Is Veras keeping the mound warm for Strop?

  • Associated PressJose Veras, who somehow saved 19 games for the woeful Astros last season and added 2 more for the Tigers, will open the season as the Cubs' closser.

    Associated PressJose Veras, who somehow saved 19 games for the woeful Astros last season and added 2 more for the Tigers, will open the season as the Cubs' closser.

Updated 3/6/2014 7:35 PM

Can we have some peace and quiet around here?

That could be what the Cubs are thinking when it comes to their situation at closer.


There was peace at times last year, during the middle of the season. But there was far too much commotion at the beginning and at the end.

Perhaps that's why the Cubs went a quiet and non-flashy route this year with the signing of veteran Jose Veras to be their closer.

Things weren't supposed to work out this way. Before the 2013 season, the Cubs signed Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5 million contract -- a deal that looked questionable even at the time because of Fujikawa's age -- he turns 34 in July.

Fujikawa was supposed to be the successor to erratic closer Carlos Marmol. That happened early last season after Marmol's wildness and ineffectiveness got the best of him. Fujikawa went on the disabled list in April and again in late May and he needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

He probably won't pitch again in a major-league game until this summer, and the Cubs will have gotten little to no value out of him.

Things settled down for most of the year when the Cubs brought back veteran Kevin Gregg. He responded with 33 saves, but late in the year he took exception to the Cubs wanting to look at Pedro Strop as closer.

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Gregg apologized for his outburst but it was clear then his days in Chicago were over.

The Cubs want to give the 28-year-old Strop time to grow into the closer's job, if it indeed is his in the future, and that's probably a good thing.

Enter Veras, who saved 19 games for a woeful Houston team last year before finishing up with Detroit and notching 2 more.

At 33 years old, he should add an element of stability to the Cubs' pen.

Veras has been with seven major-league teams since 2006, and he established himself as a closer last season.

One key was better control, something the Cubs gladly will take after years of the Marmol roller coaster. Veras' walk rate dropped from 13.3 percent in 2012 to 8.7 last year.

The stats community liked what it saw.

"Veras sacrificed a bit of his strikeout rate in exchange for a career-best walk rate," wrote Baseball Prospectus. "The improved command and control of his fastball should be sustainable, which means that despite Veras losing his sleeper status, the Cubs may still have found a bargain at $4 million."


It's possible the Cubs could trade Veras to a contending team as they've done with starting pitchers under the regime led by team president Theo Epstein over the past two seasons.

If Strop is the understudy, there are some good signs and some cautionary signs. After being traded from Baltimore early last July, Strop went 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA and a nice WHIP of 0.94 for the Cubs.

His walks-per-9-innings with the Cubs dropped 2.8, about the best in his career, but it's a drop that brings caution from Baseball Prospectus.

" ... The estimable walk rate he posted during his brief Wrigley audition is a complete outlier, and it ain't a-gonna last," the book's authors write. "Strop may become Chicago's closer, but he'll be an (John) Axford-class closer, swinging from dominance to combustibility depending on the state of his relationship with the strike zone."

In the meantime, enjoy the expected peace and quiet.


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