Jose Veras didn’t pack up his stuff on Tuesday afternoon just because the Cubs like the young power arms in the bullpen.
Veras walked through the Wrigley Field clubhouse and politely declined to comment after being designated for assignment, giving the Cubs 10 days to try to figure out what they want to do with their ex-closer – trade, waivers, release.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Rick Renteria listened to leading questions during their pregame media sessions about how the kids have stepped up in the eighth and ninth innings. But this move shouldn’t be spun as all about Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Brian Schlitter, though they did combine with James Russell for 4.1 scoreless innings during a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets, bailing out Jake Arrieta.
The Cubs misjudged Veras, who saved 19 games for the Houston Astros last season before getting traded to the Detroit Tigers. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein – who’s called closing “a nice carrot to be able to dangle in free agency” – hoped this would become another sign-and-flip deal that netted a nice prospect.
Veras didn’t look right in spring training (7.00 ERA), got booed at Wrigley Field, lost the closer’s job 10 games into the season and wound up being stashed on the disabled list with an oblique injury. For $4 million guaranteed, the Cubs got two blown saves, 13-plus innings and an 8.10 ERA.
This almost a full year after Kyuji Fujikawa underwent Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs don’t expect many returns from that $9.5 million investment.
Veras and Fujikawa didn’t sign crazy contracts, and bullpens are unpredictable, but every dollar counts when you’re operating like a small-market team.
Are the Cubs done signing bigger-money closers?
“The answer is you hope you don’t have to, because you can develop from within,” Hoyer said. “The difficulty with bringing a reliever in from the outside is it’s a short leash that guy’s on…whereas the guy you know already might be able to do it at the end of the year and (you) sort of get him acclimated to that role.
“So I would never say never, but certainly I can hope we develop our own relievers and develop our own closers.
“Look around baseball every year – (say) the All-Star break – and then you see how many teams have to change closers. It’s always a better bet to do it internally with the young guy.”
The Cubs did catch lightning in a bottle last year with Kevin Gregg, who got released by the Los Angeles Dodgers and wound up saving 33 games (and having an epic miscommunication with Epstein and ex-manager Dale Sveum). Gregg just signed on with the Miami Marlins for a deal worth about $1.4 million.
The 33-year-old Veras was a stand-up guy with the media, respected in the clubhouse and willing to engage with younger teammates.
“It’s a funny game in the bullpen,” Hoyer said. “This is a guy that last year was a go-to guy for Detroit down the stretch and didn’t walk anybody. He shows up this year and had trouble with the strike zone. There’s nothing more volatile than a reliever. And I hope for his sake – because he’s a great guy and a good mentor – that he gets back on track.”