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Theo Epstein says Craig Kimbrel’s late signing was biggest reason he struggled

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The Cubs’ late season collapse had a lot of causes, but certainly one of them was Craig Kimbrel‘s health and ineffectiveness. Kimbrel has a 6.53 ERA and has three blown saves and four losses in 17 games. He missed considerable time in both August and September as well.

What happened to Kimbrel, who has been among the best relief pitchers in all of baseball over the course of his career? Cubs president Theo Epstein thinks he knows. Here’s what he said to 670 The Score:

“We knew that given that he wouldn’t have a normal spring training, given that he was trying to do something that very few had ever done before, which was join the team midstream in a closer’s role, that there would be some risk. We felt it was certainly a risk worth taking. I think it’s impossible to pinpoint how much of his struggles have been because of that, but from my perspective it’s the single biggest factor. He’s never struggled like this before. He’s never even been close to having this type of performance before.”

Of course, the Cubs could’ve very easily signed Kimbrel at any time last offseason and certainly before June, which would not have deprived him of the normal spring training and normal start that Epstein cites as paramount in Kimbrel’s downfall in 2019. They didn’t, though, because Kimbrel had draft pick compensation attached to him until June and the Cubs didn’t want to give up a pick — the 64th pick in the draft, by the way — in order to get him. They probably also saved a decent amount of money by waiting him out until the season was already halfway over.

One way to interpret the “risk” that Epstein felt was “worth taking” is the risk of putting a less-than-prepared Kimbrel on his team. But it’s more than that, right? To Epstein and the Cubs, who again, could’ve had Kimbrel at any time, it was worth putting an underprepared pitcher in the closer’s role in a playoff race order to preserve that 64th pick. A pick which turned out to be Chase Strumpf, a bat-first second baseman out of UCLA.

Guess we’ll see in a couple of years if Strumpf was worth missing the 2019 playoffs for.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: