edward mujica cardinalsThe Chicago Cubs were expected to be involved in the reliever market this year, though we hadn’t yet heard of any specific targets. With an open closer’s job (Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and even Hector Rondon figure to get in-house looks), the Cubs can offer someone – a quality late-inning reliever who hasn’t yet had the chance to close, for example? – a chance to win the gig, and more future dollars in the process.

The first such target that comes up, according to Chris Cotillo (he of the recently-reported Ricky Nolasco signing), is former Cardinals closer Edward Mujica. Having fallen into the closer’s gig in St. Louis by default last year, you probably wouldn’t call Mujica a “proven closer,” and you certainly wouldn’t pay him any kind of premium on that basis. Assuming other teams agree, the Cubs’ available closer’s role could still have some special appeal for Mujica. Cotillo reports that the Indians, Phillies, and Orioles have also expressed interest in Mujica, who is probably going to get a deal similar to the one the Angels just gave fellow right-handed 29-year-old reliever Joe Smith (three years, $15.75 million).

For the Cubs, that kind of signing would hearken back to the days of Bob Howry (three years, $12 million), Scott Eyre (three years, $11 million), and LaTroy Hawkins (three years, $11 million), among many others, when the Cubs lavishly spent upon late-inning relievers. That’s the derisive narrative, anyway. The funny thing? The Cubs got 3.3 WAR from Howry, who clearly earned his contract. Hawkins was great in his first year with the Cubs (1.2 WAR), before being dealt halfway through his second season. The Eyre signing was the only real goat of the group, and was improvident from the get-go, based on the career year that preceded it (and not the several years of meh before that).

That’s all to say that multiyear contracts for late-inning relievers aren’t all bad. Because of the relatively low dollars involved, it’s easy for the player to “earn” the contract, and it’s easy to move the player out if the team is unsuccessful. There’s a line, as there is in any investment, but veteran relievers can be something of a stabilizing presence in a young bullpen. Sure, there’s more risk of busting out on a guy who, by definition, couldn’t hack it as a starter or a closer, but that doesn’t mean you don’t take artful shots.

As for Mujica, specifically, I have my reservations.

Over the last few years, Mujica has changed his approach, all but abandoning the hard stuff in favor of heavy reliance on a splitter/change-up thing, which tends to get a lot of groundballs. Predictably, he’s seen his strikeout rate drop from the mid-20 percent range to right around 18%. Is that just a guy being savvy and understanding his aging curve, or is it a guy who is losing his stuff and just got lucky last year?

The stats, on their face, look good: 2.78 ERA over 64.2 innings, most of which were late innings. His walk rate was a microscopic 2.0% (he’s always been a guy in the zone – career walk rate is just 3.8%). His K/BB was an absurd 9.20. There’s a lot to like.

There are certainly a lot of “luck” signals for Mujica last year, though (he was closing for the Cardinals, so what did you expect?). You could point to his .263 BABIP (20+ points below his career average), and his enormous 86.1% LOB percentage. On the other hand, a guy getting a lot of groundballs would tend to strand more runners than a guy who’s giving up deep hits to the outfield. And although Mujica’s career BABIP is near .300, that .263 mark from last year actually is closer to where he’s been over the past four seasons. Considering the dramatic change to his pitch mix, and it’s fair to wonder if the success is more legit than you might think.

In the end, Mujica’s a guy who doesn’t walk anyone (big plus for a reliever), and doesn’t strike out a ton of guys either. He gets a lot of groundballs, but gives up his share of homers.

How much is that guy worth? Well, he’s probably worth a three-year contract in the Howry/Eyre/Hawkins mold (adjusted for inflation, of course), and that’s probably what he’s going to get. This Cubs front office wouldn’t go to three years on Jason Grilli or Mike Adams or any other reliever in recent years, however, so I wonder if they might hold back that third year for Mujica, too. That means he’s probably signing somewhere else.

  • Oswego Chris

    No thanks, comparable guys at less price

    • jay

      Brett–do you not remember the bust Hawkins was—at least in the closer role? They handed it to him, he promptly shit the bed, and so they ended up with a very expensive set-up man when they had paid for a closer. To his credit, LaTroy was usually solid in the 8th inning—just couldn’t cut the mustard in the 9th.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I remember that his struggles were overstated. And they paid him the price of a top setup man, which is what he was.

