Cubs executives looked at the closer’s job as a carrot they could dangle in free agency. Now Jose Veras has the chance to work the ninth inning at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs reached an agreement with Veras on a one-year, $4 million deal that contains a $5.5 million option for 2015, plus incentives, a club source confirmed Tuesday.
Veras — who still has to complete the physical — saved 19 games for the Houston Astros last season before getting traded to the Detroit Tigers and moved back into more of a set-up role. Combined, he went 0-5 with a 3.02 ERA and 60 strikeouts and 22 walks in 62.2 innings. He was also part of the Dominican Republic team that won the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The Cubs don’t believe in big-money closers now. Veras will still be in a high-profile spot — at the age of 33 and after pitching for seven different teams across the last five seasons.
The Cubs think Pedro Strop — who at times has been a dominant set-up guy — could have what it takes to close someday. They say the best-case scenario would have Kyuji Fujikawa — who saved 200-plus games in Japan — returning from Tommy John surgery sometime in May.
The Cubs signed Wesley Wright as another left-handed option to go along with James Russell. They plan to take it slow with Arodys Vizcaino — another Tommy John case hitting 98 mph again — and use him as a reliever in 2014 hoping he can show what once made him an elite prospect in the Atlanta Braves system.
The Cubs have some inventory — Blake Parker, Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Zac Rosscup, etc. — plus potential swingmen Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin.
The idea is the bullpen won’t be the major headache it was for Dale Sveum. First-year manager Rick Renteria won’t have to say things like “Carlos Marmol is our closer” or refer to “the Rule 5 kid.”
“We’re a club that’s in transition,” Renteria said last week at the winter meetings. “Roles are defined over time, and they’re established by the players that are out performing. Over time, they chip away at who they are and what they’re going to be about. I do think that you need to use your bullpen according to the situation, (and) traditionally you want roles established for every pitcher.
“Everybody does need to know that the seventh, eighth and ninth innings are obviously the highest-leveraged parts of the ballgame. Hopefully, as time goes on, we’ll see who and what falls into place where.”
ESPN Deportes first reported the agreement with Veras, who checks off one offseason item for a Cubs front office that still needs to address the starting rotation and get some clarity on the Jeff Samardzija and Masahiro Tanaka situations.