The Chicago Cubs signed right-handed relief pitcher Jose Veras to a one-year contract paying four million dollars with a team option for a second year at 5.5 million dollars. Veras, who recently turned 33, posted his best season last year while splitting time between the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers. While Vera saved 19 games in 22 tries as the Astros’ closer last year, his late-season trade to the Tigers saw him assume a set-up role for the pennant drive. Veras has struck out an average of more than one batter per inning over the course of his career for a solid 23.9% strikeout percentage. Unfortunately, his 12% career walk rate is significantly higher than most pitchers. Veras’s reduced earned run average last season, however, was accompanied by a much lower walk rate on par with the major league average. If Veras continues to harness his control this season, his peripherals suggest another strong season and a potential steal for the Cubs at four million dollars. Presumably, the Cubs will give Veras a chance at the closer role this spring.
With the Veras signing, the Cubs may have completed their search for additional relief pitching assistance. Returning pitchers Pedro Strop and James Russell make for a formidable righty/lefty set-up tandem. Carlos Villanueva likely will return to his swing-man role, as a relief pitcher who may also start games next season depending on injuries or trades. Right-handed pitcher Blake Parker, who posted a great strikeout-to-walk ratio while notching a 2.72 earned run average in 2013, also will be in the mix for a bullpen spot. Last year’s Rule 5 acquisition, Hector Rondon, pitched very well during the final months of the 2013 season and looks to build on that success for the major league team in 2014.
In addition to Wright and last year’s returning relief corps, the Cubs also signed free agent left-handed reliever Wesley Wright away from the Tampa Bay Rays. Like Veras, Wright began last season with the Astros before being traded to the Rays for their playoff run. Over the course of his career, Wright has dominated left-handed batters. Clearly, the Cubs hope that Wright will fill the much-needed role of left-handed specialist next season. Finally, the Cubs have several young pitchers who hope to stick with the major league club including, but not limited to, Justin Grimm, Zac Rosscup, Chris Rusin, and Arodys Vizcaino.
For the first time in several years, the Cubs will enter spring training with a number of bullpen options. The Cubs have compiled a deep, if not spectacular, bullpen. One encouraging sign for this season is that the Cubs lack high priced but ineffective relief pitchers (such as Carlos Marmol), or aged relievers at the nadirs of their careers (in the vein of Kevin Gregg or Shawn Camp). Instead, the Cubs possess about a dozen potential legitimate relief options. While some of the pitchers, such as Veras, Villanueva, and Russell, may make for attractive midseason trade options, the Cubs have young pitchers ready to assume those roles if need be. The Cubs’ overall roster depth should begin to reveal itself through the 2014 bullpen.