        • Turn Two

          I realize blown saves may not be the best stat and if i remember correctly he won many of the games he blew, but he had something like 10 blown saves his year as a closer with us and the year he lost the closers role, i think he had 4 or 5 moreblown saves in a month. However, the bigger problem was that he made a lot of excuses which fans rarely take well to.
          I don’t remember if he wad paid more like a closer or a setup man, but i don’t think his struggles as a closer were overstated- even if some of his advance stats could point to some successes.

          • Pat

            He was signed as, and paid as, a setup man. It had already been proven in Minnesota that he did not do well in the closer role, but was one of the best set up men in the league. Why the Cubs put him in the closer role, despite evidence that he was not suited to it, remains a mystery to me.

            • Eternal Pessimist

              Hawkins sure looked hurt my eyeballs…couldn’t stand watching him pitch waiting for the choke.

  • YourResidentJag

    Rather see Crain in a Cubs uni.

  • Mike

    rondon nooooooooooo!

  • Joe Yes

    Let’s stop citing Chris Cotillo please.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You know that he broke the Nolasco signing just two days ago, right? Kid knows what he’s doing.

      • Kyle

        Yeah, he’s earned at least a passable level of respect for me. Seems to really hustle for sources.

      • Joe Yes

        He was given the Nolasco story to break

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Right? By his source … isn’t that how they all happen?

          • Joe Yes

            No, by Heyman or a different established journalist as a way to give the kid a favor. Why would a legitimate source deal with a high school kid with 6,000 twitter followers who is not working for a major news source? Unless the kid knows Nolasco’s family, he has no “sources”.

            • hansman

              So Jon Heyman, or someone of his ilk, is going to give a scoop to someone who writes for SB Nation? A website that is one of his biggest competitors? Your theory only makes sense if it is someone who writes for SB Nation’s Daily Dish.

              Do you realize how ludicrous this sounds?

              • Joe Yes

                You didn’t answer my question

                • hansman

                  Nah, I prefer not to get myself too involved in random smearing of people’s credibility after they break a story correctly.

                  • Joe Yes

                    I don’t mean to smear but I’m not going to believe a rumor he puts out over other journalists and I would not quote or cite him. We’ll see once he finishes his high school and college education and can establish some real contacts.

                    • Kyle

                      I have a college degree in journalism and a decade’s experience as a sportswriter. If I retweet anything he puts out there, does that make it OK for you?

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      This is a bizarre criticism. He’s young, therefore he can’t possibly have sources?

                      It’s 2013, dude, and the Internet has been the great equalizer for a decade already. The kid has sources, and he’s been right many times over the past year. I don’t start using secondary sources lightly, and I’m perfectly comfortable citing Cotillo at this point.

                    • Kyle

                      The main reason I’m defending him is because I’ve *seen* him do it on Twitter. He was hitting up Steve Clevenger’s agent for information last year on Twitter and got it, and that’s how a story on Clevenger got broke.

                  • mjhurdle

                    random smearing is how some people deal with the jealousy.

                    • Joe Yes

                      Why would I be jealous? I am jealous of Kris Bryant and his talent but I don’t smear him. Good try though.

                • Eric

                  Someone had a big cup of hateraide today.

            • Kyle

              Where do you think journalists get sources exactly? They aren’t issued with the press credentials.

              Cotillo has shown a willingness to befriend agents, which I assume is where he gets most of his info.

    • Coop

      Why? Because he correctly reported the Nolasco signing? I’ve never actually heard of him before that…

      • Coop

        Damn my slow reading and response time… Brett beat me to it.

  • cubbies win

    Seems to me like he would be worth a try considering how thin the pen is. Is it possible for him to be stretched out and used as a starter?

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

    Hector Rondon was a tale of two seasons last year…
    1st Half: 6.14 ERA, 139 TBF, 15BB/23K, .365 wOBA, 1.53 HR/9
    2nd Half: 3.20 ERA, 103 TBF, 10BB/21K, .259 wOBA, 0.36 HR/9

    If he works out, he may be an asset since we wouldn’t need to fill that hole in free agency.

