Chicago Cubs: Letting Jesse Chavez walk was the right decision

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Despite what you may think, the Chicago Cubs made the right call in letting veteran Jesse Chavez walk after he signed a two-year deal with Texas.

I never thought I’d see the day where Chicago Cubs fans were so ready to toss Theo Epstein overboard over not re-signing a 35-year-old journeyman reliever. But, after a disappointing Wild Card game loss to end the season and two major failed free agent signings last winter, frustrations are mounting.

The Cubs acquired right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline this July in exchange for a prospect in a move that went largely unnoticed at first. But fans quickly warmed to the reliever – and, to be fair, it would be hard not to notice what he did on the mound.

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Following the midseason trade, Chavez pitched to a sterling 1.15 ERA in 32 appearances to go along with a 0.795 WHIP and 374 ERA+. In short, he was absolutely dominant, helping prop up an overused and banged up Cubs bullpen when it mattered most.

But that’s all in the past now, as the Rangers brought Chavez back into the fold on a two-year, $8 million deal. Even here, we talked about how valuable the veteran could be to the team in 2019. Looking at the big picture, though, Epstein made the right call letting Chavez walk.

You have to have realistic expectations

Chicago got an otherworldly performance out of Jesse Chavez in the second half of 2018. Yet, more than a few Cubs fans take that at face value and think that letting a guy who seemingly figured it all out in Chicago is nothing short of madness.

Maybe the coaching staff did unlock something in the veteran. But that’s far from certain. If you put his career numbers side-by-side with what he turned in last season, you see some pretty stark contrasts.

Across 415 career appearances spanning 11 years, Chavez carries an unimpressive 4.45 ERA, 4.31 FIP and1.348 WHIP. Something he’s always done well? Limit walks – something we saw on full display last summer. But to think he’s a sub-2.00 ERA arm moving forward is foolish and outlandish, at best.

I totally understand wanting a cost-controlled bullpen piece. I truly do. But I think Epstein is a bit trigger-shy after bringing back another veteran last offseason on the heels of a breakout campaign.

Fool me once, fool me twice

In 2017, left-hander Brian Duensing blew expectations out of the water, pitching to a 2.74 ERA in 68 appearances for the Cubs. In short, he stepped up and became Joe Maddon‘s go-to left-hander given Justin Wilson‘s struggles down the stretch.

At season’s end, Epstein and the Cubs rewarded Duensing for his efforts with a new two-year, $7 million contract. And, at first, it seemed like a sound move. Out of the gates in 2018, the southpaw pitched well. But come June, the wheels came off – and he never regained his form. By season’s ends, he wound up with a -1.5 WAR and 7.65 ERA in 37 2/3 innings pitched.

I’m not saying that we’re comparing apples to apples here. But betting on veterans in their mid-30s (Duensing is also 35) is a risky move. Sure, they come with limited financial commitment, but they’re more prone to injury and significant performance drop-off, as well.

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So, while you might be ready to call the offseason a complete and utter failure, you need to understand that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Chicago Cubs front office had plenty of justifiable reasons for not handing a guy on the wrong side of his 30s a multi-year deal, despite what he brought to the table in 2018.