MESA, Ariz. – Jose Veras says he’s ready to handle the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, which can be a lonely place for a closer, even on a last-place team.
Just ask Carlos Marmol, who got yanked on Opening Day last season and got booed during pregame introductions for the home opener. By mid-May, Marmol couldn’t meet with his agents in the lobby area of his downtown high-rise without a fan eavesdropping and blasting the pictures all over the Internet, claiming he wanted out of Chicago.
When the Cubs designated Marmol for assignment in late June, general manager Jed Hoyer said the ex-closer had become a “sideshow.” Only borderline Hall of Famer Lee Smith (180) and actual Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter (133) have saved more games in a Cubs uniform than Marmol (117).
“No matter where you are, you got to get your job done,” Veras said. “That’s why you get paid. That’s why they bring you here. There’s no excuses about it. Excuses don’t mean anything. I’ve been there (before with) 40,000 people in New York.”
Veras spent four seasons with the great Mariano Rivera at Yankee Stadium and knows Marmol a little bit. This winter Veras signed a one-year, $4 million flip-able contract that contains a $5.5 million option for 2015, plus incentives.
“I come from the Dominican,” Veras said. “Playing winter ball in the Dominican is no fun when you got a lot of crazy fans out there. They’re yelling at you. They say too many things. You learn from (that) power. Here, it’s more professional. The fans are more careful. They got more patience.”
The last Cubs closer still remained unsigned Thursday, even coming off a 33-save season. Kevin Gregg stabilized the bullpen after getting released by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but his most memorable moment came last September, when he blasted president of baseball operations Theo Epstein after a miscommunication had him thinking he’d lost his job.
Gregg had to do an apology tour, walking up to the Wrigley Field press box to meet with the Chicago media after realizing Pedro Strop would only get a save opportunity or two down the stretch.
Veras – who’s 19-22 with a career 3.84 ERA and 388 strikeouts in 377 innings – signed here for the chance to close. The 33-year-old right-hander talked about the franchise’s history and getting to wear the Cubs uniform, mentioning Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano by name.
Beyond Rivera, Veras pointed out he’s been around some pretty good closers over the years: Kerry Wood (Cleveland Indians); Joel Hanrahan (Pittsburgh Pirates); and John Axford (Milwaukee Brewers). Before getting dealt to the Detroit Tigers last July, Veras saved 19 games for the Houston Astros.
“Last year, God blessed me with that power,” Veras said. “Hopefully, this year will be the same.”
If Veras does his job, he’ll be a trade chip again this summer.