Cubs

Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

630132.png

Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

While new Cubs baseball management has said all the right things about re-signing Kerry Wood as they go about the process of rebuilding a 71-win team, it appears that talking may be as far as they are going to go to get a deal done with the popular pitcher. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations told me late Monday night that Wood's days as a Cub appear all but over.

"Woody wanted to be here despite the rebuilding process but while the Cubs were saying they wanted him back they were unwilling to pay him the market value for a solid set up man," he said. "He has heard from a number of teams that are World Series contenders and they are all willing to pay him a very fair salary to strengthen their bullpen. The Cubs expected him to pitch for another hometown discount. He has already done that for them a couple of times before. There is no reason that he should have to do that again."

Wood joined me on WGN Radio's Sports Night on Monday evening and while he didn't close the door on the Cubs, he sounded like a man ready to move on when I asked him about wanting to keep pitching. Well, thats the thing. Regardless of what happens were still in Chicago, were dedicated to the city and things will work out for me in the city of Chicago because were dedicated to the city, were dedicated to the community, were dedicated to helping children and again were staying here were raising the family here," said Wood. "Im a Texas boy, but I feel like Ive become a Chicagoan, so were happy to be here whether I finish here or whether I dont, we plan on being here a long time.

Wood made 1.5 million in 2011 after giving the Cubs a bargain basement deal to fit into then GM Jim Hendry's budget. It appears that the new Cubs administration expected him to play for basically the same money despite the fact that the team shed several big salaries. Whether or not Wood's Cubs career has come to an end he still plans on making Chicago his family's full time home and continuing his charity work. This is where were raising the family, we may end up in a suburb but well be in the Chicago area, not too far from the city if we do move out, but this is where were raising the family, this is where were raising the kids," explained Wood. "Were gonna stay very involved in the community, this wasnt done for a couple years and is gonna fade away. I dont have a whole lot of plans for after Im done playing so this is gonna take up a little bit of my time. We look forward to making a difference, making a change in some neighborhoods and really just helping out the children of Chicago."

Wood was asked about the fans who may be bitterly disappointed if he is not a part of the Cubs new culture change as well as a part of their rebuilt bullpen. The fans have always been great to me and my family as well and thats part of the reason weve stayed here. The communitys been great to us and the citys been great to us. From a fans standpoint I understand that theyve kind of seen me grow upI signed when I was 18, but I got drafted when I was 17, so thats half my life as a Cub. So I get it, at this point Im the last one left from a 2003 team that went deep into the playoffs, almost got it done. Theres always time for change, and theres always room for it, so well just have to wait and see.

Cubs boss Theo Epstein appeared on WGN Radio's "Cubs Corner" last week and spoke very eloquently about Wood and whether or not he wanted him back on the 2012 team. Kerry Wood, I love this guy. I love what he brings between the lines, on the field and really Ive just admired him his whole career with how he conducts himself and what he means in the clubhouse," said Espstein. "Kerry Wood is exactly the type of guy we want, to build a winning culture here in Chicago. I would be greatly, greatly disappointed if were not able to bring him back, were actively engaged in negotiations, its the off-season its the part of the season where agents get involved and money is part of the equation. I think this one should work out. You have a team who really respects the guy, wants him back desperately, you have a player who loves this city, is a huge part of the community here with the family, the foundation and wants to be back, if we cant work this one out were doing something wrong, wed love to get that one done and I expect to.

When Epstein's comments were played for Wood during the radio interview he said all the right things but in listening to him it was apparent that he is disappointed that his negotiations didn't go more smoothly. "Obviously it's great to hear those things. I mean, that's great. I don't envy the job he has and what he's doing right now. I think he's got a tough job ahead of him. Moves have to be made, some that he's already done. So, he's not in an easy position. But again, hopefully 2, 3, 4 years down the road we're saying that he made all the right moves, and that's why this team is consistently in the playoffs. So we hope that happens."

If Wood's career with the Cubs is indeed over he leaves as one of the most popular players in team history and also one of the classiest. He is very deserving of playing for a team that has a legitimate chance to win a championship and with the Tigers, the Phillies, the Reds, the Angels and others all interested, Wood's options are many. It appears he will make a decision on his next home by Saturday. Will Theo Epstein ride to the rescue and save the day? If he plans on it time is running out so he better move quickly.

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?

chavez_kamka_story.jpg
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.