Jesse's Journey to Cult Status
When Jesse Chavez got to the majors, two of his teammates were Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche.
Both were Pittsburgh Pirates at the time. Also playing the same day Jesse Chavez made his major league debut were Doug Mientkiewicz and Jack Wilson. On the other side, Jason Marquis started for the Chicago Cubs and Mark DeRosa was in right field.
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That's just an example of how long Chavez has been in the majors. He's pitched long enough in the majors to pitch in the same game as a rookie Charlie Morton and pitched in the same World Series game Morton missed because of a broken leg. He's nearly done it all - pitching 73 times in one year and starting 20+ games three other times. He even occasionally earned a save for the 2018 Cubs.
But Chavez's latest career oddity has been how he found success with the Braves. And then, again. And then...again?
Chavez's time with the Braves' franchise wasn't always a happy experience. Before he was a fedora-wearing badass, he was a fringe prospect in his third try at figuring out the majors. His 2008 campaign was forgetful (9 walks and 11 runs in 15 frames) while the 73-game rubber arm of 2009 was, for lack of a better word, average. Sure, the 4.01 ERA can play, but he allowed too many homers to earn high-leverage opportunities.
After the season, the Pirates, who had originally acquired Chavez from the Rangers for Kip Wells in 2006, dealt the right-hander to the Rays for Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura. Jesse didn't know this at the time, but his travels were only beginning. A month later, his highly-productive time with the Rays - no runs allowed! - came to a close as he was moved to the Braves on December 11. Chavez was the consolation prize for Rafael Soriano surprisingly accepting arbitration rather than sign a lucrative deal elsewhere. Frank Wren, like his predecessor had done with Kevin Millwood, scrambled to find a new home for the guy who no longer fit the budget. In return, the Braves picked up Chavez.
Unlike his time with Tampa - again, no runs allowed! - Chavez struggled for the playoff-bound 2010 Braves. He was a weak link in a pen with Billy Wagner, a rookie Jonny Venters, and the excellent trio of Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito, and Eric O'Flaherty. Unsurprisingly, he was rarely called from the pen if the game's outcome was in question. Sure, he did his job and logged 36.2 innings in 28 appearances, but the 5.89 ERA made him a liability for a team with big aspirations.
As a result, at the deadline, the Braves waived adios to Chavez, packaging him with Gregor Collins and the diminutive Tim Collins for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth.
This is when Chavez starts to realize that renting was probably a better option than owning. Chavez may not approach Edwin Jackson's feat of playing for 14 major league teams, but what makes Chavez a funny pitcher is he often makes multiple stops in the same city. In his first game as a Royal, he threw to Jason Kendall and got a groundout when facing Nick Markakis. After a year-plus in the Royals' organization, he went to Toronto for 2012 and started a game with Braves' greats like Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, and Jose Bautista in the lineup. Later that year, he'd land in Oakland and gave up four runs to the Tigers when Miguel Cabrera hit a Grand Slam off him. The inning started with a Gerald Laird single, proving yet again that Laird was a rally-starter.
It's easy to kid with various names from recent baseball history, but Chavez would find a bit of a home in Oakland, who often utilized him as a starter. From 2013-15, Chavez appeared in 97 games and started 46. He learned to pitch in the Bay Area, keeping his FIP under 4.00 and limiting the homers he gave up in bunches everywhere else. Now, sure, the ballpark out in Oakland helps to keep balls in the yard and Chavez wouldn't receive much interest from the baseball world, but 4.8 fWAR for roughly 360 innings is quite valuable. The 2022 New York Mets have 3.1 fWAR in 466.1 innings out of their bullpen so, yeah, it makes a difference.
All good things must come to an end and Oakland said, "crap, we gotta pay this guy now. Let's trade him!" In fairness, Oakland got great value when they traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays for Liam Hendriks. First the Jays give Chavez away for nothing and now they deal Hendriks for him? Again, to be fair, Hendriks was a good arm but had yet to access his Australian superpowers to become the guy he is now. There is something a bit interesting that is sort-of Braves-related here, though. Alex Anthopoulos was the general manager of the 2015 Blue Jays. At the end of the season, the Jays ownership decided to bring in Mark Shapiro to be the new team president. The latter offered a contract extension, but sensing he was about to lose his autonomy to run the team like he wanted, Anthopoulos rejected the offer and left the Jays. In the mean time, Tony LaCava took over as interim GM until December 3 when Ross Atkins would officially get the call. In that time frame between Anthopoulos and Atkins, the Blue Jays traded Hendriks for Chavez.
It's like the baseball Gods were already punishing Toronto for being so dumb to essentially force Anthopoulos out.
Chavez's second stint with the Jays lasted about as long as his first one. By August, he was again on the move, going to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Mike Bolsinger. Chavez's 2016 was a bit of a fallback from his success in Oakland. That said, he was still a productive fifth or sixth guy out of the pen for both the Blue Jays and Dodgers. He just wasn't quite as good as he had been with Oakland. His next stop, with the Angels, would be much worse. His ERA ballooned to 5.35 despite a similar usage to his A's days with 38 games pitched and 21 starts. It would be the final time a team thought, "ya know, maybe Jesse can be our fifth guy."
But Jesse soldiered on, signing with the Texas Rangers for the 2018 season. It was a return of sorts as the Rangers drafted him in the 42nd round back in 2002. Oh, that's right, we do not make enough of a point to mention that Chavez was the only player from the 2002's 42nd round who made it to the majors. That year, the Braves drafted a guy named Ryan Paul who didn't actually sign and I'm not entirely convinced that Ryan Paul is a real person.
