Cubs

Cubs still trying to answer Garza question

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Cubs still trying to answer Garza question

If you listen closely enough, it sounds like the narrative has shifted for Cubs executives.
Theyve gone from saying We need more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas at the beginning of spring training, to pointing out the unfortunate timing of his elbow injury just before the trade deadline.
Theo Epstein said he only meant that the Cubs didnt get a chance to play it out with Garza. And the president of baseball operations couldnt guarantee that Garza would have been traded anyway.
But coming from a front office that likes to picks its spots, shape the message and throw out blanket no-comments, this seemed like a purpose pitch.
Garza is only 28 years old and under club control through 2013, meaning his timeline could match up to the contending phase in Epsteins rebuilding plan.
But Epstein publicly acknowledged what others around the organization sensed that negotiations with Garzas camp had no momentum.
Everythings still in play, Epstein said Wednesday. We did have talks earlier in the season. They didnt come to fruition. I think when that type of thing happens, you have to be open-minded about moving a player. But certainly theres a time and place to address an extension again.
Between Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, the Cubs just traded away 40 percent of their rotation, and Epstein doesnt see waves of pitching coming through the minor-league system.
The Cubs seem to be right back where they started not sure how to answer the Garza question. Its either cashing him in for multiple prospects or building around him and Jeff Samardzija.
Its too early to say, Epstein said. Well see what our situation looks like and what the market looks like.
A contender can now only get Garza to impact one pennant race, not this season and next. But everyone knows that he can handle the American League East and the bright lights of the postseason.
Garza (5-7, 3.91 ERA) still hasnt put it all together yet, the way Matt Cain has with the San Francisco Giants. Cains reported 127.5 million guarantee over six years reset the market near the end of spring training.
Garza had often been compared to White Sox left-hander John Danks, who got a five-year, 65 million extension last winter and is now preparing for season-ending shoulder surgery.
Maybe theres a deal to be made somewhere in the middle. Garza certainly hasnt priced himself out with a career year, and this could offer security after two seasons on the North Side with questions about his right elbow.
Garza hasnt pitched since July 21 in St. Louis, and he wont start again at the earliest until Aug. 7 in San Diego. The Cubs say the MRI showed just traces of fluid, that it was only cramping and nothing more sinister, not related to the bone contusion in 2011.
Clearly, a healthy Matt Garza would have been a very sought-after player at this deadline, Epstein said. Whether we would have done something or not, its hard to say, but we didnt get a chance to fully explore it.
When a buying teams last data point is seeing a guy walk off a mound holding his elbow, its not the kind of thing they want to act upon.
Whenever Garza returns, he could be pitching for his next contract with the Cubs, or auditioning for a new team. How Epstein responds will say a lot about the direction of this franchise, how soon the Cubs might be buyers again.

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?

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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.