Cubs

Hoyer calls Soler deal rumors bogus

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Hoyer calls Soler deal rumors bogus

MESA, Ariz. Google search the images for Jorge Soler and all you really get is one grainy photo. Such is the mystery surrounding the Cuban defector who will spark a bidding war.

The Cubs are widely viewed as the frontrunner to land Soler, to the point where some media outlets have portrayed it like theres already an agreement in place.

But the 20-year-old outfielder still has to establish residency in the Dominican Republic and be cleared for free agency, a process that insiders have described as far more complicated than the slam dunk its been made out to be across cyberspace.

Solers representatives were preparing to take him to the market at least as far back as the general manager meetings in Milwaukee last November, and the industry is still waiting.

Hes not a free agent, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this week. The rumors that we have a deal with him are just completely bogus. I dont know where that started, but you guys (in the media) should not run with those rumors. Theyre just rumors and they have no merit.

Still, that doesnt mean it wont happen. Theres no denying that the Cubs have targeted Soler for months and done extensive background work on the prospect.

If signed before July 2, Soler would not be limited by the international cap imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement. The general expectation is that he will become a free agent in time to cash in and beat the deadline. But there are multiple layers of government to go through and, obviously, the process has already taken this long.

Because of Solers youth and five-tool potential and with this being the final international shopping spree before the labor deal sets spending limits the Cubs wont be alone in their pursuit.

Dont bet against the mystery team in the age of Internet rumors. The Oakland As shocked the baseball world last month by landing Yoenis Cespedes with a four-year, 36 million deal.

But there are logical reasons to think Soler could learn The Cubs Way and become a key piece in Theo Epsteins foundation for sustained success.

The Cubs were definitely in on Cespedes and felt like they were able to establish a level of trust with the Cuban defector, though they werent as open to a shorter-term commitment.

This month the Cubs finalized a deal with Gerardo Concepcion, a 20-year-old Cuban left-hander who will get 6 million guaranteed in a five-year, major-league contract. Theres a slight chance Concepcion will appear in a Cactus League game this spring, though the organization hasnt decided where he will begin this season in the minors.

It should take closer to Cespedes money to sign Soler, but the Cubs have already shown a commitment to being big players internationally. Several people in the front office have deep personal and professional connections in Cuba and the Dominican, and reputations and relationships should matter there.

Resources that had been earmarked for the draft and international signings will have to be shifted elsewhere. This is the last prize before the business is regulated. Now is the time to go all in. Soon enough, Solers face will be everywhere.

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.