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Cubs Could Be in the Mix to Trade for a Closer

A possible trade deal for a closer between the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals offers a much-needed solution for the Cubs bullpen.

Cubs Rumored in Possible Trade for Nationals Closer Kyle Finnegan

An idea to bring Washington closer Kyle Finnegan to Chicago has started to percolate online. The suggested deal, put forward by Zachary Rotman for Fansided, would send Cub minor leaguers Matt Mervis, Cristian Hernández, and Brandon Birdsell to the Nationals for Finnegan. The Cubs would, in turn, get some much-needed help at closer, where they’ve struggled for consistency.

Tapping Chicago’s Highly Rated Farm System

A trade for Mervis could fill a need at first base for Washington. The 26-year-old is a solid defender and has a .799 OPS with 12 HR and 33 RBI in 48 games with Triple-A Iowa this season. But he has struggled at the plate during his time with the big league club.

Hernández, 20, the Cubs’ number 17 prospect, is tearing it up with Single-A Myrtle Beach (.291/.410/.427) this season. But the Cubs are solid at shortstop and second base, and the talented rookie could make a nice prize for a team looking to add depth.

The 24-year-old Birdsell, the Cubs’ number 20 prospect, is 3-4 with a 3.79 ERA, 52 strikeouts, and 13 walks with Double-A Tennessee. His fastball can touch 99 mph and Birdsell also features a slider with good depth and a sweeping curve. But a plague of injuries starting with Tommy John surgery his sophomore year of high school delayed his entry to the Major Leagues until 2022.

Finnegan Is Dealing This Season

Finnegan, 32, is having a career year for the Nationals, posting a 1.78 ERA in 30 1/3 innings and converting 20 of 22 save opportunities. With solid bullpen depth, including veteran right-handed reliever Hunter Harvey, Washington might be willing to make a deal for their closer.

With another year of team control on his contract, the Cubs could count on having Finnegan through the 2025 season. There’s no telling whether Finnegan would continue to excel if the Cubs were to acquire him. But the need for late-inning relief may convince them a move is necessary.

The Cubs’ Current Situation is Untenable

The Cubs began the season believing their closer from last year, Adbert Alzolay, would pick up where he left off. Last season the 29-year-old posted a 2.67 ERA with 67 strikeouts and 16 walks in 64 innings of relief. And, he converted 22 of 25 save opportunities, giving up just five homers all season. But this year, Alzolay struggled in the closer role, blowing five of nine save opportunities and giving up six home runs in 17 1/3 innings.

The Cubs placed Alzolay on the 60-day injured list with a right arm strain on June 2. Manager Craig Counsell replaced Alzolay with veteran reliever Héctor Neris, the most experienced closer left in the Cubs bullpen. But Neris has struggled with his control and lately looks uncomfortable in the role.

That prompted Counsell to try out other options, tapping Keegan Thompson and Colten Brewer most recently. Both earned saves in the last two games of the series against the Giants on June 18 and 19.

Brown, Almonte, and Merryweather Return

The Cubs are confident that more help is on the way. Rookie starting pitcher Ben Brown and relievers Yency Almonte and Julian Merryweather are all set to return in the coming weeks. A healthy Merryweather could provide a nice late-inning option if he were to return to his 2023 form. The rangy right-hander posted a 5-1 record and a 3.38 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 72 innings, and 17 holds last season.

Kyle Hendricks‘ success in his recent start may see him return to the Cubs rotation. The last remaining member of the Cubs 2016 World Series championship team fits best in the fifth spot in the rotation as long as he’s pitching well.

That would give Counsell several options for long relief with Brown’s return, and veterans Mark Leiter Jr. and Drew Smyly also available. The aforementioned Brewer and Thompson are possible late-inning relievers, as are Tyson Miller, Porter Hodge, and Almonte. But a dedicated closer could bring increased stability and confidence to the entire ball club.

The Cost of Hoyer’s Reluctance

The only problem with this scenario is Jed Hoyer, who is reluctant to make moves before the mid-season break. The Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations cites the premium teams pay for early trades as his reason for holding back. This may be sound reasoning in the long run. A club might pay twice as much for a player in June as it would before the July trade deadline.

But this reasoning may also prevent the Cubs from turning things around this season. Spending a bit more now in a few key areas is arguably the right choice in this particular case. The team’s nucleus of Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger, Seiya Suzuki, Dansby Swanson, and Nico Hoerner are all in the midst of multi-year contracts. Shota Imanaga, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, and Javier Assad make a good starting four in the rotation.

If the goal in bringing these players together was to compete for championships, then the time is now to act while the window is open. A trade for a closer in great form like Finnegan would make an excellent means to that end for the Cubs.

 

Photo Credit: © Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

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