Joe Maddon expects Cubs front office will deliver at trade deadline


Joe Maddon expects Cubs front office will deliver at trade deadline

Theo Epstein saw one recent report that had the Cubs already contacting the other 29 teams in the majors looking for a starting pitcher.

“That one wasn’t really accurate,” Epstein said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to them all eventually, but haven’t gotten there yet. We’re on a limited phone plan, so we have to spread that out.”

Epstein was joking, but the president of baseball operations also didn’t really answer direct questions about whether or not the Cubs will have the wherewithal to land a big-money player this summer.

Until the Cubs start spending like a big-market team again – their rough payroll projection for 2015 is $100 million plus the $20 million earmarked for last year’s Masahiro Tanaka bid – the perception won’t go away.

[SHOP: Get your Kris Bryant gear!]

Joe Maddon – the relentlessly optimistic manager who did more with less while turning the Tampa Bay Rays into a small-market miracle – believes Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will deliver before the July 31 trade deadline.

“I am confident that Theo and Jed and the boys – as long as we’re pertinent – (will) do whatever they can to augment what we’re doing,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. “I totally believe that.

“So if it’s a pitcher, it’s going to be a pitcher. Whatever we need, I believe that they will attempt to make it happen.”

The Cubs already needed more pitching depth, even before Tsuyoshi Wada left Monday night’s game in the top of the third inning because of cramping in his left deltoid muscle.

While Travis Wood stepped in to throw 3.1 scoreless innings during that 4-2 win over the Dodgers – and Wada played catch on Tuesday with minimal soreness – the back of the rotation will have to be addressed at some point.

[MORE: Russell gaining confidence as he gets back to playing his game]

The Cubs sounded optimistic it was just cramping and Wada (1-1, 3.73 ERA, 1-for-7 in quality starts) wouldn’t be sidelined with a more serious shoulder issue. But in a next-man-up scenario, Maddon wouldn’t want to remove Wood from the bullpen equation.

“I really like what he’s doing,” Maddon said. “It’s really nice to see his name on that list. When he comes out like that for maybe one time through the batting order, he knows he can just let her go. He’s not trying to save anything for the fifth or the sixth inning.

“I think he’s really good at that. And when he’s that, he matches up against good right-handed hitters also, because of the carry on his fastball. I think he’s very valuable in that role.

“I don’t like the idea of Woody not being in the bullpen. I think Woody’s role in the bullpen is really important to us right now. Really important.”

That would leave Edwin Jackson as a possible emergency starter, with the Cubs feeling lucky if they could get four innings out of him, unless they find a rotation upgrade outside the organization.

[RELATED: Will Theo have flexibility to add at trade deadline?]

“Am I counting on it?” Maddon said. “I never really look at it that way. I’m always prepared to go with what I have, or what we have. I guess I’m kind of used to that. My job is to get the most out of whoever’s here. That’s how I look at it.

“It’s always nice. Obviously, it would be great. Of course, you want to get stronger. (But) if the situation calls for us to get the most out of these guys, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Cubs began the day with a .559 winning percentage that put them on pace for 91 wins this season. Epstein will be trying to find the right balance between slamming his foot on the accelerator and tearing up the runway his front office has engineered for the next five years.

“You can’t take any opportunity to win for granted,” Epstein said. “You have to seize the moment. At the same time, I think we’re cognizant of the fact that one of the primary reasons why we have the team that’s in contention right now is because a healthy organization has been built.

“You want to maintain that. That’s one of the things that’s made us good this year, and I think it’s going to continue to make us good for years to come if we maintain a really healthy organization.

“We wouldn’t sacrifice those things lightly. We wouldn’t trade prospects we believe in lightly. At the same time, there’s certainly a time and a reason to do it. When the right deal presents itself, we won’t be shy about it.”

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.