Chicago Cubs: Club appears set with Brandon Morrow for ninth

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in a little over six weeks, and right now, Brandon Morrow is the man to close games for the Chicago Cubs.

With another reliever off the board, this time former Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis, it looks more and more likely as if Brandon Morrow will indeed slot in as the closer for the club.

Technically Addison Reed and Greg Holland are still available, but we are going to look at Morrow and how he could fare.

Inexperienced but…

While the injury concern is there with Morrow, let’s look at him, independent of that variable. He has never served as a full-time closer, racking up 18 career saves, with just a handful in 2009, 2010 and two in 2017 with the Dodgers.

Chicago Cubs
Chicago Cubs /

Chicago Cubs

In between injuries and time in the minors, Morrow made the transition from starting to relieving. He compiled 82 1/3 innings from 2014-16, before coming up from Triple-A Oklahoma and flourishing out of the Dodgers bullpen in 2017.

Last season, Morrow put together a 6-0 record, 2.06 ERA, and 1.55 FIP over 43 2/3 innings, his most innings since 2013. He also had those additional 13 2/3 postseason innings, so it basically equates to a regular full season’s work.

Here is just a tad more insight into what Morrow did, and might do, as mentioned by FanGraphs.

It’s that latest season the Cubs are banking on. In 2017, he struck out batters to a 10.31 K/9 rate and his BB/9 was 1.85. Numbers that you like to see but wonder how they would project out for a full season. Chicago will bank on that for 2018.

Obviously effective…when healthy

In a Chicago Tribune article Dec. 10 by Mark Gonzales, there was a line which Joe Maddon referenced how effective Morrow was against his Cubs in last year’s playoffs.

"“When he’s coming out of the bullpen he’s throwing 98-99 with that (89 mph slider) he’s got. This guy has been extremely talented. Now, when he stays healthy, which he has, that’s a different animal.”"

There’s the sticking point. When he stays healthy.

You have to think the Cubs would take a cautious approach for a pitcher, who, not only doesn’t have the consistent closer experience, which Theo Epstein addresses at the time of the signing but also from the perspective of his prior injury history.

One more for a crowded pen?

Gonzales mentioned in that article, even with the Morrow addition, the Cubs were not ruling out a return of Davis. As the latter has now gone to help a revamped Rockies bullpen at a record price, perhaps talks about Reed or Holland pick up. Depending on the starting pitching aspect with Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb and others.

Though you figure Holland signs for at least as much, or close to what Davis makes. He is also a Scott Boras client who will see to it that his client gets paid handsomely.

Epstein and Hoyer were smart to let Davis go for every well-earned penny — three years, $52 million, plus fourth-year vesting option — and it has not been in the Cubs’ DNA to invest that many years or dollars into a closer. Especially if the Cubs are able to use part of that money for a starter, and another reliever, such as Tony Watson?

Also, Morrow would be the Cubs’ fourth closer since 2015.

With a relief corps consisting of Morrow, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards, Justin Grimm, and likely Mike Montgomery, that might be it. Because the Rockies signed Davis, and since Davis rejected Chicago’s qualifying offer, the Cubs are granted a compensatory pick.

That is likely another reason the Cubs don’t consider Holland. They would then sacrifice a compensatory pick in the event they signed the free agent.

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As it currently stands, Morrow is the guy for the ninth inning, and the Cubs seem to like their chances.