The Texas Rangers may have a unique assignment for Jesse Chavez
By Travis Koch
The Texas Rangers have signed Jesse Chavez to a 2-year, $8 million deal. They may have more in store for him than the general public might think…
You may recall the emergence of “the opener” role in Major League Baseball this year. If you’re not entirely familiar with the role, it’s simply using a labeled relief pitcher for an inning or two to start a game. This then enables a labeled starting pitcher to enter the game against the bottom of an opposing team’s lineup as opposed to the top (if all goes according to plan).
While the strategy won’t go away anytime soon, I did write it off for the Texas Rangers’ sake back in September. Texas used an opener more and more as the season went along, typically awarding the role to Jeffrey Springs or Adrian Sampson. It worked out fine, but I didn’t see the strategy as a mark of a quality rotation.
Though, the reality is the Texas Rangers don’t have a quality rotation. They used the opener as a crutch to a weak rotation in 2018, and they may have to do the same in 2019.
The signing of Jesse Chavez may fall in line with the strategy. In case you missed it, the Rangers signed Chavez to a two-year, $8 million contract earlier this week. They bring him back after a stellar stint with the team from April to July in which he posted a 3.51 ERA over 56 innings of relief.
Chavez was even more dominant after he was traded from Texas to Chicago in mid-July. With the Cubbies, he pitched to a 1.15 ERA over 39 innings and held opposing hitters to a collective .190 batting average.
He’s earned a more lucrative contract with the Rangers, but there’s more to he move than just signing a good reliever. Don’t be surprised if Chavez is coupled with Jeffrey Springs to create a two-headed opener.
Chavez has noteworthy experience as a starting pitcher. He made 21 starts with the Oakland Athletics in 2014 and 26 with them in 2015. He finished with a 3.45 ERA in ’14 and a 4.18 ERA in ’15. Thus, he seems ideal for the opener role.
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As the depth chart currently stands, the Texas Rangers have a very shaky rotation. Mike Minor is coming off an impressive year; however, he himself is a converted starter who threw only 157 innings last season. Texas just signed Drew Smyly, who did not pitch an inning in 2018 due to Tommy John surgery. And the remaining starters include the inexperienced Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado. Neither of those two arms have thrown over 60 innings in a big league season.
So yes, the Rangers may lean on creative ways to control innings counts and to limit potential damage at the hands’ of their starting staff. The most obvious way is using Chavez and Springs as openers.
Chris Woodward was hired as the Rangers’ new manager in part because of his analytical approach to the game. It just so happens the hot new analytical approach is using an opener. Kevin Cash famously used it throughout the year with his Tampa Bay Rays’ staff and many other teams used it sporadically throughout the season as well.
To the best of my knowledge, Woodward’s previous team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, did not use an opener at any point. Though, they had the luxury of a deep rotation.
All of the dots connect. Analytical-minded manager connects with the opener strategy, and the opener strategy connects with he recently signed former major league starting pitcher.
Chavez’s role within the staff will be an interesting watch once spring training starts. Heck, the Texas Rangers could even consider him as a legit starter, not just an opener. One thing we know for sure is Jesse Chavez gives the team options, and options are always nice to have.