Maddon chimes in on Kimbrel, eager for Strop

June 2nd, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon tends to leave the transactional decision-making up to the leaders of the team's front office. He does not need to tell president of baseball operations Theo Epstein what needs exist on the roster. Epstein and the group around him already know.

That explains why Maddon said Sunday that -- even with a need in the bullpen for an impact arm for the late innings -- he has had "zero" discussions with the front office about free-agent closer . Following the MLB Draft this week, any team that signs the elite reliever will not have any Draft-related compensation linked to the contract.

"It's easy for me to say zero, because it's true," Maddon said. "They could be [discussing it in the front office], absolutely. But, I have not had that discussion. Really, I don't get involved in that a whole lot. ... In situations like this, our guys are pretty aware. They don't need to know what I think on that one."

A recent report by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal indicated that the Cubs were indeed doing their due diligence on Kimbrel, a seven-time All-Star with a 1.91 ERA, 333 saves and 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his career. The Cubs have made it known since the offseason that they are limited in terms of financial wiggle room this year, but 's prolonged absence while on the restricted list has the potential to free up some funds.

Maddon said his only focus right now is the pending return of late-inning arm , who was scheduled to make a Minor League rehab appearance for Triple-A Iowa on Sunday. Barring anything unexpected, the next step for Strop would likely be activation from the 10-day injured list following his bout with a left hamstring injury.

Asked if Kimbrel would be like a Christmas gift in June or July, Maddon said, "The Christmas gift's going to be Pedro Strop very soon. The moment we get 'Stropy,' that lengthens the whole bullpen again. Just let it play out, man. I don't worry about it. I don't worry about stuff like that. I like the group that we have."

Maddon also discussed the reality that someone like Kimbrel, who has not pitched this season, would not be available immediately. Even with ongoing training, any team that signs him (or free-agent starter Dallas Keuchel) would need to develop a plan for building them back up in a manner similar to Spring Training.

"You'd have to lay out a track there for him to get ready again," Maddon said. "Probably a minimum of three weeks, I would say something like that. You'd have to get him in some games. You'd have to get out there and get through the daily process of being sore. ... There's normally going to be a process to get him up to speed."

Worth noting
• Pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay (No. 4 on the Cubs' Top 30 list per MLB Pipeline) struck out eight over six shutout innings on Saturday for Iowa. Over his past three starts, the 24-year-old righty has turned in a tidy 1.06 ERA with 23 strikeouts, two walks and just six hits allowed over 17 innings. Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting, recent discussed the possibility of Alzolay reaching the Majors this season.

"I think it’s depending on what the Major League needs are," McLeod said. "For me, it’s a matter of if he's healthy, which he is, obviously. So, assuming he's healthy, and then dependent on what the Major League club's needs are. Those two things will have to align."

• One day after being scratched due to right heel soreness, returned to the starting lineup and manned shortstop for the Cubs on Sunday. Maddon said the team's medical staff gave the go-ahead to play Baez and added that the shortstop was insistent that he felt good enough to play short rather than third base.

"I talked to him after the game last night," Maddon said Sunday. "He was like, 'I want to play.' I said, 'OK, you want to play third? He said, 'No, I want to play shortstop.' So you just keep a close eye on him. I know it's not 100 percent, but that's just who he is. I'll just watch him."

got the start in right field on Sunday, marking his first action in the outfield since colliding with Jason Heyward on May 26 at Wrigley Field. Bryant has bounced between third base (32 starts) and the corner-outfield spots (15 starts) this year, and Maddon did not plan on letting the fluke play with Heyward impact his defensive strategy.

"In 2016, [Bryant] played in the outfield a lot and everything turned out pretty well," Maddon said. "That was a moment the other day that he could've just as easily had run out for a popup with the shortstop and collided with him also. It just happened. Stuff happens in baseball. It's not an injury-free sport."

• Veteran outfielder made his Triple-A debut for the Cubs on Saturday, going 0-for-4 while playing right field. Maddon was not sure how many games Gonzalez would play in the Minor Leagues, but Chicago wants him regain a rhythm over a number of games before joining the big league club.