Welcome to the Bench: Jesse Chavez

Background
Born: 8/21/1983 (32 y, 3 m, 9 d) Victorville, California, US
Drafted: 42nd round (1252nd overall) in 2002 by Texas Rangers
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (2008-09), Atlanta Braves (2010), Kansas City Royals (2010-2011), Toronto Blue Jays (2012), Oakland Athletics (2012-2015)
Positions: Pitcher
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 160 lbs
Bat: Right
Throw: Right
Full Baseball Reference Bio

2015 Stats (Oakland Athletics)
G     GS    IP        W    L    CG   SHO   SV   SO    BB   ERA   FIP   WHIP  
WAR
30    26   157.0    7     15     0       0        1     136    48    4.18   3.85   1.350      2.3
Fangraphs Profile for Career and Advanced Stats

The Transaction
Toronto trades pitcher Liam Hendriks to the Oakland Athletics for Chavez on November 20, 2015.

What he brings to the team
There are too many Jays fans that let the excitement of this magical 2015 season cloud their opinion of the Jays’ needs this off season. As awesome as Liam Hendriks was in the playoffs, Jeff Blair said it best: “thank goodness John McDonald didn’t play on the team last season; he’d have roads and schools named after him.” Similar feelings were bound to surface when the Jays signed Happ, effectively ending the brief, but spectacular Blue Jays stint of David Price.

As entertaining as I find Tim and Sid, someone needs to talk this guy down from the ledge.

I am a big fan of both moves because it is much smarter to replace your ace with depth and value instead of ponying up and handcuffing yourself for years to come–especially with Bautista and Encarnacion in contract years. Just look at 2015 World Series Champs Kansas City Royals (I just threw up in my mouth just typing that). They lost their ace James Shield last offseason, coming off of a World Series loss, and didn’t panic. They looked for value over name-recognition on the free agent market and signed buy low candidates such as Edison Volquez, Chris Young and Kris Medlen. Obviously Price is not poised to drop off nearly as much as James Shields has, but the Jays can still make this strategy work.

People are too quick to remember 2012, 8.44 ERA Blue Jays Chavez and ignore the pitcher who had a 3.85 from 2013-15 with the Oakland A’s. Acquiring him has raised the floor of the rotation, as Spring Training rolls around he will be battling Hutchison and (hopefully) Sanchez and Osuna for the fifth spot in the rotation. He does not light up the radar gun, but is great at locating his pitches and painting the edges of the strike zone. Sportsnet’s Nick Ashborne throws out the idea that Chavez pitching to pitch-framing extraordinaire Russell Martin, could have Chavez poised for a breakout year. His ERA last season was a fair bit higher than his FIP of 3.85. So it will be interesting to see how much better he will pitch in front of the Jays’ superior defense (Jays were 16th in UZR and the A’s were 28th).

Why he’s on the bench*
Chavez is a fringe starter at best. As much as I’d love for him to be the next Marco Estrada (could happen), don’t hold your breath. Todd Redmond and Brian Tallet (maybe too harsh) might be better comparisons. He is still a very intriguing option as a back of the rotation starter or a spot starter out of the pen. He is a great depth piece and you will definitely appreciate this move when he is starting games in July instead of Felix Doubront.

The biggest knock against this trade is the fact that this is a contract year for Chavez, whereas Hendriks has four years of team control left. But assuming Hendriks doesn’t become an elite reliever, you have to trade the middle reliever for a starter. After the Jays depleted their Triple A starting pitcher depth in the Trade Deadline extravaganza, Chavez offers the team much needed depth and flexibility.

Checkout the November 24 Episode of the At the Letters podcast where guest Susan Slusser of the SF Chronicle discusses the Chavez trade.

* This is the first “Welcome to the Bench” column that I’ve made for a pitcher. From here on out I will establish that a bullpen pitcher or back end rotation starter is baseball’s equivalent of a “bench player”. This means J.A. Happ does not have enough bench-clout or finginess to warrant his own column. I am also going to wait for minor league free agents to actually suit up for the big club before I do a write-up, so stay tuned for your Casey Kotchman update. After wasting energy on my Shannon Scott and Devin Setoguchi write-ups, this change is necessary.

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