Cubs

Does a Starlin Castro trade make sense for Cubs and Yankees?

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Does a Starlin Castro trade make sense for Cubs and Yankees?

Starlin Castro’s name figures to be in trade rumors throughout the offseason, and the New York Daily News delivered Friday morning by reporting the Yankees had discussed a Brett Gardner trade with the Cubs as part of their wide-ranging talks involving the All-Star outfielder.

The Daily News adjusted its reporting hours later, spiking the idea of a Castro-for-Gardner deal.

If the Yankees move Gardner, an industry source said, the belief is they will want a lower-cost player to create more financial flexibility as part of an overall youth movement within the final years of the Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira/CC Sabathia megadeals.

Castro, who has notched 991 career hits before his 26th birthday, is guaranteed $38 million across the next four seasons and coming off a strong finish to this year, helping the Cubs advance to the National League Championship Series.

[RELATED - How Cubs plan to rebuild their bullpen for next October]   

Never say never when you’re talking about potential deals, but another source said the Cubs have scenarios where Castro sticks around next season as their primary second baseman.

Theo Epstein’s front office and Joe Maddon’s coaching staff appreciated the way Castro handled Addison Russell taking over at shortstop in August, how a three-time All-Star didn’t complain and remade himself at a new position. 

A third source predicted the Cubs will find their next centerfielder by either making a small trade or signing a free agent. The assumption being Dexter Fowler will get paid somewhere else, with most of the available resources poured into the pitching staff this winter.

The Yankees didn’t bite when the Cubs shopped Castro at the July 31 trade deadline, but they are said to at least be open-minded about a player who sometimes has a perception problem, given his uneven performance and concentration issues in the past.

Jim Hendry – the former Cubs general manager who promoted Castro to the big leagues from Double-A Tennessee in 2010 – is now a special assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

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There’s a lot to like about Gardner, a self-made player who – as the story goes – got cut from the College of Charleston team before making it as a walk-on and ultimately developing into a World Series champion in 2009.

Gardner has 34 playoff games on his resume, a career .346 on-base percentage and a reputation for being a good leader. But he’s 32 years old and reportedly owed $38 million across the next three seasons.

In terms of a more realistic match, Fox Sports identified Atlanta’s controllable starting pitchers (Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller) as targets for the Cubs. In trying to build a World Series contender for 2016, the sense is the Cubs will try to use their dollars and trade chips to address the pitching deficit. 

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.