If David Robertson wasn’t outright promised the job of the closest, then Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was pretty blunt in selling him the opportunity to potentially work the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. There should have been no misunderstandings as Robertson did not hire an agent and represented himself in the negotiations.
Although David Ross hasn’t officially anointed Robertson as the Cubs close in, his actions speak louder than words: Robertson has 4-of-4 save chances with a 0.00 ERA and only one hit allowed in six relief appearances. Ross appreciates Robertson’s experience in those moments and his sense of calm on the mound. Robertson also has the athleticism and ability to consistently throw strikes and deal with right-handed and left-handed hitters.
There were questions when Robertson signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract that includes $1.5 million in performance bonuses. Robertson had Tommy John surgery in 2019, missed the 2020 season, played for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, then left the Tampa Bay bullpen in the playoffs last year . But it sounds like the moment Ross described in spring training when asked about the closest thing to it.
“These things have a way of defining themselves,” Ross said then. “We have an idea of what everyone’s stuff is doing and how it plays out. With each individual range we will try to match this correctly. You can see different guys in the back. But you can also see someone starting to stand out a bit. You will notice it. I will notice it.
Competing teams looking for help with the bullpen will also notice it. In the last rebuild, the Cubs relied on a sign-and-turn strategy, adding pitchers on one-year contracts, coaching them, trading them at the trade deadline and adding young talent to their inventory. . Robertson said Hoyer didn’t outline his expectations for the 2022 squad — their conversations centered on the fit and opportunity in Chicago — or discuss the possibility of a midseason trade.
“We haven’t really delved into that,” Robertson said. “You just kind of have to play a season. You never know who will win. Things can happen. They can do moves upstairs that can make us better here. In the meantime, you play as hard as you can. There is a lot of talent in this club house. Anytime a team can win a split and then you’re in the playoffs. All you have to do is get a ticket for the show.
At this point, Hoyer isn’t too interested in clubhouse intangibles, but he does believe in the value of veteran relievers who can show young pitchers how to prepare and develop a short memory. Robertson, 37, made his league debut for the Yankees on June 29, 2008, in a Subway Series game at Shea Stadium. Over those two innings, Robertson faced a Mets batting group that included José Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltrán and Carlos Delgado while Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were positioned on the left side of the infield. Robertson eventually became an All-Star preparer for Mariano Rivera, whose presence created a tough-to-replicate bullpen order.
“There was a Hall of Famer in the back,” Robertson said. “You didn’t have to worry about that. You knew, just get to this round and it was over. It’s not like that now. The game has changed, it is evolving. Guys are going to find themselves in different situations and they are always expected to do their job. We are here to strike, work fast and get out. I try not to get into (the labels) too much. I don’t want to worry about it. I want to have fun and play baseball.
The trade deadline traditionally presents a binary choice of adding major league talent or subtracting from the roster to rack up prospects. History indicates that Hoyer’s baseball operations department will likely choose one of these two paths this summer and prioritize going forward. But perhaps this week’s trade with Atlanta — the acquisition of left-hander Sean Newcomb, 28, for veteran reliever Jesse Chavez, 38, and cash consideration — could be a pattern if the Cubs wobble around. of 0.500 and want to rejuvenate without completely writing off the last two months of the season.
The Angels selected Newcomb from the University of Hartford with the No. 15 pick in the 2014 draft and later included the 6-foot-5 pitching prospect in the trade of Andrelton Simmons with Atlanta. Newcomb made 49 combined starts for the Braves in 2017 and 2018, then became an effective reliever (3.04 ERA in 51 appearances) the following year. Newcomb struggled to maintain a role with the team that won the World Series after a flurry of moves at last year’s trade deadline. The Braves picked him up for assignment and found a game with the Cubs in an early-season trade.
“I was pretty excited,” Newcomb said Friday inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse. “I wasn’t throwing as much as I wanted to. There was a lot of talent there, a lot of good arms. So this new opportunity, this new perspective from the coaching staff, it’s just a bunch of little things on top of it.
Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and reliever coach Chris Young have already met with Newcomb and started pitching ideas. It doesn’t always work for every player, but the Cubs have a pretty good track record of taking a pitcher with that profile from another organization, helping them identify their strengths and allowing them to benefit from a change of scenery.
“There are a lot of cases where guys change teams and have success just because of a bunch of different aspects,” Newcomb said. “I’ve definitely seen that happen and look forward to working with them.”
Clint Frazier – another first-round talent looking for a fresh start in a rebuilding squad – is now sidelined while receiving treatment for appendicitis. The Cubs placed Frazier on the 10-day injured list and recalled Alfonso Rivas from Triple-A Iowa ahead of Friday night’s 4-2 loss to the Pirates.
Frazier represented a potential sweet spot for the Cubs when he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract just before Major League Baseball owners imposed a lockout. Frazier is just 27 years old and is potentially under the control of the club until the 2024 season. Once spring training finally began, Frazier became one of the interesting stories in the Cubs camp, considering flashes of potential he had shown with the Yankees and hope that he could stay healthy after five seasons in New York. Frazier’s batting speed and powerful right-handed swing helped convince Cleveland to select him with the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft and the Yankees saw that advantage when they acquired him in the trade from Andrew Miller. before the 2016 World Series.
Reading too much into April roster decisions or early season results can be misleading. There will be more injuries and player performance will come and go. But Frazier, when healthy, already seems like more of a player the Cubs will use for certain matchups and situations. These mix-and-match options are a big idea behind building their roster and pivoting away from their 2016 championship core. So far this season, Frazier has made five starts and played seven total innings in the field. left. Since his opening day brace, Frazier is 2 for 20 with two walks and no home runs or RBIs.
“Generally, especially with DH, there will be role players and then there will be everyday starters,” Ross said. “I think we have a lot more flexibility than some teams would use.”
Timing is everything and Ian Happ understands how difficult it is to stay accurate while receiving inconsistent playing time. Those opportunities also have to be earned and Happ was hitting 0.181 with a 0.628 OPS when Hoyer’s front office completed a sell-off at last year’s trade deadline. Happ’s strong finish in the final two months of an otherwise lost season — he hit .288 with 15 homers and a .944 OPS — helped him hone his approach as a switch hitter and make the case. that he was a daily starter this season.
“Being consistent at bat every day was important to me late last year,” Happ said. “Being able to get in there with a bit of rhythm and release things with the right hand was huge. It’s something that I hadn’t really done in the last few years, probably 17. It’s being able to release this swing and retire it early in the count.
Although Happ has been a regular hitter, the Cubs have also sent mixed messages about his role and place in the organization, originally recruiting him as the No. 9 pick in 2015 with the idea that a refined college hitter might be returned for a front line pitcher. Happ made his league debut with the defending World Series champions in 2017 and was considered rookie of the year. The Cubs dropped Happ from their 2019 Opening Day roster and demoted him to Triple-A Iowa. Happ earned an MVP vote during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign before struggling for most of last season.
If the 27-year-old Happ can maintain the sense of balance he developed after this trade deadline upheaval, the Cubs will face another interesting decision regarding a player who is able to become a free agent after the 2023 season. Happ hits .308 with a .772 OPS so far in April.
“That’s always the goal, to maintain that flow, that level of vision for the ball,” Happ said. “It’s always been part of my process, just having those good Pitch 1 drummers.”
(Photo by David Robertson: Nuccio DiNuzzo/MLB Photos via Getty Images)