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In appreciation of Hector Rondon’s years with the Cubs

He was once a lights-out closer.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13:  Hector Rondon #56 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 in game four of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Hector Rondon celebrates the Cubs’ division series win over the Cardinals in 2015
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Hector Rondon’s gone now, non-tendered Friday and likely headed for another team, perhaps even to resume his former role as closer.

He’ll go down in Cubs history as the most successful Rule 5 draft pick in more than three decades. (Jody Davis, the Cubs’ Rule 5 pick in 1980, is probably the best ever.)

Rondon had gone through two elbow surgeries with the Cleveland Indians, who then left him unprotected after the 2012 season. The Cubs snapped him up and, with the team coming off a 101-loss season, had the luxury of keeping him in the bullpen all year in 2013.

Toward the end of that season is when Hector started to show that he might be a solid major-league reliever. In the second half of 2013 he posted a 3.20 ERA and 1.145 WHIP with only one home run allowed in 20 appearances.

You’d think that might have gotten him a shot at the closer role for 2014, but the Cubs went out and signed Jose Veras.

Yes, that was only three seasons ago. Veras was horrific, with no saves, an 8.31 ERA and 1.725 WHIP in 12 games. He was designated for assignment June 3 and released a week later.

By this time Rondon had already taken over as closer. He posted his first Cubs save April 11, 2014 in an extra-inning win in St. Louis, and overall in 2014 had 29 saves with three blown saves.

It was the 2015 season when Hector did his best Cubs work. He had 30 saves with again just three blown saves, and the best part was the way he went about his work. We had been witness, a few seasons previously, to the high-wire act of Carlos Marmol as closer; often, he’d issue a walk or two before finishing up his save, piling up huge pitch counts.

Not Hector. In 2015 Rondon recorded seven saves in 10 or fewer pitches, three times requiring only six pitches to nail down victory. I’m sure you’ll never forget the ninth inning of Game 4 of the division series against the Cardinals. Here are the three outs from that inning [VIDEO], including a strikeout of Stephen Piscotty to win the series.

Hector fell on hard times in 2016. While his numbers were still pretty good, management didn’t feel he was the lockdown closer they needed to win the World Series, thus they went out and acquired Aroldis Chapman, and you know that all ended well... but Hector spent some time on the disabled list and when he returned in September he pitched poorly (9.82 ERA, 2.045 WHIP in nine games). By the end of the postseason Joe Maddon didn’t trust him at all — he never pitched in the World Series after Game 4.

In 2017, Hector’s walk rate, which had always been stellar, increased. From 2014-16 his walk rate was just 1.9 per nine innings, covering 190 appearances and 184⅓ innings. It ballooned to 3.1 this past season, and he was relegated to middle relief.

So his non-tender doesn’t come as a surprise, not when an arbitration award might have given him a $7 million salary or higher. The Cubs can probably get similar or better production out of a younger, cheaper pitcher. Hector turns 30 in February and he can probably catch on with another team, perhaps even as a closer for a non-contender.

During his good years he was a pleasure to watch, and from everything I’ve heard he was a good guy and a good teammate. Thanks for the memories, Hector. You’ll always be a Cubs World Series champion.