    • Melrosepad

      I agree. Rondon was working himself back into pitching after having only 10 innings the past two years. He should definitely have a shot at staying in our bullpen.

      • FarmerTanColin

        The velocity climb was impressive. He was barely hitting 90 mph at the start of the season and then by the end if I remember right he was “sitting” in the mid 90s. 94-97? He’s also going to be cheap for a long time, interesting to see if he can become worth a 1 WAR/ish reliever.

        • Kyle

          If we were wiling to make Rosscup the only lefty, we could field a whole pen of 92+ power arms.

    • jt

      Rondon was lights out in Sept. That is what the great hope is based upon. Well, that and supposedly his velo and movement got better. But AS break to Sept 1 his ERA was 4.96.
      I buy into the give Rondon a chance. But realize that for the most part, his 2nd half was not that great.

    • jay

      Really? All I saw of him all year long—first and second half–was a guy with good heat who consistently put the ball right in the middle of the plate and got clubbed. No way this guy closes. Strop, on the other hand, I’d certainly give him a shot.

  • josh ruiter

    I like this signing…despite everything we may confuse with an upgraded pen last year, the Cubs actually had one of the worst pens in baseball. That with career years from some guys and still a bullpen of scraps for the most part. Strop was a castaway, Parker was throw away, Gregg was dead where he stood, Russell was good and abused accordingly, Rondon was a rule 5 guy, Villanueva was a solid piece and payed for the swing man he is so good at being, Fuji got hurt early and left us scrambling for more pieces. All in all that is two guys who have a track record and everyone else is scrap heap, lets get some solid guys and see if that can’t help the overuse and starter fatigue issues!!

    • jay

      Well, perhaps if Dale hadn’t spent the first half of the season pulling starters who were still getting outs convincingly, we might not have had so much overuse of the pen. Let’s see what kind of trigger finger Renteria has.

      • Rich H

        Dale had a quicker trigger early but after seeing Samardzija trying to over power hitters when his tank was getting dry I am not sure it was a bad move. It was more about not having quality options than being horrible decision. If the pen could have kept leads early in the season we may not have had the massive sell off late.

        In April I was watching StL play with Wainwright pitching. He had a shutout throu 7 1/3 but was approaching 100 pitches. Matheny went to the pen which quickly blew the SO and the game. Causing the guy I went with to start jumping on the manager about costing them the game. I told him that loss, though heart breaking because he saw it first hand, probably got them at least one more start from Wainwright.
        I still stand by that estimation because April and May the manager needs to manage more conservatively to protect players from themselves.

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        Sveum’s management of the bull pen was one of my biggest gripes I had against him. And for example a starter left the game after the fifth inning, and this was a spot for long relief, He would put Villanueva in the game and he would put the side out, and then Sveum would change pitchers the next inning. I can see that if you have an inning going and need to pinch hit, but Sveum seemed to think he needed to use the whole bull pen. Just makes sense to me that if a guys sets the side down in order then you give him the chance to do it the next inning. Buy noooooooo Sveum would put Camp in the game. If Villanueva comes in to start the sixth inning what is wrong with letting him take it to the eighth? Considering all the one run games the Cubs played and the blown saves they could easily have had a different season with some clutch hitting and a passable bull pen. And Samardzija and Wood took the brunt of it. And I agree that considering how pathetic the bull pen was that Sveum shouldn’t have removed them from the game. For a good part of the season Shark and Woody sat there and watched their games get pissed away. And in my opinion this is why Samardija is not giving the FO an extended contract. Realistically they are asking him to take a team friendly contract and in all probability have two more sub par years before they compete. What competitor would accept that? Theo and Jed have done an outstanding job with the farm system. But Ricketts more or less is saying that when he sees the money i.e. big sign and TV deals then he will spend like a big market club. So that relegates us to two more years of Money ball. It stinks, but that’s the way it is. I’ll watch all the games next year because that’s what I do. And read all of the blogs (of which this one is the best). I see them taking the prospects for Samardzija and signing some more retreads for the starting rotation. But who says that the Billy Beane miracle can’t be resurected again? Stay tuned!

