Edwin Jackson DFA’d as Rafael Soriano joins Cubs’ bullpen


Edwin Jackson DFA’d as Rafael Soriano joins Cubs’ bullpen

ATLANTA — Two and a half seasons into a four-year, $52 million deal, the Cubs are saying goodbye to Edwin Jackson.

Reliever Rafael Soriano will join the Cubs for Monday’s series opener against the Cincinnati Reds, and to make room for the right-hander with 207 career saves, the Cubs will designate Jackson for assignment. The 31-year-old finished his Cubs career with a 16-34 record and 5.37 ERA in 82 games (58 starts), though he did have a 3.19 ERA in 31 innings out of the bullpen in 2015.

“I wasn’t really expecting it, but at this point in my career, it’s hard for me to say I’m surprised about anything that happens,” Jackson said. “It sucks, but it’s just the business part of the game. I’ll be all right, the team will be all right. Hopefully throughout my time here I left some kind of positive influence on the guys that they can continue to keep it going.”

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With Soriano re-gaining his arm strength in the farm system — he signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in June and pitched in seven games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa — the organization was faced with a difficult decision on who he’d replace in the major league bullpen. Despite having two years and a pro-rated $26 million left on his contract, Jackson was the guy jettisoned.

Soriano saved 32 games for Washington in 2014 — though he had a 7.56 ERA in September — and racked up 40 or more saves three times, including in 2010 with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Maddon, who managed Jackson from 2006-08 with Tampa Bay, was effusive in his praise of his departing pitcher.

“What a professional athlete and person that Edwin is,” Maddon said. “I’ve known him for a long time, I wasn’t here when he went through some tough moments here, but everybody speaks so well of how he handled those and how accountable he was to (the media) and to his teammates.

“The word class often time for me is absolutely thrown out there way too readily, too easily — I really believe it applies to him and how he handles himself and his decorum among professionals. He’s a good friend, I really believe he’s going to get another opportunity and I really wish him nothing but the best in that this next opportunity really blossoms for him.

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“First-rate human being.”

Added starter Jake Arrieta, who was close with Jackson and his family: “He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever been around. It’s hard to see him go.”

Jackson will hang back in Atlanta — he went to high school just down I-85 in Columbus, Ga. — and said he won’t worry about what’s next since it’s out of his control. The Cubs have 10 days to place him on waivers, trade him, release him or outright him to the minor leagues, though Jackson could decline that assignment and become a free agent.

“It’s just a waiting game now,” Jackson said. “Wait and see. Something will happen. Just not sure when, where, or who.”

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?


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.