Cubs

Cubs can stay out of PujolsFielder sweepstakes

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Cubs can stay out of PujolsFielder sweepstakes

DALLAS A pack of reporters trailed the Miami Marlins executives trying to get Albert Pujols to take his talents to South Beach.

Ozzie Guillen was just standing in the lobby on Tuesday when the bosses owner Jeffrey Loria and team presidents Larry Beinfest and David Samson moved through the Hilton Anatole.

Guillen wasnt sure what was going on and looked over both shoulders. Suddenly he was swept up in the group and on his way to a meeting. The doors to elevator No. 5 closed in the medias face.

At that moment, it seemed at least possible that the St. Louis Cardinals could lose their iconic player. At a reported cost of more than 200 million, Pujols could leave the National League Central.

That would be nice, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. I had to witness it over the last six years what he could do and its pretty impressive. Hes definitely the best hitter in baseball right now. What he did in the playoffs speaks for itself. If hes not with us, you hope that hes in another division, no doubt about it.

That logic is seen as a compelling reason for why the Cubs spoke with Dan Lozano, the agent for Pujols (and Rodrigo Lopez), and could see what it would take to sign Prince Fielder (or at least make sure he doesnt return to the Milwaukee Brewers).

This could shift the balance of power in the division, but there is an industry perception that Cubs executives know how much work they have to do before signing a superstar like that.

Sveum is tight with Fielder after their time together in Milwaukee, but he hasnt been involved in a recruiting process yet.

You know there (are) rumors out there and all that, Sveum said, but I dont really see that weve started any talks or anything like that.

If the Cubs do jump in on Fielder, Sveum said, Id probably have a big phone bill to Florida. You got to think if it all came about, (youd) have to find yourself in a pretty decent role (because were very close).

Fielder will turn 28 next season, but hes considered a throwback player who hustles down the line and never wants to be left out of the lineup. Hes the left-handed bat the Cubs crave, and would be a unifying force in the clubhouse.

He should have played in the 1950s and 60s and 70s, Sveum said. They played as hard as they possibly could every single day. They cared about winning. They cared about their teammates and Prince is all of those things. Hes just one of those special guys that come around once in a lifetime.

The problem is matching up the sweet spot of Fielders prime years with a Cubs team that isnt ready to win right now. Even though hes averaged 37 homers and 106 RBI for every 162 games in his career, there would be concerns about how his body type might project.

You want to make sure youre paying for future (performance) and not for past, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Its pretty simple, but if youre going to talk about a long deal, it better be a great player, an elite talent. Otherwise, those are recipes for disaster.

The Cubs president of baseball operations certainly enjoys the perception that the Cubs could be in on everything. Hes content to sit up in his suite and keep everyone guessing.

I dont mind when that stuffs out there, Theo Epstein said, because maybe it hides the ball a little bit from what we really are doing. (I) encourage that type of circus atmosphere in the lobby. Its good to be a little unpredictable.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

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AP

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.