Cubs

Cubs: David Ross confirms he will retire after 2016

david-ross-cubs-2-20-16.png

Cubs: David Ross confirms he will retire after 2016

MESA, Ariz. - On the day of the Cubs' first official workout, David Ross confirmed 2016 would be his last season as a player.

It wasn't exactly a bombshell or a surprise, given Ross is in the final year of his deal with the Cubs and he's been hinting at retirement for a little while now.

"It's time," Ross said. "I don't want to be that guy that stays at the party too long. It's time to get kicked out of the party."

[RELATED - Embrace the Target: Joe Maddon wants Cubs to run into the fire]

Ross will turn 39 during this spring training and admitted he doesn't know what he's going to do after his playing career. He wants to stick in baseball, but deflected with a joke when asked about a possible mangerial career - "If somebody gives me a manager job, they'd have to interview me first and see what an idiot I really am."

On many levels, Ross is already a coach, using his 14-plus years in the majors to help all the young players acclimate to life in The Show.

And he's always down for a good time, which he proved again Friday night with Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward:

 

 

"I made a joke," Ross said, "saying we should go into Dick's and act like we were buying all our stuff and Rizzo's like, 'Let's do it!' So I was like, 'Alright, I'll let the kids have some fun at my expense.'"

The veteran catcher knows his place on this team, which now has World Series expectations after Ross and Jon Lester helped Joe Maddon change the culture in the clubhouse last season. 

Maddon spoke highly of Ross' influence in the locker room:

"In spite of not hitting .275 or better, he still creates this stature or maintains this stature in the clubhouse because of the respect people have for him about how he goes about his business," Maddon said. "And then when he says something, it's pertinent, it's right on.

"I really don't care what he hits batting-average-wise. His job is totally different. Whatever he hits is gravy for us. I love what he does. How well he interacts with Jon Lester and all the other stuff that he does for the team. It's almost immeasurable. It's that important."

Ross said he and new starter John Lackey - who is 37 - exchanged texts when Lackey first signed with the Cubs, saying they wanted to give it one last "whirl" at a championship before hanging 'em up.

"This isn't about me," Ross said. "There's so much good going on here. I don't think it should ever be about the backup catcher retiring that's a career .220 hitter.

"Listen, if it's about me, we're in trouble. There's none of that - this last this, this last that. I look forward to this ride.

"I need to prepare myself so I'm not the weak link on this team. I wanna be a guy that contributes to this team. I wanna have the best year that I possibly can to fit in with this group that's super talented."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

While Ross said he hasn't given much thought to life after his playing career, he did admit he has a few things on his bucket list for 2016 beyond a World Series.

He wants to take in everything he can, experiencing the moments and seeing the sights on road trips. He also said he will write down some of his thoughts, something he started this offseason.

Ross is entering his 15th year in the big leagues and has never entered spring training on a minor-league deal or as a non-roster invitee, an area he admitted he takes some pride in.

A reporter asked Ross if he will go out like Peyton Manning (assuming the Super Bowl-winning quarterback does, indeed, call it a career), but the Cubs catcher again deflected with a self-deprecating joke:

"When you're the backup catcher with a .200 average," Ross said, "I think it's more like 'Let's just get this guy out of the game. We'll move him on, next guy.'"

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

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?

chavez_kamka_story.jpg
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.