Cubs

Trade Deadline: Maddon leaving Cubs business up to Theo, Jed

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Trade Deadline: Maddon leaving Cubs business up to Theo, Jed

Since joining the Cubs in 2011, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have given the franchise a complete facelift.

From trading away veterans for prospects, revamping the scouting department that has struck gold with the drafting of players such as Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, and the hiring of Joe Maddon, the Cubs' front office dynamic duo has the North Siders in the thick of the National League postseason race for the first time since 2008.

With the MLB non-waiver trade deadline less than a week away, Epstein and Hoyer have the Cubs positioned as buyers, which is a far cry from how the club has spent the last few deadlines. No longer are players on the team wondering, "Who's going?" Now, the thought is, "Who's coming in?" 

[MORE CUBS: Lester fine if Cubs stand pat at trade deadline - 'We're pretty darn good right now']

The Cubs (51-44) sit just a 1/2 game back of the San Francisco Giants (52-44) for the second National League wild card spot as the Giants defeated the Oakland A's late Friday night. 

It won't be surprising to see the Cubs add a piece before the deadline, as they have been linked to top-line starters Cole Hamels and David Price and Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. A super utility player like Ben Zobrist could also be a fit for the Cubs given his impending free agency, veteran presence, ability to play all over the diamond and rapport with Maddon in Tampa Bay.

Regardless of what happens before the deadline, Maddon isn't going to mess with what Epstein and Hoyer have built in their four years in Chicago, opting to stay out of the trade chatter and worry about the on-the-field product. 

[MORE CUBS: Cubs not feeling the pressure of ticking clock on trade market]

"When we're at home it's more daily," Maddon said. "When we're on the road they kind of leave us alone which I really do appreciate. They check in when it's absolutely necessary. I spoke with them yesterday because I haven't seen them in a bit. That was an update. I don't anticipate daily updates. I don't feel like I need daily updates. I'm not that guy. I have my job to do and that's all I worry about.

"When I'm asked my opinion I give it. It's not my job to be concerned about acquisitions right now and I'm not. I'm really concerned about getting the right guys on the field today at the right time. 'How's the bullpen today? Who are we playing the next couple days? How's the lineup going to look? Who needs a rest and who doesn't need a rest?'

"Honestly, that's where my mind is at every day, plus my son is town with his family. My partner for the restaurant is in town with his family. There's all this other stuff going on too."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Although Maddon won't be involved, he does have one piece of advice for the front office.

"The guy that you bring in, everybody else has to believe that they make you better too," Maddon said. "I've been involved on the opposite of that. Where the guy was brought in and took place of guys that had already been in place and were doing relatively well, and this other guy was coming in that wasn't accepted in a manner that blended well.

"It worked against us. From the front office perspective it was done to make us better, but I'm here to tell you that it couldn't make us any worse."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

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AP

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.