Well, the Chicago Cubs have reportedly grabbed their back-end free agent reliever. It’s Jose Veras, who gets a $4 million, one-year deal, according to Enrique Rojas. The deal comes with incentives, plus a $5.5 million team option for 2015.
I call Veras a “back-end” free agent reliever, because the Cubs have noted that they’d like to pick up a late-inning reliever on the free agent market this offseason, luring him with the possibility of winning the closer’s role. So, to that end, it’s probably not accurate to say that the Cubs signed Veras to be their closer, but he may get a shot at that role, given the relative vacuum right now (he’d be competing with guys like Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Justin Grimm). With team control bleeding into 2015 by way of a very reasonable $5.5 million team option, it’s hard to ignore the possible flip value here, if Veras establishes himself as a successful closer early in the year with the Cubs. I know, folks hate to hear that, but that’s the story right now.
Veras, 33, did a fair bit of closing with the Astros last year before being dealt at the Trade Deadline to the Tigers (who used him in a setup role). Although he didn’t establish himself as a reliable bullpen option until he was almost 30, Veras has put up a 3.55 ERA over the past four seasons, racking up 248.2 innings, 272 strikeouts, and 5 teams. Although he’s an overpowering guy, he’s also a wild guy: 2013 was the first season he’s ever had a BB/9 below 4.0 (it was 3.2). Lately, his FIP tends to hang out in the mid 3s, indicating he’s a good, not dominating reliever. You hope, with a guy like Veras, that his 2013 walk rate (8.7% versus career 12.0% mark) was not a blip so much as a change in approach.
Will Veras be anointed the closer right out the gate? It doesn’t seem like it, though getting him on a one-year deal with a reasonable option for 2015 seems like it was probably in part because the Cubs could offer the opportunity for Veras to win the closer’s job. Add in the incentives, which are almost certainly tied to games finished, and you’ve got a guy that probably chose the Cubs in the hope that he can be a closer, and then find another big-time contract after a year or two. Whether he’s actually used in that role is something that remains to be seen, and will probably be determined by his own effectiveness.
With at least $4 million going to Veras, I doubt you’ll see the Cubs devoting many more – if any – dollars to a bullpen that already features Strop, Rondon, Grimm, Blake Parker, Carlos Villanueva (or Chris Rusin, depending on who is in the rotation), James Russell, Wesley Wright, an eventually-returning Kyuji Fujikawa, and a bevvy of young hopefuls. It’s a great mix of power arms for the Cubs, and – I know, I know, fool me once … – it’s a mix that could emerge as a bright spot for the team in 2014.
UPDATE: Jon Heyman reports that the contract breaks down thusly: $3.85 million for 2014, and a $150,000 buyout on the 2015 option (which is for $5.5 million). He can earn up to $750,000 in incentives based on games finished. Broken down in that way, that’s a darn good contract.