Spiegel: The Cubs don't have a closer

  • Cubs relief pitcher Hector Rondon celebrates a victory over the Mets last month. Manager Joe Maddon doesn't have a full-time closer, and that's good news for interested baseball observers.

    Cubs relief pitcher Hector Rondon celebrates a victory over the Mets last month. Manager Joe Maddon doesn't have a full-time closer, and that's good news for interested baseball observers. Associated Press

Updated 6/11/2015 11:19 PM

We have happened upon a challenging situation that provides an intriguing project to watch.

The Cubs don't have an official closer. Hector Rondon has drained his manager's patience. This led to auditions last weekend in Washington.


Pedro Strop was given a chance Saturday. Jason Motte got it done Sunday. There weren't any save situations in the brief two-game series in Detroit, but that didn't keep the story from progressing.

Former Yankees and Nationals closer Rafael Soriano was signed to a minor- league contract and might end up in the big leagues after the All-Star Game break.

Maybe you have a favorite among that group. I like Motte, who saved 42 games two years ago in St. Louis, hit 98 on the radar gun Sunday, and has some of the menacing oddness good closers often emit.

But manager Joe Maddon doesn't have a clear-cut favorite. And he's not afraid of that.

You might have read me before in this space, railing against the modern bullpen as popularized by Tony La Russa. Far too often managers try to force pitchers into cookie-cutter roles that make their decisions easy, regardless of whether the arms fit the job.

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So here we are with a bullpen that demands deep thought and creative juggling. And we have the perfect guy to watch as he does it.

The example I've always used of an unconventional but successful bullpen is Maddon's 2008 Tampa Bay team. Those Rays had six pitchers finish with at least 2 saves. Troy Percival had 28, Dan Wheeler 13, Grant Balfour 4. A young Jason Hammel was among three relievers with 2.

Then in the playoffs, Maddon used 22-year-old rookie David Price several times. Price got the save in the pennant-clinching seventh game of the ALCS.

Maddon told us Tuesday in his weekly Score radio appearance that he will strive to get the outs that seem to matter the most, regardless of inning, with the guy he thinks fits the situation best.

Strop can get groundballs from righties or lefties. Motte can strike out both righties and lefties with his elevated fastball. Rondon is most effective when using his whole arsenal in the ninth, though he tends to shy from that.

"The cool thing is that when you get that many quality guys, you can rest people. That can keep you on a streak for a while, being able to use multiple pitchers who like the tough spots ... I call them 'even and ahead' guys.


"They pitch better when you're even or ahead, and they can help you stay hot."

For a hater of lazy bullpen choices, this is the right boss to see in charge.

Soriano was wanted by three teams, and he chose the Cubs with the assurance that he will close when he gets here. Perhaps this experiment will be short-lived.

An addendum here: Don't expect the Cubs to be involved in the rumored Jonathan Papelbon trade. One reason is the aforementioned promise to Soriano of a chance to close. Another is word from Philadelphia that general manager Ruben Amaro is desperate to get an extraordinary return for both Papelbon and Cole Hamels. Amaro has had a disastrous three seasons, and his future employment hinges on the success of those two trades.

Theo Epstein will not give up one of the Cubs' top prospects for an aging reliever with diminishing velocity on an expensive rental contract. Toronto will give Amaro more.

I've been waiting for a fearless manager in this town to buck convention when he's dealt a bullpen that doesn't fit the safe mold.

Now let's see how he does.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Goff Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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