Over the years, this Cubs front office has made all kinds of different trades, but most can fall into one or two buckets: buying or selling.
For example, when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva (remember that?), they were obviously selling. And when they sent Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease+ to the White Sox for Jose Quintana, they were obviously buying. Some of their deals have worked out better than others – I won’t force you to relive each one – but on the balance the Cubs did a good job: Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Anthony Rizzo, Hendricks, Carl Edwards Jr., Cole Hamels, Alex Avila, Justin Wilson, Dexter Fowler, etc.
But one of the low-key better trades this Cubs front office has ever made during their tenure in Chicago was acquiring reliever Jesse Chavez from the Texas Rangers in exchange for a 22-year-old Minor Leaguer in A-ball named Tyler Thomas.
Chavez, 35, didn’t come to the Cubs in a fit of fanfare, because, frankly, he was never a big “name.” He’s had his bright spots in the past, no doubt, but he simply wasn’t the marquee addition many Cubs fans were hoping for. (Even Hamels didn’t seem to fit that bill for some folks, yet he went on to be brilliant.)
And, yet, maybe Chavez was a marquee addition. After joining the Cubs on July 21st, Chavez earned a 1.15 ERA (2.39 FIP) over 39.0 innings pitched. He struck out 42 batters, while walking only 5 and allowing just 5 earned runs along the way. On top of that, Chavez, a former starter, was versatile as heck. He could come in against lefties, against righties, for a single out, to close out a game, or for multiple innings (10 of his 32 Cubs appearances lasted longer than a single inning). Basically, whatever you asked him to do, he did it. Quite well. And he only became more important as the season went on.
The 2018 season may feel like forever ago (haha ha … ha), but if you remember back, you might recall the Cubs losing their Opening Day closer, Brandon Morrow, in July, and their backup closer, Pedro Strop, in September. You might also remember Steve Cishek progressively being ground into a fine powder lightly resembling Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and Brian Duensing forgetting how to throw strikes/dealing with injuries, and guys like Brandon Kintzler, Jorge De La Rosa, Jaime Garcia, Randy Rosario and others playing a far larger role than anyone would’ve ever anticipated.
And if I haven’t yet made my point, please also consider that Chavez thew 2.0 scoreless innings in game #163 against the Brewers and another scoreless inning against the Rockies in the Wild Card Game. Obviously, the Cubs didn’t come out on top in either effort, but boy did Chavez sure give them everything he’s got. By the end of the year, he was perhaps the most reliable reliever on the entire roster.
SO THEN, what happens next? Before the season, Chavez signed a one-year/$1M deal with the Rangers, an agreement which was eventually taken over by the Cubs, which means he’s now a free agent. Would the Cubs be interested in re-signing him? At what price? Would he be interested in returning?
Answering either of the first two questions will require some guess work (one moment), but the last one has already been revealed:
Jesse Chavez just told a few of his teammates "If I'm not wearing this next year –points to Cubs logo on shirt– I'm done." https://t.co/1dnrmmrhIz
— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) October 3, 2018
If I’m not a Cub, I’m done.
That’s what Chavez told ESPN after the Wild Card loss, and you know what, I believe him. Chavez, who is in the later years of his career, flourished with a competitive Cubs team that figures to be competitive again next year. Assuming he liked his teammates, wanting to come back should be a no-brainer.
I think the same should be true for the Cubs.
Consider, for a moment, the likely arms we currently know about for the Cubs’ bullpen for next season:
- Brandon Morrow
- Pedro Strop
- Steve Cishek
- Carl Edwards Jr.(?)
- Brian Duensing(?)
- Mike Montgomery(?)
- Brandon Kintzler(?)
Frankly, there are a WHOLE lot of question marks even for the guys I didn’t throw question marks on (obviously, that’s normal for this point in the “offseason,” a number of Minor League guys could play into bigger roles, a starter or two could slide into the bullpen, etc., but still – it’s a lot of uncertainty).
At the highest level, there is absolutely room for Chavez, even if he’s not quite as dominant as he was this past season.
Of course, that’s the other part of the equation. Chavez may say he wants to retire if he can’t stay in Chicago3, but according to Baseball America, he’s earned only ~$14.5M over his 10-year career. If he plays his cards right, he might be able to get just as much over a 2-3 year deal, starting in 2019. I’m not saying the Cubs should necessarily give that to him, but given how good, dependable, and versatile he was – and the fact that it was all tied to some changes after coming to the Cubs – I wouldn’t be surprised if he was able to command such a deal.
Is there a flip-side to this? Well, it would be something like this: sure, Chavez was excellent this season, but he is already 35 and just tossed 95.1 innings. He’s never been this successful before, and even if he had been, bullpen arms *and* older pitchers are notoriously fickle – and he’s both. Recall, the Cubs struck gold in 2017 with a mid-30s reliever in Brian Duensing, he loved it and wanted to stay, signed an under-market deal, and then dealt with significant issues – both health and performance – this year.
For me, personally, I’d love to have Chavez back in the fold, even as I’m aware of the risks. And I’m not actually all that concerned about the price. There are reasons to suspect the Cubs are going to be willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold this winter, so whether they pay Chavez $3M a year with a team option for a penny in 2020, or $4-5M per year for 2-3 years straight up, the difference may only be a matter of money (because once you’re over the luxury tax, the baseball-related consequences kick in regardless of how much you go over (unless you go WAAAAAAY over, which I don’t see happening)).
It might not work out, Chavez has certainly done everything he can to show himself as an incredibly valuable piece for this club, and it sounds like the Cubs will get the first crack at hanging onto something special.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.