The end of the Brandon Morrow Era: Veteran reliever won't return to Cubs bullpen this season

Tony Andracki
NBC Sports Chicago

Veteran reliever Brandon Morrow won't be making a Kyle Schwarber-esque comeback for the Cubs this season.

Morrow has missed the entire year while dealing with the same elbow issue that forced him out of action in the second half last season. He was working towards a comeback and even threw live batting practice to hitters earlier this month, but the Cubs announced Wednesday he suffered a setback that will end his 2019 campaign.

Morrow will see a specialist next week and the likely next step would be a surgery to release the pressure on the radial nerve in his right elbow.

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"He certainly worked very hard in an attempt to come back and tried a lot of different techniques and procedures and just wasn't able to get over the hump where he could sustain full exertion and progress past live BPs towards a rehab stint," Theo Epstein said Wednesday. "We feel bad for him, feel bad for us that he wasn't able to contribute this year. But we've kinda sensed this coming for a little bit now since he hasn't been able to get over that hump.

"We certainly were operating under the presumption that he wouldn't help us recently and saw it as sort of gravy if we could and unfortunately, that's not gonna happen."

The Cubs signed Morrow before the 2018 season to a two-year, $21 million deal that included a $12 million team option for the 2020 season. It's safe to say the team won't be picking that up for next year and now that he's 35, it's unknown what his future might be in baseball.

Morrow was fantastic for the Cubs last season when he was able to pitch, going 22-for-24 in save situations with a 1.47 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He emerged as a bonafide lockdown reliever in 2017 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he posted a 2.06 ERA and pitched in all seven games in the World Series that fall.

The Cubs knew they weren't going to have Morrow for at least the first month of 2019 after he underwent a procedure on his elbow in November - the same procedure Darvish had a month earlier. 

But Morrow suffered setback after setback and had trouble recovering after throwing bullpens and ramping up his recovery.

Morrow would've been a nice addition to the Cubs' much-maligned bullpen down the stretch - and potentially in October - but that was always a longshot that he would be able to make it back in time to have a major impact.

He'll go down as something of a regrettable free agent signing for Epstein's front office, but nobody could've predicted this level of injury, even for a guy with a long list of arm issues earlier in his career.

"I think we were pretty confident he would pitch at a really high level when he was out there," Epstein said. "The stuff coming out and he did [pitch well] in the first half last year. I don't know. I look back, maybe we should've had even more conservative guidelines with him or maybe there's nothing we could do. It's impossible to say. 

"Obviously he's got a significant injury history, which makes him a calculated risk. When you sign someone like that, how good he was, you know you're gonna get quality when he's out there, but there's a risk of not getting the quantity. That burned us for the last year-and-a-half and that's on me."

Epstein and the Cubs know the bullpen has caused plenty of heartache for fans this season - including on the recent road trip - but now that everybody else besides Morrow is back healthy, they feel like things might finally fire on all cylinders down there.

"Obviously the pen's been a story this year, but I do think a lot of guys have stepped up in his absence," Epstein said. "I think it's coming together to the point where it can be a strength for us. We won't have Morrow to help the rest of the way, but we haven't had him all season."

The end of the Brandon Morrow Era: Veteran reliever won't return to Cubs bullpen this season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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