    • CubsFaninMS

      Wow. What a dim view of the situation. If Strop was a castaway, then so was Olt, Villanueva, Hendricks, Arrieta, C.J. Edwards, etc. Gregg was dead where he stood.. for the last month of the season. Do you not realize the predicament we were in at closer until he arrived? He stabilized the ninth inning for us for 2 or 3 months. The man was not perfect, but give him some credit. I’m not here to take up for our 2013 bulllpen… IT SUCKED. But there are some positive pieces to build from for 2014. Yes, it was clearly a sore spot for this team. And for just my take, I believe Mujica is a high-risk signing. He may not be “unproven”… but he is a question mark. I’d prefer someone more reliable if we are to dole out that much $$$ on a free agent in the bullpen. Just a side note, Grimm may be an important piece to our bullpen next year for the 7th, 8th inning. He needs a year of low-pressure situations in the Majors to get him going. If he can prove his worth, maybe stretch him out as a starter.

  • Melrosepad

    Why is Parker always overlooked when we talk about possible in-house options at Closer? If memory serves he has the record for most career saves for the Iowa Cubs, and has proven there he can do the job. Why not give him just as much a shot as Strop and the others?

    • Kyle

      I don’t know *why* he is, but I almost always overlook him too.

      • Edwin

        He’s older than the average prospect. At least that’s why I overlook him.

    • cub2014

      I like Parker & Strop, Rondon was coming
      on at the end of season as well.. But Cubs
      need a guy with closing experience on the
      roster (why not?). Give me Mujica or Benoit
      or Veras or ?

      • cub2014

        With the Cubs Bullpen for 2014 they just need one
        right handed closer and I like how the bullpen sets up.

        Lefties: Rosscup,Russell, Rusin
        Righties: Strop, Parker, Rondon, Grimm

        Rusin and Villanueva would be your spot starters

    • http://www.hookersorcake.com hookersorcake

      You’ve seen Parker’s fastball, right? If you haven’t, watch closely. You can actually see the batters mouthing the word “pull” like they are shooting skeet.

      • baldtaxguy


    • CubFan Paul

      “Why is Parker always overlooked when we talk about possible in-house options at Closer?”

      In the Majors, his stuff equates to the 7th inning.

  • Jono

    I like mujica, but I don’t like like him

  • Adventurecizin’ Justin

    If the price is right, I wouldn’t mind getting Edward “Last of The” Mujica. Sorry, I thought of that during the season and have been dying to use it!

    • cubsin

      Unless your goal is to become the next Chris Berman, you should suppress those thoughts.

    • CubsFaninMS

      Ha I like that one. The only one I could think of was “Mujica-dean”… a play off the terrorist self-reference.

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

    I think Chad Qualls, 35, on a one-year deal, w/2nd year option would fit the Cubs’ plans. He had a 0.5 WAR in the 2nd Half of 2013 and put up 62 IP, 2.61 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.25 xFIP. 63% GB rate for the whole season.

    Edward Mujica will get more in free agency and put up a -0.3 WAR in the 2nd Half of 2013.

  • BlameHendry

    I’d rather see Strop get a chance to become the closer…

  • TSB

    Blake Parker?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I didn’t forget about him, for what it’s worth. The listed three have been connected to closing opportunities by Cubs personnel. Parker hasn’t (yet). I do like his stuff, though.

      • cub2014

        I would assume the Cubs will trade some of these
        40 roster guys (cabrera,raley,jackson,ha) to open
        up some 40 roster spots.

        Cubs will probably add a starter,closer & OF
        (hopefully). So three have to go (gamel, who else?),
        then hopefully later this summer Cubs will have to
        add Baez, Bryant & maybe Hendricks?

        So 6 spots total: Gamel,Bard,Carera,Raley,Jackson
        Ha & Murphy or Olt. So I have to think a trade needs
        to happen pretty quickly. (means likely no rule 5
        picks either)

        The 40 man roster is much deeper this year.

      • cub2014

        when can fujikawa go on IR?

        • Kyle

          Not until after spring training starts, can’t remember the exact day.

          • cub2014

            ok thanks Kyle.

  • Tony_S

    Personal opinion, I think Mujica’s a (touch) better reliever than you’re giving him credit for, ie forced or not he saved like 37 gms for that hated team last year. That said, I had him in fantasy, which is to say I watched news on him daily, and he had some fatigue or dead arm issues or some such toward the end of last year.

