Cubs Search for Closer in Column B, Scout White Sox Closer Álex Colomé

The Cubs would love to have Brandon Morrow closing games, but he’s still just playing catch on flat ground. They would love to have Pedro Strop closing games, and they may soon, but he’s finishing up a rehab stint following yet another hamstring issue. Even if both of those relievers make it back to the active roster, it’s painfully obvious that more help is needed.

That help could arrive in the form of Adbert Alzolay, a hard-throwing righty who’s worked as a starter in the minors. Or maybe Dillon Maples figures it out and becomes the consistent force promised by his elite stuff. And hey, Tony Barnette is headed back to Triple-A Iowa to get back to work on a rehap stint.

It’s pretty clear, though, that the Cubs are going to be looking outside the organization. Craig Kimbrel shakes free from the bonds of draft-pick compensation — the result of receiving a qualifying offer — at 12:01am ET Tuesday, but he’ll have no shortage of suitors. It’s gonna be straight Thunderdome up in there, except with no Tina Turner and more than two teams entering.

There will be plenty of other capable relievers available via the trade market, which is likely to open earlier than usual with a single, hard deadline on July 31. One such reliever is pitching just a few miles away from Wrigley and is being scouted by multiple teams, including the Cubs.

As Bruce Levine reported Friday, White Sox closer Álex Colomé is drawing all kinds of looks from organizations looking for bullpen help. The 30-year-old righty is 2-0 with 11 saves in 23 appearances for the Sox this season and his 1.59 ERA looks pretty darn good. He’s got plenty of experience in the closer role, too, saving 84 games over his last two seasons in Tampa and another 23 since.

Not possessed of what you’d consider typical closer stuff, Colomé favors a 90 mph cutter that he throws twice as often as his mid-90’s four-seam. He’s gotten a few more swinging strikes than usual this season, though his 8.34 K/9 isn’t going to wow anyone. Nor will his mere 35.8% grounder rate or the nearly 40% hard-hit rate.

You also have to be incredibly suspicious of a .118 BABIP against that is the lowest in baseball (min. 20 IP) and sits 175 points below the league average. Some of that comes from getting hitters to put the right pitches in play, which Colomé is doing a better job of than at any point in his career.

To wit, he’s giving up less contact on his pitches both in and and out of the zone while working in the zone less than ever (39.3%). Even more telling is a 1.99 BB/9 mark that sits nearly a full walk below his career average, since it means he’s getting hitters to chase. Though he’s not exactly what you’d call an elite strike-thrower, Colomé would certainly improve the Cubs’ NL-worst 4.92 BB/9 out of the ‘pen.

The real question, then, is how much would he cost in a trade. The White Sox could theoretically contend next season, when Colomé is in his final year of arbitration eligibility. He’s making $7.3 million this season and the Sox could afford even a massive arb raise, but they could also go out and pay for someone of even higher caliber for a longer term. Either way, his value is not insignificant.

The Cubs, who will be without Morrow next season barring an insane decision to pick up his $12 million option, could see Colomé as the next in a line of short-term closers. Whether the two Chicago teams can swing another deal may depend on what the Sox need and whether competition among suitors drives the price up.

Levine wrote that the Phillies, Nationals, Mets, Diamondbacks and Yankees were all in attendance to scout Colomé during the Sox/Royals series earlier in the week, so any one of them could decide to go big for him. And maybe the Cubs prefer to prioritize Kimbrel while maintaining what few significant trade assets they possess.

It’s not hard to imagine Ian Happ, who’s spent the entire season to this point in Triple-A and may be figuring some things out at the plate, being a big chip. But that’s already too much speculation for me. Suffice to say the Cubs will be very active in trying to add to the ‘pen in one way or another, so expect to hear a lot more about this and other options over the coming weeks.

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