The Cubs are one of the winningest - and oldest - franchises in Major League Baseball. Despite that fact, though, no closer in team history has surpassed 200 saves, with Hall of Famer Lee Smith leading the pack with 180 in a Cubs uniform.
Looking at recent years, even when the team was at its peak, the ninth inning has lacked a long-term solution. Hector Rondon (the last man to hold down the closer's job successfully in back-to-back seasons for the Cubs) was dazzling during the team's 2015 coming-out party, notching 30 saves with a 1.67 ERA in 72 appearances. But at the trade deadline the following year, the front office acquired free agent-to-be Aroldis Chapman, handing him the ninth-inning duties down the stretch and throughout the postseason.
Chicago let Chapman head back to the Bronx in free agency once the parade had wrapped and confetti had been swept off Michigan Ave., choosing to trade Jorge Soler to the Royals in exchange for Wade Davis. The veteran proved to be widly effective in 2017, converting a franchise-record 27 consecutive save opportunities. And who could forget his strikeout of Bryce Harper to close out the NLDS that October? But, again, same story. Free agency came calling and Davis got his money elsewhere.
From there, it was Brandon Morrow - who was great early on, but saw his season end by June due to injuries. In 2019, the Craig Kimbrel disaster took center stage after the team signed him nearly halfway through the year to shore up the bullpen. As we all know, that signing didn't play out the way anyone had hoped.
In the shortened 2020 season, Jeremy Jeffress seized the ninth inning job, in 2021 it was a resurgent Kimbrel closing the door until the Cubs flipped him at the deadline for Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer and, then, in 2022, David Robertson closed things up before, again, the Chicago closer was traded come July with an eye on the future. All that brings us to 2023 - and right-hander Adbert Alzolay, who has capitalized on the opportunity in a big way and could be the team's first long-term answer in the role since Carlos Marmol.
Cubs hoping Adbert Alzolay can handle the ninth inning for the long-term
One of the things the Cubs have been good at for awhile now is piecing together the bullpen mix and, more often than not, a viable closer has emerged. But it's different with Alzolay, who separated himself from the pack after Michael Fulmer's early season struggles, given he's a guy they've hoped, for years, could carve out a role on this staff - and comes with three more years of affordable team control.
He's been a revelation in the ninth inning for David Ross. In 48 appearances, Alzolay has finished 30 contests en route to 17 saves, a 2.47 ERA/2.66 FIP and a 0.951 WHIP. At just 28 years old, he could be heading into his peak years, just as the team's reloaded farm system starts pumping guys onto the big league roster.
Quickly, he became known for his passionate reactions after recording the final out of ballgames, fist pumping and screaming. But he's learned to channel his emotions into shutting down opponents, even seeking advice from veterans like Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks in the process. The end result? A homegrown arm who looks ready to slam the door for years to come in front of a packed Wrigley Field crowd.