Man, when Jeff Passan reported a few days ago that the short-term reliever dam was about to break, he wasn’t kidding. And for a club like the Cubs, who’d otherwise had a very sleep winter on that front, it is nice that they were in position to pounce.
Having added Brad Brach on a one-year-plus-option deal on Thursday, the Cubs picked up George Kontos last night on a minor league deal. And now, just one more day later, it’s Junichi Tazawa on a minor league deal, per Mark Gonzales:
Cubs sign reliever Junichi Tazawa to minor league deal.
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) January 26, 2019
Like with Kontos (and Rob Scahill), it’s nice to get a veteran reliever in the house on a minor league deal, where you can see what’s up in Spring Training, see how he meshes with your staff, and then make a decision on whether he’s a better bet to be successful out of the gate than the guys you have under contract on big league deals. It makes it a lot easier to bite the bullet on dumping any of those guys if you’ve at least got a whole lot of big-league-experienced depth available.
As for Tazawa, the 32-year-old righty is coming off of two very ugly seasons with the Marlins (and a few successful innings at the end of 2018 with the Angels). He was formerly a very successful long-time reliever with the Red Sox – he came up through their system with Theo Epstein was in charge, but found his best success in 2012-16, after Epstein had departed. If it could go wrong for Tazawa in the last two years, it did: his strikeout rate fell, his walk rate climbed, his homer rate jumped, his groundball rate (never very high) sank to incredible levels, his soft contact evaporated, and nearly half the balls in play he gave up were hard hit.
In other words, yeah, he’s a guy you bring in on a minor league deal and see if you can figure out what went wrong, and whether you can get him back to the guy he was from 2012-16, when he posted a 3.20 ERA, a 3.08 FIP, a 24.8% K rate, and a 5.2% BB rate. Dang he was good.
But the last two years, not so much. No risk, though. So it’s fine.