A year after Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez competed for the fifth-starter job as non-roster invitees to spring training, Jhoulys Chacin will do the same.
It should be noted, Chacin only turns 28 next month and was impressive pitching for altitude-challenged Colorado until a shoulder ailment in 2014, and he bounced back rather impressively last season with 20 starts in Triple-A and a five-game (four starts) stint with the Diamondbacks in August and September.
Also, keep in mind this is a guy who compiled a 3.58 ERA in 104 games (97 starts) during 2010-2013 with Colorado, including 2.87 in 46 road games
I won’t be surprised if he’s in the Braves rotation when camp breaks. Because while the Braves have an ever-growing stable of top pitching prospects, many of whom already have some big-league experience and others knocking at the door, they currently have only Julio Teheran (and possibly Bud Norris) as veteran starters.
We saw last year how things can go bad and snowball when more than half of the starting rotation is still trying to figure out how to pitch in the big leagues and there aren’t many veteran guys they can turn to for advice along the way. It’s painful watching three young borderline-ready guys struggle at once and seeing the burden it puts on a bullpen.
Maybe the Braves, with a rotation that includes, say, Matt Wisler – the most impressive of the rookie starters who debuted last season for Atlanta – and two others from the group of Manny Banuelos, Williams Perez, Mike Foltynewicz and Ryan Weber, could do just fine. But what if Teheran struggles like he did in 2015 on the road for much of the season? Or what if Norris doesn’t have much left and isn’t working out?
Signing Chacin to a minor-league deal gives the Braves an inexpensive, no-risk option and a potential important contributor and stabilizing veteran, if he can pitch like he did before 2014 or at least like he did last season. And because the deal isn’t guaranteed and surely includes an opt-out clause like the one that Wandy had last season, when the Braves made what a lot of us thought was a mistake in choosing Stults over Rodriguez at the end of spring training. The Braves aren’t making any significant financial commitment to Chacin that would cause him to block a young starter if one impresses more than him during spring training or the regular season.
The Braves traded Stults in May as part of the deal that brought Juan Uribe from the Dodgers, and they can trade Chacin if he makes the team and isn’t doing what they’d hoped he’d do, or a young pitcher is doing particularly well at Triple-A, that kind of thing.
The Braves will have other non-roster invitees in camp competing for spots on the pitching staff, but that isn’t expected to include lefty Mike Minor, who missed the 2015 season recovering from a labrum tear that required arthroscopic surgery. The Braves made him a non-tendered free agent last month and haven’t progressed in contract talks, and the Chacin and Norris signings seem an indication they’re moving on from Minor.
To me, Chacin seems a good find, maybe a very good one, on a minor league deal. He’s a veteran but only two or three years older than some Braves rookies, and one of the few starting pitchers to spend multiple seasons at Coors Field and come away with a sub-4.00 ERA. He could be one of those offseason under-the-radar signings that ends up being a savvy move we’re talking about in July. Or, a bust we forget by June. Who knows? But again, absolutely worth the insignicant cost of signing him to a minor league deal with a spring invite.
A former top-of-the-rotation starter with the Rockies, Chacin was released by Colorado late in 2015 spring training, and became a non-tendered free agent last month when Arizona didn’t want to commit a roster spot or the approximate $1.8 million he was set to make through arbitration. He began the season in the Cleveland Indians organization before opting out of a minor league contract in June and going to the Diamondbacks.
After going 7-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 20 Triple-A starts for Indians and Dbacks Triple-A affiliates, Chacin was called up in late August and posted a 3.38 ERA in five games (four starts) for Arizona, with 21 strikeouts and 10 walks in 26 2/3 innings.
Chacin is 40-49 with a 3.76 ERA in 129 major league games (113 starts) over parts of seven seasons, all while pitching for Colorado (six seasons) and Arizona in two of the majors’ most hitter-friendly home ballparks.
Shoulder issues limited him to 11 major league starts in 2014, when Chacin was 1-7 with an ugly 5.40 ERA. He was released late in 2015 spring training and signed with Cleveland three weeks later on April 14.
So there you go. I bet you didn’t think you’d be reading nearly 800 words about Jhoulys Chacin in mid-December. I know I didn’t expect to be writing nearly 800 words about him. But it wasn’t painful, was it? Not at all
. I feel like you, dear reader, and I have again become just a little closer.
•A week ago: The 2015 Winter Meetings will likely be remembered – and for a long time – as the time the Braves traded Shelby Miller for a bounty from the Dbacks that left execs and scouts from other teams stunned, a bounty that included top shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson – the No. 1 pick in the draft just six months ago – and Gold Glove-caliber outfielder Ender Inciarte, in addition to pitching prospect Aaron Blair, who was Arizona’s No. 2 prospect behind Swanson and is generally projected to develop into a mid-rotation starter.
For us who cover the Braves and were at the Winter Meetings, the event will also be remembered for some colorful and informative sessions in the Braves’ suite with GM John Coppolella and prez of baseball operations John Hart, including a midnight session hours after the Miller trade that, well, those of us in attendance won’t soon forget.
But anyway, I had a couple of leftover quotes from those sessions in Nashville last week, and this one in particular I found to be relevant. It was from Hart, on the first full day of the Meetings on Monday, Dec. 8. He and Coppy were talking about the Braves’ big picture, their sweeping overhaul since taking over after GM Frank Wren was fired at the end of the 2014 season. Depending who’s ranking them, the Braves’ top 30 prospect list is now about two-thirds comprised of talent that’s been traded for or drafted in the past 12 months. Which is an astonishing turnover.
And then there’s a similar radical makeover of the major league roster. At times it seems like anything from the Wren regime that wasn’t nailed to the floor or named Freeman is now gone or on the way out.
But anyway, that quote I was talking about. Hart was talking about how he understands the fans’ anxiety or frustration over so much change and so many familiar faces traded away, but how eventually he thinks fans and others will see the Braves had a plan and might even come to appreciate it. He was also illustrating the difference between acquiring so much young talent in baseball as opposed to drafting players in other sports and having them make immediate impacts.
“If you’re the NFL and you have your draft, everybody knows who these (drafted) guys are,” Hart said. “All these guys that we have – I mean, who in the world knows Touki Toussaint? Who in the world knows Mallex Smith? I tell you, when these guys come, you’ll know them, you’ll get to see them. But in the meantime they (fans) are sort of, ‘I don’t know, there’s been so many of these guys, who are they?’ But at one point, who was Tom Glavine? Who was Manny Ramirez? Who was Albert Belle? Who were these guys?
“We think we’ve got a very strong nucleus of young players. I’m not (saying) all these guys are going to be stars or all going to hit. But it’s a deep nucleus of quality young players with great makeup, who have been acquired with no only their talent in mind and our future in mind, but also with their character and their makeup, who they are.”
As I said last week in this space, no doubt the Braves have a plan. A grand plan. A few years down the road, we’ll know if it worked.
• I’ll close with this cut from Dwight Yoakam‘s “Second Hand Heart,” which will be on my list of Top 50 albums of 2015. That’s coming up late this week or during the weekend, soon as I have time to put it all together.
“DREAMS OF CLAY” by Dwight Yoakam