Through the madness of two big free agent signings and a significant trade, the Cubs’ front office continues to work at the periphery, this winter. Specifically, the team picked up yet another low-risk bullpen arm in the form of former Giants reliever Jean Machi, according to his agent on Twitter.
Machi, 33, signed a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to that tweet, and it will come with an invitation to Spring Training 2016. Machi, 33, doesn’t have a clear path to the majors just yet – he is not at the top of the reliever depth chart – but he has had some Major League success in the past.
Unfortunately, most recently splitting time between the Red Sox and Giants in 2015 wasn’t that successful for Machi. Over his 58 innings out of the pen last year, he pitched to a 5.12/4.67/4.35 ERA/FIP/xFIP, while striking out just 16.3% of batters and walking 8.6%. Machi did work through an unusually low strand rate (66.4%), but his BABIP (.277) was mostly in line with his career. His velocity did not drop in 2015, so it seems that he was just a bit more hittable while allowing more free passes.
Last season wasn’t great for the veteran reliever, but I did say that he had some success in the past. To find it, you only have to go back one more season. In 2014, with the San Francisco Giants, Machi had a 2.58/3.43/3.37 slash line with an excellent 52.0% ground ball rate. He struck out many more batters (20.5%) while walking fewer (7.2%).
And 2013 was even better. That year, again with the Giants, Machi posted a 2.38/2.29/2.78 slash line over 53 IP and acquired 1.0 WAR in the process. His ground ball rate was even better – 54.4% – and his strikeout rate (24.2%) and walk rate (5.7%) were downright fantastic.
However, despite being 33 years old, Machi hasn’t spent too much time in the majors. Before 2013, he had just 6.2 innings at the ML level, having spent time in the minor league systems of the Giants, Pirates, Blue Jays and Devil Rays (not to mention a stint in the Mexican League). So, then, I don’t blame you for wondering whether his fantastic start to his major league career – and intense drop off each season thereafter – had at least a little bit to do with the league becoming more familiar with his arsenal, pitching style, strategy etc.
For the small cost of a minor league contract and an invitation to Spring Training, though, the Cubs will explore that very question. Before we’ll know if there’s a diamond hidden in the rough, Machi will have to compete for one of very few available spots with a large number of equally interesting relievers. For now, Machi represents just another affordable component of the Frankenstein-style bullpen being created by the Cubs.