Chavez's 2018 season was like so many of his other seasons in that it included a midseason trade. But before that, Chavez was doing quite well in Texas, thank you very much. His ERA had been cut to 3.51, his control continued to be outstanding, and his K/BB rate was back over 4. But the Rangers decided that if you love somebody, if you love someone, set them free. Well, not entirely free. They acquired someone named Tyler Thomas from the Cubs for Chavez. Like I mentioned, Chavez excelled down the stretch for the Cubs. In 32 games, he had a 1.15 ERA over 39 innings. He added four saves which is half of his career total. He even struck out 42 to just five walks. He was so good that the Cubs brought Chavez in to pitch in the Wild Card game, his first postseason experience. Chavez logged a scoreless seventh inning, giving up a single but getting a twin killing to face the minimum. The Cubs would lose 2-1 in 13.
Wouldn't ya know it but Chavez was back on the move again after his productive 2018? This time he did the Old Fedora, which is, as everyone knows, returning to your old team for the third time. He inked a contract with the Texas Rangers. But this contract was special. It was a two-year pact. Even more noteworthy was the fact that Chavez stayed with the Rangers throughout the deal. His 2019 campaign was okay, I guess. He pitched 48 times, started nine times, and generally was decent for a bad Rangers team. But a 4.85 ERA is what it is. It was better than his worrisome pandemic season of 2020 where he gave up 13 runs in 17 innings for the abbreviated year.
As a result, no major league offers came for Jesse. He accepted a minor league contract with an invite to spring training from another of his ex's, the Angels, to open 2021. But his time there was short-lived. They couldn't find a spot for Chavez because their staff was so full of talent and...
Wait, I'm being told they finished 12th in the AL in ERA with the most walks. Oops.
After a few weeks of waiting for a call, the Atlanta Braves gave Chavez a ring - the phone type not the Championship type that came later. Anthopoulos brought the righty in on a minor league pact. In early May, he joined the Gwinnett Stripers and began to show glimpses of the pitcher he would be for the Braves. Shockingly, his control was the biggest question, though he was probably just rounding into form. By mid-June, he was riding the success of six straight scoreless innings with two walks and 11 K's when the Braves needed an arm for a start in Cincinnati. Why not Chavez, Anthopoulos pondered? Why not indeed!
Okay, so, his first game wasn't amazing. He gave up two runs in 2.1 innings. But rather than return him to the minors, the Braves kept him and he went on a rampage. Over his next 13 games, he tossed 14.1 innings of 0.00 ERA ball which is got to be more impressive than his 0.00 ERA in 0 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays, right? He struck out 16, walked five, and there was no longer a question about when Chavez was headed back to the minors. He even shook off some struggles (5 runs in his next 3.2 innings) to go on another tear to finish the 2021 season (1 ER in 13.1 ING). Overall, Chavez had a 2.14 ERA in 33.2 innings with 36 strikeouts.
Like the Braves, Chavez's season was not over. He would pitch twice in the NLDS, three times in the NLCS, and twice more in the World Series. That included a start in Game 4 of the NLCS which is also known as that time Eddie Rosario hit two homers in a playoff game. Like the regular season, Chavez was just too good in October. In 6.1 innings, Chavez allowed zero runs. And then, just when you think Chavez's season couldn't possibly be topped, he wore this fedora to the World Series celebration.
But the Braves moved on. They had so many arms and not enough spots. They just had to let him go. Like Jesse is prone to doing, he headed back to an old home, signing with the Cubs. And the Chicago Cubs, after three games, were convinced - fedoras are so last century. They traded Chavez for Sean Newcomb and for the third time, Jesse was back. Newcomb has since gone on to walk 15 in 19.2 innings and give up 23 runs. But at least he's...younger?
Chavez shook off the stink of Chicago and found his footing in Atlanta. Once again, he went along merrily. And sure, strikeouts are high nowadays, but Chavez was striking out over eleven batters an inning. With his control and ability to log extra innings, Chavez was a force for the Braves and for his excellent work, he was traded to the Angels because of course he was going back to the Angels.
Sure, the bigger get for the Angels in the deal was Tucker Davidson and yeah, Raisel Iglesias has been a monster since the deal.
But for the conspiracy-minded out there, the Braves pulled off something here that was diabolical. Chavez went out to Anaheim and stuck up the joint. He struggled badly and maybe that was on purpose. He was being loaned out to the Angels just to keep his arm fresh. And then, right before August ended, the Angels got rid of Chavez who was now viewed as broken and unusable. As a result, he passed through waivers and there was the Braves, ready to pick him up. Suddenly, Chavez was fixed and he has looked great since coming back.
Impossible? Well, according to some fans on Twitter, other teams are actively rooting for the Braves to overtake the Mets so you tell me if it's crazy.
It is, by the way. Completely crazy.
Who knows how much longer Jesse Chavez will pitch? He just turned 39. But his career is one to be admired. He could have, really at any time, called it quits. Nobody wanted to promise him a major league gig in 2021? Why not go home and enjoy life? But Chavez's love for the game is unquestionable. Even when he did what so few in baseball history have done and won a ring, he came back for more. He even signed with what was obviously going to be a bad Cubs team just to keep his dream alive. And now, he's almost a cult hero who has pitched over a thousand innings in the majors. What an absolutely amazing career Chavez has had and it deserves every digital ink I've spilled writing this.
Because, to quote a movie about a franchise Chavez once played for, how can you not be romantic about baseball when you watch this guy pitch?
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