...an occasional series wherein I raid my kids' baseball card collection and profile a one-time Chicago Cub.
Today’s guest Paper Cub is a member of the first family of baseball...or at least the first family of baseball in which one of the family members is known for urinating on his hands.
Who: Mel Rojas (nephew of Felipe, Matty and Jesus Alou; cousin of hand-wetter Moises Alou), relief pitcher, 1997
How The Cubs Got Him: Signed him on December 10, 1996 to a 3-year, $13.5MM free agent deal. Just a few months earlier, Rojas had racked up 7 wins and 36 saves for the Expos, the culmination of seven seasons in Montreal, during which Rojas collected 109 saves. Ironically, the man Rojas replaced as Cubs closer, Turk Wendell, had a 2.84 ERA with 18 saves and just 58 hits allowed in 79 1/3 IP in his only season as the Cubs closer–far better numbers that Rojas put together in his short time with the Cubs or in any season after he left Wrigley Field.
What He Did While They Had Him: Withered under the pressure of being a high-priced, high-expectation free agent and lasted about 2 1/2 seasons less in a Chicago Cubs uniform than General Manager Ed Lynch had expected he would.
Between April 3rd, when Rojas made his Cub debut and was tagged for three runs in one inning against the Marlins, and August 7th, when he ended his Cub career by allowing a ninth-inning run to the Giants, Rojas went 0-4, 4.42, with 13 saves, but it was the stumbles in between that invited the wrath of Cub fans and made it attractive for Lynch to find the former Expo a new home.
The worst of Rojas’ failures came in early June, when the Jim Riggelman’s Cubs, already nine games under .500, watched Rojas squander a 3-run, ninth-inning lead against the Phillies in a contest the Cubs eventually lost 9-8 in 10 innings.
Also notable was a game in late July in Atlanta, in which the Cubs, losers of six games in a row at the time, spotted the Braves a 4-0 advantage, then scratched their way to a 5-4 lead, only to see Rojas yield two runs in the last of the ninth and lose the game 6-5.
How The Cubs Got Rid Of Him: Unloaded him on August 9, 1997, along with Wendell and outfielder Brian McRae, in a massive salary dump to the Mets, in exchange for outfielder Lance Johnson, pitcher Mark Clark and infielder Manny Alexander.
Mike Kiley of the Sun-Times clearly reflected the relief of Cubs fans upon announcement of the deal, writing,
“There is unabated, though silent, joy at Clark and Addison today because the Cubs front office believes it is payback time for 1969. Almost 30 years later, the Mets are going to pay dearly by taking $17 million worth of misery off Chicago's hands."Unlike the Cubs, who were terrible throughout 1997 and finished the season 68-94, the Mets were in the thick of the pennant race, sitting in third place, 7 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East at the time of the trade.
Also unlike the Cubs, the Mets weren’t looking for Rojas to close games, expecting him only to be the set-up man for their longtime relief ace, John Franco. Rojas didn’t fare very well in that role either, however, finishing the year with a 5.13 ERA over 23 games. (The Mets also struggled on their way to the finish line and ended up 13 games behind division-winning Atlanta.)
Something Positive Someone Once Said About Him: "We feel Mel is durable and successful at getting lefthanders out. He’s also a ground ball pitcher, and that’s a good fit for us." (Cubs GM Ed Lynch, as quoted in The Sporting News, 12/23/96)
Box Score To Remember: ROJAS 1 0 0 0 0 2 (Giants @ Cubs, 5/19/97)