the bullpen, because they are currently still a Top Four team, and Top teams always have a legit closer for the 9th inning.

    Three out the four teams from last year had top closers in their pen (Jansen/Davis/Chapman and Giles—before he fell out of favor in the playoffs).

    Bullpen by committee could work, but you would have to have at least all seven guys having a great season to accomplish that.

  • In reply to DetroitCubFan:

    I don't see this being "closer by committee", I see it as Morrow becoming the closer. He was great as a setup guy last year and has earned a shot to try IF the position is open. His stuff plays well to the position and the only way we'll ever know if he can be a closer is once he's earned that job and performed in it. Wade Davis was the setup guy to Greg Holland before he got his chance.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I not buying it. Maybe, but Morrow was overused and ineffective at the end of the Series. He could be like Chapman for the Yankees. That is to say that he might have arm issues and DL stents. It's physiology. Pay me now or pay me later. I think we need a closer.

  • Help me out: Who is the that a pic of and why?

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Oh, just figured it out.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Given the short life of "10 Days in the Valley", Brenda (aka, Kyra Sedgwick) might be available to close.


  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I think she would be a distraction in the pen.

  • What’s the deal with Duensing? The guy was solid for us last year. What does he want? I’m kind of surprised by the lack of effort to keep him or perhaps there is more info I don’t know about that you guys would. Or people would......excuse me :)

  • Ask Dusty Baker how well the "Closer by Committee" worked last year. The Nats ended up dealing for Doolittle, Madson, and Kintzler to clean up that mess.

    And, I've just fired off another letter asking the Big Red Guy to put Addison Reed and Brian Duensing under the Cub Christmas tree.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I've commented several times going into this offseason that this is what I expected them to do: sign several closer "options" to go along with Wilson and possibly Edwards Jr. without spending big dollars or years. But knowing this FO and seeing what they have paid in prospects to aquire closers the last couple years, we know they want a lock-down guy.

    At this point, I think the need for a MOR starter is more necessary than additional pen arms. With the monetary outlay to the pen so far, I think we only have about $20M to go while still leaving cushion under the tax cap for 2018. I do want to emphasize that we will not go over the cap this coming season.

    That $20M will get us Cobb or Davis, but not both. I think a MOR (or better) SP is a higher priority at this point than more pen help. Cobb is there, and I really think that is the lowest level of quality we are shooting for. We will add him or better to the starting staff for 2018.

    That gets back to the question "What about a closer?". Davis is still a possibility, as many reports are suggesting his desired 4th or even 5th year just aren't there. I've thought all along we would strike early with a few signings of guys we covet, and then let this deep market play out and prices come down.

    We have the $ for one more major acquisition. Cobb or Davis would be that. If we want another significant upgrade to both the starting rotation and the pen, a trade becomes necessary, which is not out of the question and a whole other discussion.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    If Cobb wants $20million the Cubs should pass. He is not Darvish.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Darvish was not Darvish like in the WS.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I agree with the luxury tax statement, the Cubs will eventually go over it but they are waiting to do that when some of the cores guys either get signed to extensions or their arbitration numbers go way up. The tax itself isn't so bad for one year for a team like the Cubs but if you continue to exceed it then starts compounding and thats the real issue but once the new TV deal kicks in and the renovations are complete this will be less of an issue.

    One option you are forgetting is that the Cubs could sign a Cobb or a Davis to a big number and then trade for the other need. I highly suspect this will be the scenario. Other than Zobrist or Heyward (NTC) there really is no salary dumps on this team, so that eliminates that option. Whether we all like it or not someone is going to have to go. I like the current status of the rotation & bullpen but both are missing one piece, I am sure the FO sees that too.

  • In reply to Ronnie’sHairpiece:

    The penalties for exceeding the luxury-tax threshold do compound, which is why I am so sure we will not exceed that limit in 2018. We are saving all of our punishment for when we blow by it in 2019 and beyond. Trust me.

