Craig Kimbrel is on the way, and the Cubs couldn't be more giddy
The buzz among the Cubs as a team began Wednesday night in the dugout and continued into the clubhouse that night and into Thursday morning.
Word of the impending signing of closer Craig Kimbrel reached the players during the game, and they reacted like kids on Christmas morning.
"What inning was it when they announced it because (Kyle) Schwarber came out and started doing the Kimbrel thing," said reliever Steve Cishek, referring to Kimbrel's birdlike stance on the mound. "I'm like, 'Here we go. It happened. Unbelievable.' The guys are pretty excited."
Schwarber pleaded guilty as charged.
"All the fans were screaming and yelling, 'We got Kimbrel,' " Schwarber said. "I heard it from Len (announcer Kasper) on TV. So I went out there and did the arm hang. That'll be fun."
But, seriously, what should be the most fun are the benefits the Kimbrel signing should bring to the team (once the deal becomes official after a physical exam). Those benefits include:
• Increased bullpen depth or "lengthening of the pen," as manager Joe Maddon and the team term it.
• Getting relievers who had been closing, such as Cishek and Pedro Strop, back into more customary setup roles. Strop had been closing in the absence of injured closer Brandon Morrow, and Cishek did much of the closing when Strop went on the injured list.
• Giving the team an extra shot of confidence. Getting a seven-time all-star can do that.
"It lengthens the pen and makes us a lot stronger," said Cishek. "Lengthening us out, we can have more (favorable) matchups now. It's a good recipe for success."
Relief pitchers, like most athletes, are creatures of habit, and the majority of them like knowing their roles. With Kimbrel holding down the ninth inning, Cishek, Strop, Brandon Kintzler and others can settle back into more familiar roles.
"I really believe every reliever would prefer to have a set role, like a seventh-inning guy, eighth-inning guy," Cishek said. "But here we don't really have that apart from Pedro pitching eighth and now Kimbrel the ninth. Last year I learned to accept that. I learned how to pitch in those situations. I personally like it, and I had a good time with it. I try to treat the fifth, sixth, seventh inning like a save situation."
Maddon says there may be an added benefit. He often says a "mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form." According to Maddon, Kimbrel's presence may allow the setup guys to settle more comfortably into their old roles.
"I think when the mind is stretched, when you go back to something that you had done before -- and I don't know if the right word is 'easier,' but the right word might be more 'comfortable' in that moment -- when you get a guy like Kimbrel, whoever was performing in that role before, easily steps aside," Maddon said.
Maddon also contends that for a move to gain acceptance by the team, the incoming player or players have to be viewed as upgrades. The recent signing of outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and the Kimbrel acquisition seem to fit that bill in the Cubs clubhouse.
"I always talk about when you make acquisitions and bring a guy into the clubhouse in-season, where the whole group realizes this makes us better, then everybody falls in line," Maddon said.
Judging by how many players who were around to talk to the media, they seem to have done so enthusiastically.
"Obviously one of the best closers that's been in the game so far," left fielder Schwarber said. "Whenever you get a guy like that, you're obviously going to be excited. I think that's going to be able to help everyone out."