Cubs

Ramirez and Soriano have something to prove

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Ramirez and Soriano have something to prove

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011Posted: 6:40 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Whether or not you think Aramis Ramirez gets his uniform dirty often enough, you cannot argue with the numbers when hes healthy. And you may not like Alfonso Sorianos contract, but forget it that money is already spent.

The Cubs can talk about young players and the system but they need to maximize Ramirez and Soriano to contend. Combined, they will make more than 33 million this season. They understand that things arent getting any easier.

Im 100 percent, Ramirez said Saturday. I just got to stay on top of everything my shoulder, my thumb, everything. I just got to work a little harder. The older you get, its a little tougher.

Back in the Dominican Republic this winter, Ramirez added several pounds on purpose, while Soriano focused on his legs, even if he will never run the way he once did.

Ramirez will turn 33 in June, but this will be his 14th season in the majors, and it has taken a toll on his body. He has played more than 145 games just three times in his career. The Cubs hold an option for 2012 either pay him 14.6 million or buy him out for 2 million.

Theres no other place that I want to be, Ramirez said. But well see what happens. I dont know what they think. Im still under contract for this year.

The 35-year-old Soriano is halfway through his 136 million deal. The Cubs will have to think about pulling Soriano late in close games, but he will continue to work on his defense and wants to be a nine-inning player every day, though they have three other outfielders.

Soriano has dealt with the loss of his mother, who died of a heart attack last month in the Dominican Republic.

My mom is everything for me, he said.

Soriano still had a big smile and a handshake for everyone on Saturday morning, and he automatically is an energetic presence in the room.

Soriano just checked his numbers from last year 24 homers in less than 500 at-bats. That is a unique skill. He drove in 79 runs, which isnt overwhelming, but its also the highest total during his four years in Chicago.

Why not? he said when asked about hitting for more power.

It is the same calculus for Ramirez. He believes he will produce if he can avoid the collection of injuries that conspired against him last season. He was hitting under .200 after the Fourth of July, and was ultimately limited to 124 games. Yet, he still reached 25 homers for the eighth time in his career.

The next free-agent class of third basemen is weak, and its easy to imagine Ramirez being the most coveted if hes cut loose. He doesnt know how much longer he wants to play, but could force the Cubs to pick up the option if he can put together another good year.

Mike Quade talks fast and he speaks with his hands. Standing beneath a gray sky, the Cubs manager addressed his players on one field at Fitch Park before the teams first full-squad workout.

Quade did not stay on the sidelines Saturday, taking a lead off second base while demonstrating one drill for bunt defense.

Im not reinventing the game, he said. But we wanted to talk specifically about something as simple as a No. 1 bunt play with runners at first and second. (They) ran it for Casey Stengel. So Mike Quades not coming in here changing stuff. But there are points of emphasis within that play that I think give you an edge.

The veterans responded well to Quade during his six-week audition last season, and the next seven months will depend in part on how he connects with players like Ramirez and Soriano. His first speech to the entire group contained a simple message.

We touched on effort, Quade said, and the fact that I dont think theres any shortcuts to being a good team.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.