    I'm not forgetting the option of a trade, I specifically mentioned that as a possibility. We currently have dueling Cubs Den articles dealing with pitching options, and many of us are jumping back and forth. Thank you to the writers, by the way. Maybe I mentioned that on the other thread.

    We certainly can trade. We can trade in many ways we are not thinking of. The national media keeps reminding the country that Schwarber is an absolute butcher in the field and sucks at the plate, so we are obligated to give him to Boston or New York for peanuts (and they'd actually give us a LOT of peanuts, just don't tell anyone).

    I think the trade(s), if they happen this offseason, may surprise people. It is not "Schwarber and Happ for Archer or bust!".

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I don't know if the Cubs want to stay under the luxury tax threshold this year or not. I think they would like to though. I do agree that if the Cubs want to sign a MOR starter and Davis it will put them very close to luxury tax threshold if not over it. They may have no choice but to go over. It's only going to get worst as the young core players earn more money.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:


  • In reply to KJRyno:

    No, I was thinking of a different Big, bearded guy in a red suit when I was divulging my Christmas list above.

    Rick Sutcliffe has probably played that role a time or two.


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    In reply to DropThePuck:

    I could live with both of those guys pitching out of our pen.

  • Cubs need to find a closer. Sign Davis. If the Cubs go with a bullpen by committee managed by Maddon they are in serious trouble.

    I see Rondon signed with the Astros.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I hope Rondon has success with a change of scenery. He was so good for us until Aroldis Chapman arrived. Not sure what happened after that? Wish home well!

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    I also wish Hector Rondon the best (except when we meet the Astros in the 2018 WS) and thank him for his many fine years. Rumors had it that his elbow hasn't been right since August of 2016.

  • Give me reed over davis any day of the week.I do not want wade davis back. He is declining thanks for 2017 good luck in the future

  • Article in japan says the cubs are the "dominant candidate" for yu darvish

    So that means 2 things. Cobbs asking price is too high or darvishs market isn't strong. a 3-4 year deal would be great

  • In reply to bolla:

    I am ok with adding Darvish and any other arms. You never have enough pitching.

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    Personally if the Cubs wanted to take a chance on a TJ arm, I would have gambled on Michael Pineda, but perhaps w the Maddon n Hickey connect, they felts more comfortable w Smyly and I cannot blame them.

    I really wish the Cubs would try to sign The new stadium so they don't have toll

  • Ken Rosenthal just announced a massive contract swap between the Braves and Dodgers. LA brings back Matt Kemp, while the Braves receive Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kasmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson, and cash. The Braves are expected to DFA Gonzalez, making him a FA.

    The deal is expected to be relatively cash-neutral but get the Dodgers under the luxury-tax threshold of $197M for 2018, so they can splurge in the 2018-2019 FA market with lesser penalties, much as I expect the Cubs to do.

    As far as Cubs implications go, i.e. competition for Harper or Machado, Kershaw can opt-out of his contract after next season, and I expect the Dodgers to spend a pretty penny to re-sign him. Whether that would take them out of the running for our potential targets remains to be seen.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    It seems as though these orgs like the Dodgers and Yankees spend themselves ass over appetite in depth, but land on their feet. As little as a couple years ago the Yanks were way over the luxury tax and still owed lots to washed up players and the farm was barren. Now both are kick ass. I know that they have advantages smaller franchises do not, but I guess that they also know what they are doing too.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    In debt

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Very true, but that shows how much can change over the course of a couple years. One thing I am intrigued by is the similar paths the Cubs and Dodgers seem to be taking over the next several years. Both are rightly regarded as having two of the most competent front offices in baseball. Granted they came from different backgrounds the last few years, with the Dodgers having to pare payroll after their acquisition and the Cubs now approaching that "evil-empire" status, but I see a lengthy fight for National League supremacy forming between two evenly-matched opponents.

    "Let's get ready to rumble!"

  • Nice of the Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos to do his old employers a favor. Help them get under the salary cap.

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