Cubs

Jesse Chavez has already emerged as one of the Cubs' most valuable relievers

Jesse Chavez has already emerged as one of the Cubs' most valuable relievers

Jesse Chavez hasn't even been in a Cubs uniform for a week, but he's already become one of their most valuable pitchers

When the Cubs traded for Chavez late last week, a lot of Chicago fans might have reacted to the move with puzzlement and a little intrigue.

It was no surprise the Cubs were adding more pitching on the trade market, but it was a bit surprise that it came in the form of an under-the-radar arm. 

Instead of immediately adding a big name pitcher (think: Zach Britton) like summers past (Jose Quintana, Aroldis Chapman), the Cubs began their trade deadline season by adding a new Swiss Army Knife to the bullpen.

If the Cubs need Chavez to go multiple innings, he's ready. If they need him to get one hitter, that's fine too. Spot start? OK. Closer for a game? That's fine, too.

"That's been the conversation — about doing anything," Joe Maddon said. "He's the Swiss Army Knife out there and he does it so well. I mean, God, he's so upbeat and he's very professional about it."

Maddon said he and pitching coach Jim Hickey talk to Chavez before each game and try to give the veteran right-hander an idea of how they may use him that day.

And yes, that even could mean some closing opportunities with regular stopper Brandon Morrow still on the disabled list.

"I have no qualms about putting him in the latter part of the game at all," Maddon said. "Just the fact that once he got here, we needed that lengthy guy and he's provided that, too. 

"He's just been interesting already. He's as advertised and so we'll see how it plays out. So if we need him early to get out of a jam, you'll see him in there. And if we don't, you might see him in the latter part of the game, yes."

Chavez has actually been better than advertised since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Sure, it's only been a week and he's only pitched in three games, but the 34-year-old has retired all 12 batters he's faced, 6 of which have come via strikeout. 

He attributes a lot of that early success to how welcoming the Cubs clubhouse has been, making him feel like he's been a part of the team since Day 1.

It helps that he's played with guys like Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Mike Montgomery and Morrow in the past, too. This is Chavez's 9th MLB team, after all.

Like Maddon said, Chavez is ready to do whatever, from eating innings to pitching in high-leverage situations. He said he's stretched out enough to do any role and has thrown 60 pitches as recently as June 1.

Still, Chavez was flying completely under the radar when the Cubs acquired him and Maddon credits the organization's scouting for the find.

After a rough start to the season with the Texas Rangers (5.48 ERA), Chavez said he was sitting in the bullpen in Houston on Mother's Day before a game and just decided to mess around with his arm slot, dropping it a bit as he delivered his pitch. He figured he didn't have much to lose.

He wound up pitching 3 perfect innings that day, striking out 4 as he shut down the defending champs.

Since that fateful moment, Chavez has a 2.08 ERA, 0.897 WHIP and 33 K vs. 7 BB in 39 innings.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said of the new arm slot. "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."

Chavez joked that he actually thought the results were too good to be true from such a simple mechanical fix. 

But he feels good about it now and gives the Cubs another versatile option in the bullpen as well as possible rotation depth.

Red Sox owner John Henry said team 'blew' Jon Lester negotiations in 2014

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USA TODAY

Red Sox owner John Henry said team 'blew' Jon Lester negotiations in 2014

As the saying goes, one person's loss is another person's gain. For the Cubs, this is especially true when it came to signing Jon Lester.

Lester entered spring training in 2014 on the last year of his contract with the Boston Red Sox. According to NBC Sports Boston's Justin Leger, the Red Sox reportedly offered Lester a four-year extension worth $70 million before the season started. 

As the story goes, the two sides did not agree to a new deal and the Red Sox traded Lester to the Oakland Athletics ahead of the 2014 trade deadline. Lester went on to sign a six-year, $155 million deal (with a vesting option for 2021) with the Cubs ahead of the 2015 season.

At a press conference on Monday, Red Sox owner John Henry admitted the team mishandled negotiations with Lester.

“I think we blew the Jon Lester — we blew the signing in spring training,” Henry said. “And for reasons that are pretty apparent now, which I won’t go into, but they’re apparent. But it wasn’t… you can see what’s gone on in free agency.

"The price of WAR has gone up radically that it’s difficult, whether it’s a pitcher or a position player, entering into a really long term contract with high dollars.”

The Red Sox are in a similar position now with former-White Sox starter Chris Sale, who will hit free agency after the 2019 season. Henry was asked if his philosophy has evolved regarding signing pitchers 30 years old or above.

“I think Chris [Sale] falls out of the norm because he’s just such a great — not just a great pitcher but a great part of the team as we saw in the World Series he had quite an impact just being on the bench during the World Series,” he said. “So he’s a special player.

“We would love to be able to sign him. I think he would like to as well. But there are the realities of the marketplace in budgets and this is his opportunity to be a free agent, so, potentially…something could happen.”

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Joe Maddon on soon-to-be retired Giants manager Bruce Bochy: 'A ton of respect'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon on soon-to-be retired Giants manager Bruce Bochy: 'A ton of respect'

Longtime San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced Monday that he will retire following the 2019 MLB season.

Bochy, 63, is the longest-tenured manager in baseball; Cubs manager Joe Maddon is the fourth-most tenured, trailing Bochy, Terry Francona, Clint Hurdle.

Maddon said that Bochy will be missed following the latter's announcement on Monday.

Maddon was an American League manager with the Tampa Bay Rays for much of Bochy's managerial career. However, the two have had several memorable matchups since Maddon arrived in Chicago in 2015.

In August 2015, the Cubs entered a four-game series with the Giants trailing San Francisco by a half game for the second spot in the wild-card standings. The Cubs not only caught the Giants that weekend, but they won all four games, taking a 3.5 game lead over San Francisco.

To be fair, the Giants did win two of three against the Cubs later that month. However, that four-game series propelled the Cubs to their first postseason berth since 2008. Including their sweep over the Giants, the Cubs finished the month with a 19-9 record, tied for their most wins in a single month all season.

Cubs fans don't have to be reminded about the "other" recent big series against the Giants. The two sides squared off in the NLDS in 2016, a series that the Cubs won 3-1 to advance to the NLCS for the second-consecutive year.

The Cubs-Giants NLDS had a little bit of everything. Game 1 featured a pitchers' duel for the ages between Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester. With the game tied 0-0 in the bottom of the eighth, though, Javier Báez crushed a solo home run to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead, the game's eventual final score.

Game 2 pitted Kyle Hendricks against former-Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. Hendricks exited following 3 2/3 innings after taking a line drive off of his right forearm. Travis Wood entered the game in place of Hendricks, hitting a solo home run off of new-Cubs reliever George Kontos. The Cubs eventually won 5-2 to take a 2-0 series lead.

Game 3 was a 13-inning marathon that the Cubs lost 6-5. However, it was memorable for Jake Arrieta launching a three-run home run off of Giants ace Madison Bumgarner and Albert Almora Jr. robbing Buster Posey with a diving catch to end the nighth inning.

And then, to cap off a tremendous series, the Cubs rallied to erase a 5-2 deficit in the ninth inning of Game 4. The Cubs scored four runs off of five Giants relievers, taking a 6-5 lead before Aroldis Chapman slammed the door in the bottom half of the inning, clinching the series for the Cubs.

The Cubs and Giants face-off six times in 2019. Fans can take-in Bochy versus Maddon either July 22-24 in San Francisco or Aug. 20-22 in Chicago.

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