Two years ago today, the Chicago Cubs traded prospects Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for the lefty swing-man, Mike Montgomery.
Montgomery was just 26 at the time with many more years of team control ahead of him, but the purpose of the move was quite clear: he was going to add depth to the back of the bullpen while doubling as a fill-in/sixth starter as necessary. Plus, the early addition of someone like Montgomery was meant to protect against any poor decisions or lost leverage that can come from urgency as the trade deadline approaches.
In that vein, and with some potentially untapped upside, Cubs fans were content with the move, but not necessarily doing cartwheels at the time. After all, this was a Cubs team destined for the postseason with some fairly obvious holes at the back-end of the bullpen. Where was the big move? Well, it eventually came in the form of Aroldis Chapman, and the Cubs were able to win the World Series because of both moves.
Thursday night, the Cubs acquired swing-man Jesse Chavez from the Texas Rangers. Chavez isn’t quite as young as Montgomery was at the time, and he certainly doesn’t have as much upside or cost-control, but the purpose of the move is the similar: add some depth to the bullpen right now – before the trade deadline approaches – and offer the option of sliding into the rotation in a pinch.
Chavez, 34, isn’t going to be the Cubs’ only or even biggest move before the break, but he does help out at the margins and protect against those pitfalls of urgency.
And if he provides some veteran leadership along the way, that’s just gravy:
Heyward, a one-time teammate of RHP Jesse Chavez in Atlanta: “Chavy’s good people. He’s going to fit into this clubhouse really well and a guy who always wants the ball.”
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) July 20, 2018
Morrow on new Cub Chavez, a former teammate with Jays: “He’s a great guy, low-key. He’s got a rubber arm out of the bullpen and a swing guy that can do a lot of things well.”
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) July 20, 2018
At an absolute minimum, he seems like a really good, funny dude:
As for the “rubber-arm” delineation, Cubs closer Brandon Morrow is not wrong. So far this season, Chavez has tossed 56.1 innings in 30 relief appearances. As I’m sure you can tabulate, many of those outings were for more than just an inning (half of his 30 appearances were for 2.0 or more innings). But perhaps contrary to expectations, Chavez is not just used for mop-up duty. The Athletic made him the poster-child for the return of the bullpen fireman: “Chavez comes in when the team needs innings, he’s not just a mop-up guy“, and I think they’re onto something.
Needless to say, Joe Maddon is happy with the type of pitcher Chavez is/can be: “The versatility is so attractive,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Chavez. “If you have a problem early in the game, he could easily fill that spot up. If it’s in the latter part of the game, and some guys have been utilized a lot, you can fill him in there. He’s kind of interesting. He’s kind of a ‘super [utility]’ guy in the bullpen.”
“Monty was the Swiss Army knife out there,” Maddon said. “Now you’ve got Jesse.”
While that versatility will undoubtedly prove valuable down the stretch (especially for a rotation with as many questions as the 2018 Cubs), Chavez is more than an innings eater who can move around. He’s also just a solid pitcher. So far this season, he’s striking out just 21.4% of the batters he faces, which is low for a reliever, but he’s walking just 5.1% of them. That’s more than 2 percentage points better than any other Cubs reliever besides Anthony Bass, who’s thrown just 15.1 IP this season. If you want a guy to come in and pump strikes, Chavez is your guy.
Chavez also happens to get ground balls at a 45.3% rate this season, which is well above his 41.6% career mark (though, it’s worth pointing out that he spent time as a starter, so it’s not all apples-to-apples), and gets plenty of the valuable and telling infield pop-ups. That pitcher profile is perfect for a number of specific, mid-game scenarios.
It’s also worth pointing out that Chavez’s home park, Globe Life Park, is *extremely* hitter-friendly this year – tied with Coors Field overall, and even more homer-friendly. And wouldn’t you know, at home, Chavez is posting a 5.14 ERA thanks to a perverse 2.25 HR/9. On the road? He’s been a relief ace, at a 1.91 ERA and a 0.95 HR/9. You never want to put *everything* on the home/road splits, but when they match the overall park effects, it sure makes you wonder.
Among his weaknesses, you’ll find that Chavez gives up a fair amount of fly balls and far too much hard contact. That leaves him particularly susceptible to the long ball, of which he’s already allowed 10 this year (2nd most in MLB among relievers). Pobody’s nerfect, amiright? And seven of those homers came at home. For what it’s worth.
Overall, the guy is a pretty good pitcher and an even better pickup, when you consider the relatively low cost. He’s got the results (3.51 ERA) that matter and the ability to move between the bullpen and rotation as needed. That, alone, has value and will be leaned upon down the stretch. And of course, Chavez provides some cover and peace of mind for the front office, as the trade deadline approaches and rival GMs hold the Cubs’ feet to the fire for other trades. All in all, very hard not to be happy. Or, at least, content.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.