Reliever Chavez, Cubs reunite: 'Feels like I didn't leave'

March 13th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs need bullpen reinforcements, and adding some experienced arms is a priority.  was looking for comfortable surroundings and wanted to get into a camp swiftly.

That combination led to a reunion on Sunday, when Chavez put on a Cubs uniform again and went through a light workout after signing a Minor League contract. The pact includes a non-roster invitation to Major League camp and a great chance to make the Opening Day roster.

"I just wanted a fit," Chavez said. "Things didn't happen with some other clubs. But this one's always been there. It's always been on the table, and I just had to take it. It felt like a great time for me and my family to choose this place."

Chavez, 38, has logged 511 career games for nine teams in parts of 14 seasons in the Majors, including a stint with the Cubs in 2018. That year, the right-hander was acquired from Texas before the Trade Deadline in July, then fashioned a 1.15 ERA with 42 strikeouts and just five walks in 32 appearances for Chicago down the stretch. He then worked one shutout inning for the Cubs in the '18 National League Wild Card Game against the Rockies before leaving via free agency.

"Feels like I didn't leave," Chavez said.

Chavez relies heavily on a cutter and sinker mix and has remained productive even as his age climbs. Last year with the Braves, the righty had a 2.14 ERA with a 27.1 percent strikeout rate in 30 games (33 2/3 innings) after coming up from Triple-A Gwinnett in June. He then turned in 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs during Atlanta's run to the World Series title.

Once baseball's lockout ended, Chavez knew he did not want to waste any time in picking his new club.

"You're kind of on a high after the season last year," he said. "And then [you] kind of get stuck in no-man's land for a few months. Now, all of a sudden it has to pick up right away, where you're just like, 'All right, where's it going to go?'"

The Cubs have multiple spots to fill in their bullpen, especially given the recent loss of late-inning arm Codi Heuer. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Heuer underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and will miss the 2022 season.

Chicago has a considerable list of internal bullpen options, but the group is lacking a veteran presence. Bringing in more experienced options beyond Chavez will continue to be a goal for the North Siders ahead of Opening Day.

"[The front office] can maybe backfill some spots," manager David Ross said, "or other guys get opportunities here to prove themselves. We'll still fill that thing out. We're still got some spots."

Worth noting
• The addition of Chavez gives the Cubs 16 non-roster invitees at the moment, though that list will likely continue to grow throughout the spring. Outfielder Brennen Davis, who is the Cubs' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, headlines the list of internal invitees.

Chicago's list of NRI's also includes: righties Jonathan Holder, Ben Leeper, Mark Leiter Jr., Cayne Ueckert and Eric Yardley; lefties Stephen Gonsalves, Conner Menez and Locke St. John; catchers John Hicks and P.J. Higgins; and infielders Dixon Machado, Chase Strumpf, Ildemaro Vargas and Andy Weber.

• The Cubs, White Sox and MLB announced Sunday that the Chicago teams will play seven-inning split-squad games (one at Sloan Park in Mesa and the other at Camelback Ranch in Glendale) on Thursday to open their Spring Training schedules.

• Sunday was the mandatory reporting date for the Cubs' Major League players to arrive to Arizona for Spring Training. The team will hold its first official workout on Monday.

"Our bullpen, I think it's good. I'm not going to say it's great, because we don't have a lot of experience out of that. When we have experience, we can say we have a balance between the younger guys and the experienced guys. I think we need some more work in there, in the bullpen area. And I think they know, too." -- Catcher Willson Contreras