Even by the frenzied, always-on-the-go standards of professional baseball, Jesse Chavez has a remarkably high tolerance for being told to get on the move. After 15 years with nine teams—some of which he’s come back to as repeat destinations—Chavez knows what to pack, how to tell his wife, which questions to ask.
But this season has been a lot. Even for him.
This year has seen his number of career trades go from eight to 10. That’s the difference between being an ordinary journeyman and the most-traded player in the history of modern baseball—a record that, while impressive in its own right, is not exactly the kind of thing anyone dreams about in Little League. But the reliever takes it all in stride. After signing with the Cubs in March, he was traded to the Braves in April, rejoining the team he finally won a World Series ring with in 2021. Then the Braves traded him to the Angels at the deadline as part of a package to get closer Raisel Iglesias. After a bumpy few weeks in Anaheim, however, the reliever was released Aug. 29. And he couldn’t have been happier with the team that selected him off waivers Aug. 30: Chavez was back with the Braves.
This is his fourth stint in Atlanta. The first came more than a decade ago and lasted just a few months, in 2010, when he was traded there by Tampa Bay; the second was ’21, when he spent the full season in town on a one-year contract, and the third and fourth have come this year. There are places where he’s logged more innings: Oakland, Anaheim, Texas. But there is no place he has come back to so many times. And he was especially thrilled to have the chance to do so now.
“It’s the place where my heart settled,” says Chavez, 39.
That’s a concept someone else might describe as “home.” But home is complicated for Chavez. He’s originally from California, and so is his wife, Crystal, but they’ve spent all of their adult lives … well, you know. So he’ll settle for a clubhouse where he feels welcome, a bullpen where he can strive for his best work and an organization where he can make an impact, whether that’s more through his pitching or his pep talks. And he knows he can do all of that in Atlanta.
“Being able to come back the first time this season, you just feel like you’re back where you belong,” Chavez says. “But sometimes, the way the business works out, it just doesn’t work out at that moment. So you live with that part.”
Chavez has felt comfortable with the Braves since his first stint with the team. At the time, he was 26, whether he was destined to be a closer or work in middle relief, and he’d already been traded three times. Chavez got to stay in the clubhouse for only a few months. (He’d been traded to Atlanta in December and was shipped out again in July.) But he felt like it was one of the first places he really found support and structure. Even as he moved around the league for years to come, Chavez fondly remembered his time in Atlanta, and he thought he’d like to return someday if he could. He came away especially struck by the veteran leadership on that team: The first name he mentions is Billy Wagner, but that roster also had a 37-year-old Derek Lowe and a 38-year-old Chipper Jones. Now, that veteran role is his, and he embraces it.
His fellow relievers even call him “Coach”—which started as a joke about each pitcher needing to be his own coach, but took on a life of its own when they all decided that if any of them really was one, it was Chavez. His time in the game has given him perspective. Some of that is on pitching: In 42 innings this year with Atlanta, he has a 1.90 ERA, adept at adjusting in order to stick around as he’s aged, and the league has changed around him. But much of that perspective comes from the parts of the game that take place off the mound. Chavez has gone through stretches when it feels like he’s done everything wrong. He’s gone through stretches when he’s done everything right and still it seems everything has gone wrong. He’s wondering how an organization views him or how long it might want him around. Those challenges have manifested for him mainly through his transaction log. But they resonate even for guys who have spent their career all in one place.
“Sometimes it’s not about performance. Sometimes it’s just the business side of it,” Chavez says. “That can do some things mentally that can knock you down a little bit and take a few months, maybe a year, maybe a year and a half to get back up. … But you can create your own path.”
That’s some of the wisdom he was dispensing to younger Braves players as Coach. Now, after just a few weeks in Anaheim, he’s back as if he never left, with the same locker that he had before. (“It was like I got sent to detention real quick,” he jokes.) He’s not sure how much longer he’ll be in a position to get moved cross-country. (Again: He’s 39.) But he’s glad he had the chance to do it at least one more time.
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