Chicago Cubs beginning background work on Craig Kimbrel

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs have begun doing ‘background’ work on free agent closer Craig Kimbrel. The bullpen had had its struggles, but that’s not the only reason why the Cubs have ventured into the fold.

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan and you’ve watched even half the games, you know a closer is a need for this team. The offense is stellar. The Cubs are going to have to fix this late-inning bullpen to set themselves apart from the rest of the NL Central. So beginning background work on Craig Kimbrel makes complete sense. But there’s another reason the Cubs have increased their interest in the closer.

According to Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, the sad but unexpected absence of Ben Zobrist while he deals with his divorce from wife Julianna has opened the door for some financial flexibility. Zobrist is currently on the restricted list, and players on that list generally aren’t paid. If he doesn’t return–which Joe Maddon has said -“I have to think that way, absolutely,” that would free up about $9 million to spend on solidifying the bullpen.

There were a few things in the way of the Cubs front office from pursuing Kimbrel. The first was ownership, who made it clear the Cubs didn’t have much money to spend this offseason. The second was they hoped they had a ‘fill-in’ closer in Pedro Strop. But with his injuries and the fact he’s really more of a set-up man–and a good one–than a closer, this route has to be pursued.

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The final thing was the draft pick compensation if he was signed before this year’s draft. If they hypothetically were to sign Kimbrel now, they would forfeit their 64th pick, $1,050,300 in pool money and $500,000 from their international bonus pool. International money is always highly sought after from GM’s, and I’m sure Theo Epstein wants to keep every dollar of it that he can.

We’ve hammered the Kimbrel topic into the ground, but we need to. The Cubs are having a difficult time closing out games. Many will point to the offense in Friday night’s Cardinal game in which they lost 2-1 in 10 innings. And that’s fair.

But the Cards were able to turn to their closer Justin Hicks, who put up two solid innings of work. The Cubs? They don’t have a ‘shutdown’ arm and were forced to mix and match.

Much like it was in 2016, the Cubs don’t need much at, or before, the trade deadline. But once again, a closer is going to be part of that. The recent signing of Carlos Gonzalez to a minor-league deal was a low risk, high-reward play. The offense is stout. The rotation, while shaky a few times, is still one of the better ones in the NL. The bullpen is where the help is needed. Strop is a set-up man. And if and when Brandon Morrow returns, he certainly shouldn’t be trusted with high-leverage in late games.

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Even Yu Darvish is going out, throwing six innings of solid work, but hasn’t had a decision in his last six games. Some the offense kept pace and kept him in it. The rest, the bullpen has faltered and left him with a no-decision.

The Cubs are 11 out of 22 in save opportunities. A good closer likely gets 9 of 11. That would make the standings look a lot different from the Chicago Cubs being up just half a game on the Brewers.