    Now, for the Cubbies? I say absolutely not. I think it’s a 100% waste to spend early or much on the pen. That’s just my personal philosophy. I do think there is a mentality that helps guys get the last 3 outs, but I don’t think it’s as elusive as some, and I also think paying a premium for it is silly, ESPECIALLY when you are where this club is in terms of rebuild.

    I am dumbfounded as to why we, or worse yet the FO, is even discussing throwing money at a reliever, a maybe closer, whatever, with the other well-established holes at the ML level (especially the rotation). Seems pretty assinine to me, like picking out living room curtains while the kitchen is on fire.

    • davidalanu

      My opinion, which I realize is a vast minority one, is that I want a team like the 2014 cubs to have a decent closer. Two reasons. One, a developing team will have few enough leads. When the do have one, if a shoddy bullpen pisses it away, that can be demoralizing. Especially if it’s time after time. At some point winning has to be important to these guys.

      Second, if its another crap year,there’s always teams looking for a closer at the deadline.

    • Spriggs

      You should never judge a player’s skill or value by what he did as a cardinal.

  • Tony_S

    *Brett, PLEASE do not think that was a shot, it wasn’t meant to be, I love the wealth of info you post here. I more meant we, the corporate overarching we as in fans, not like, why is this here.

    I LOVE YOU MAN!!!!

  • http://www.bleachernation.com salesguy

    I say sign him, as well as any other assets you can find. If there’s one thing we know about bullpen guys, it’s that they can find it, and lose it very quickly. One year of success, or a couple years of past success, does not equal a solid pen option. You can never have enough pitching.

  • ClevelandCubsFan

    Can’t Theo and Jed finally break the closer mold? If Theo and the Cubs can’t do it with a dead last team that few expect to compete, who can? Enough. Let’s go get 7 guys who can get outs and pitch to the hitters, not the inning.

    • OregonCubsFan

      I like the way you put it – “pitch to the outs, not the inning.”

  • Nathan Thurm

    Clearly the strategy is to pick at the edges while the 2014 team stares at 90 plus losses regardless. The big move to date is acquisition of a catcher who can’t throw and can’t hit, or in other words a clear downgrade offensively and defensively over Navarro.

    Now we are going spend money on a dubious at best relief pitcher and cross our fingers that he’s not a trainwreck?

  • FarmerTanColin

    I can’t see the FO signing Mujica. Interesting to discuss though. The farm is littered with fringey pitching guys though. Just keep the shuttle open with them and see who swims. Put that 5 mil a season towards someone like….Ellsbury!

  • Frank

    Mujica does know Turdbird pitchers and the hitters.

  • Mike F

    Man people are negative. Would be a very good signing. He is the right age. They have experience with him dating back to 2010. He saved plenty of games for the Cardinals. He has some limitations, but everyone does. I would welcome a signing like this. How the hell can signing a guy like this do anything but increase the competition on a team that is bad, I just don’t get why people pick at every single move.

  • waittilthisyear

    when looking at his numbers, adjust your projections to include that if he signed with us, he would be pitching in a number of games against the cardinals instead of the cubs.

    i only kid. but seriously

  • ClevelandCubsFan

    What is a TOR pitcher? I’m sorry for being such a noob. But people keep tossing this abbreviation around I can’t the life of me figure out what it means. And a Google search didn’t help.

    • DarthHater

      top of rotation – i.e. a number one or two starter

      • ClevelandCubsFan

        Yeah it was that obvious. (Chuckles embarrassingly at self)

      • ClevelandCubsFan

        But great thanks darth!

        • DarthHater

          No problem. For a while I thought it was referring to guys who pitch for Toronto. 😛

  • cubfanincardinalland

    Relievers run hot an cold. Get em when their on an upswing. Mujica is toast. Completely lost his confidence last year. Looked like a deer in the headlights, gave up a lot of big homeruns late in the year. 3 year deal would be no value at all.

  • http://mccarronlegal.com jmc

    sorry I’m late on this. Kid is too young to report and what’s going on? Two words almost famous

  • http://mccarronlegal.com jmc

    come on it. It ties in with the other thread. DON’T DO DRUGS

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