As GW astutely pointed out, the 2014 Cubs are headhunting directly from the 2013 Astros bullpen. On the surface, that sounds terrible. In practice, the Cubs have poached the only two good members of that pen, for a collective $5 million and change. $4 million of that this year will go to Jose Veras, the "closer" of the Astros last season (one openly wonders if having 51 save opportunities all year actually makes one a "closer"). If the market rate for a win is $6 million, than we'd hope Veras provides around .7 wins above replacement in the coming year. Is that feasible?
Jose Enger Veras was signed by the Devil Rays as an AFA in 1998 (Veras was 18 at the time). After spending '98 and '99 in various Rookie leagues (Gulf Coast and Appalchian), Jose saw his first full-season work in Charleston of the Sally League. He struggled has a starter all the way until 2004; he then took to a reliever's role for Texas in 2005 (he was a 6-year minor league FA after the 2004 season. At 25, Veras saw his first cup of coffee with the Yankees (he closed for AAA Columbus that year); he was serviceable in 11 innings for the big club. He bounced up and down between AAA and MLB until he was finally bought by the Indians…who promptly cut him loose after the 2009 season. He would yo-yo one last season, with the Marlins, in 2010, before staying in the Majors for good. Veras spent 2011-2013 as a high-K, high-BB flamethrower, usually in the 7th or 8th but closing for Houston until a midseason trade sent him to Detroit.
Veras has 3 pitches. He leans on his 4-seam fastball, which he threw 53% of the time last year. It's slowing down, going from 96.0 in 2007 to 94.1 in 2013 (itself a loss of .3 MPH from last year). It breaks equally hard down and in on the hands of righties and has become a real weapon against righties in the past few years. Against righties, he'll also throw a curve to keep hitters off the heat. The curve averages 77.5 mph (again, down from a peak of 80.1). It's a really slurvy curve, diving well away from righties. You can just imagine Alfonso Soriano striking out to this pitch. In fact, let's call it a slurveball, because that's what it is. Against lefties only, Veras will also flash a changeup. It's actually a nifty pitch, and it works perfectly off the fastball (same horizontal break, a little more dip). It's the out pitch against lefties and it does the job.
Veras has the arsenal to get lots of swings and misses. He has a career 23.9% strikeout percentage. That's really nifty; unfortunately, the attached 12.0% walk rate is an extreme liability. The resultant 12% outlay of K%-BB% is the league average, which makes Veras essentially a league-average pitcher. Lo and behold, his FIP- is 99. To Veras' credit, he keeps the ball in the park and strands above his fair share, which gives him a hand up. Crazily enough, Veras has a career BABIP of .266. That is extremely lucky, and honestly I don't know what to make of it. Good…job?
Jose Veras was signed to presumably battle it out with Pedro Strop for the closer's job next year. Normally, I'd say I trust that Theo won't let the payrolls make a difference, but who am I kidding. The Cubs acquired Veras to pump and dump. He yielded Danry Vazquez and David Paulino last year, a formidable return if you're high on Vazquez (and you could make a case for him). Given that Veras is 4 MM this year with a 5.5 MM option (essentially), he could potentially yield a good deal more. If the Cubs are sneakily competitive (and a Tanaka/Choo signing can make that happen), he's definitely in the mix to close games legitimately as well. All told, this isn't a move that has a lot of risk or upside, and those are the kind of moves that this FO has been keen on making for 3 years running.