By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Hours before Friday’s first pitch at Wrigley Field, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer emerged from the home clubhouse with a man in Phillies red.READ MORE: Police Shoot, Kill Man They Say Was Wielding Knife In Englewood
That man was Jonathan Papelbon, a visitor to the Cubs’ confines. Could the dominant closer soon be making that clubhouse his new home?
“We’re actively trying to make our team better,” Hoyer said when asked about the Cubs adding players before the trade deadline. “We’re obviously on the phone non-stop and in communication with everyone.”
Among the “everyone” is Phillies baseball boss Andy MacPhail, formerly of the Cubs, who’s less than a month into his time in Philadelphia. The Cubs have been in talks with the Phillies, a source said on Friday, as MacPhail looks for minor-league assets to bolster his club that currently stands with the worst record in baseball at 35-63 on the season.
The Cubs dropped Friday’s contest to the Phillies, losing 5-3 in 10 innings after Jason Motte blew his first save in seven opportunities. Chicago’s bullpen has been rock solid to this point — the Cubs’ record when leading after eight innings was 36-1 entering Friday.
A tough loss that the Cubs, now 51-44, squandered brought the bullpen its second late-game loss of the season. In the end, it was Papelbon celebrating on the mound as Hoyer and Theo Epstein looked down from their perch atop Wrigley Field.
“What you do is you grieve for 30 minutes, you throw it in the trash can and you come back tomorrow,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We still have a chance to win the series. That’s where my mind’s at right now.”
Where’s the mind of Hoyer and Epstein after a loss like this? Perhaps it was on the reunion with Papelbon, the Red Sox’s closer in 2007 who heaved his glove into the Colorado night after recording the final out of the World Series. It marked the second championship for Epstein and Hoyer in Boston.
Years later, Papelbon remains one of the better closers in baseball, just on a team that’s buried at the bottom of baseball. He boasts a 1.59 ERA and a ground ball rate of 51.9 percent.
Oh, and he wants out of Philadelphia.READ MORE: 4 People Rushed To Hospital After Crash At Lincoln And McCormick
“I want to go to a contender,” Papelbon told the Boston Globe on July 13. “I’m at the point in my career I’ve earned a no-trade clause, and I’ve been able to get to that point. I’ve got to use it, but at same time I’m also not just going to use it and be dumb about it. I do want to get out of Philly, but I want to make a smart decision. I’ll make a decision to go to a place that contends and win a championship. That’s basically what my whole decision is going to be based on.”
What better fit than the Cubs — an organization run by old friends in Hoyer and Epstein and now poised to compete for the postseason each year? It’s reminiscent of his days in Boston, where the Red Sox were an annual World Series contender.
Likewise for the Cubs, Papelbon seems to be a great fit, too. Only once (2010) did Papelbon record an ERA above 3.00. With this season, plus an option, left on his contract, the Cubs can count on the 34-year-old Papelbon for this beginning stage of their contention plan.
Maddon prefers to avoid the traditional bullpen roles — set-up man, closer, etc. — to keep from a burden of pressure, especially considering how many young players are adapting to pitching in meaningful baseball games for the first time. Motte has been the big arm at the back end of games, while veteran Rafael Soriano was brought in to add stability.
Don’t be mistaken, because adding Papelbon isn’t an indictment of the Cubs’ bullpen, which has been terrific all season. Papelbon’s reliability would serve as an important asset to a team in contention.
Of course, the most important factor is what Philadelphia receives in return. The best Hoyer and Epstein could offer is likely a mid-level, expendable prospect or two, but the Cubs surely won’t mortgage any pieces of “The Plan” for even the value of Papelbon. The price needs to be right, but the Cubs’ baseball brass always proceeds with caution.
Fighting for the playoffs is a grueling grind. Losses like what the Cubs endured on Friday sting in the moment but could bring greater complication in September. Chicago currently occupies an NL wild-card spot but has little margin for error with its youth.
A top-end arm like that of Papelbon helps diminish that slim margin and would make a young team better for the playoff push. His reliability is something the Cubs could cherish as the season moves closer to October.
The Cubs could use a big bullpen arm, and Papelbon wants to join a contender. It seems like a win-win.
These thoughts surely crossed the mind of Hoyer and Papelbon as they exchanged pleasantries in the Cubs’ clubhouse.MORE NEWS: Fields Takes Over For Injured Dalton, Bears Beat Bengals In Home Opener
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.