Cubs Sign James McDonald

The Cubs have officially signed pitcher James McDonald. The deal, originally thought to be a minor league contract, is actually a major league deal, tweets MLBTR's Tim Dierkes. 

McDonald's $1MM salary is not fully guaranteed, however, reports Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune via Twitter. The 29-year-old can also earn incentives, tweets Bruce Levine of

McDonald hit the open market in September when he refused an outright assignment from the Pirates. Things never came together for him last year, as he only got six starts and ended up with a 5.76 ERA in 29 2/3 MLB innings. Control was a particular issue, as McDonald ended up with 6.1 BB/9. In 33 Triple-A innings in 2013, McDonald scuffled to a 6.55 ERA.

Nevertheless, McDonald offers tantalizing upside. Over the first half of 2012, he carried a 2.37 ERA with a 3.23 K:BB ratio and allowed opponents to hit just .196/.258/.312 against him. (Of course, those numbers flipped to a 7.52 ERA, 1.34 K:BB rate, and .292/.388/.551 line in the second half.) And though he dealt with a shoulder issue last year, McDonald has otherwise been durable over his professional career.

Bruce Levine of first reported the signing on January 31st (via Twitter). Carrie Muskat reported via Twitter that the deal was official. 

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13 Comments on "Cubs Sign James McDonald"

1 year 6 months ago

Seems like the Pirates have had a lot of guys recently like McDonald. Guys who seemed like the real deal and would be a mainstay in the rotation for many years, but they end up flaming out.

Zach Duke, Ian Snell, McDonald, and Tom Gorzelanny just off the top of my head.

connfyoozed .
1 year 6 months ago

I would say that the other 3 were publicized above their actual ability by the Pirates front office. The Bucs needed to develop starting pitchers, but were doing a terrible job developing them… so when Duke, Snell, Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, and others had even nominal success in the minors, the Pirates scouts started talking about them as if they were going to be the Bucco version of Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine/Avery… when in reality they weren’t talented enough.

McDonald was different: he came up with the Dodgers, not the Pirates, and he was highly regarded as a reliever. The Pirates converted him to a starter (although the Dodgers may have explored that also, I don’t know) because his stuff was so good. However, McDonald became rather injury prone (and to be fair, so did Snell, who was also quite talented but was a head case). I still think McDonald should maybe be converted back to a reliever to save his arm some wear.

1 year 6 months ago

McDonald came up as a starter with the Dodgers; he was a starter pretty much his entire minor league career with a good deal of success. But he struggled as a starter in the major leagues in 2009, so the Dodgers moved him to the bullpen. When he was with the Dodgers, he was always known to have talent but seemed to really struggle under pressure.

1 year 6 months ago

I’m not a Pirates’ fan, so I was only basing it off of their major league production.

1 year 6 months ago

I was hoping that the Royals would pick up McDonald on a minor league deal. I think the guy can pitch, he just might need a catcher that knows what pitch he needs to throw and take things out of his hands a little. Reminds me of a poor mans Ervin Santana. Cubs are picking up some pitchers that if healthy could have nice bounce back years.

Rally Weimaraner
1 year 6 months ago

How does a non-guarantied MLB deal work? There is 0 cost to release him but he can’t be sent to the minors?

1 year 6 months ago

“A player on an MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) signed to a non-guaranteed contract who is released more than 15 days prior to Opening Day receives 30 days salary as termination pay (paid at the “minor league rate” if the player is signed to a “split contract”), and a player on an MLB Reserve List signed to a non-guaranteed contract who is released 15 or fewer days prior to Opening Day receives 45 days salary as termination pay (all players paid at the “Major League rate”). A player on an MLB Reserve List signed to a non-guaranteed contract who is released during the MLB regular season receives 100% of his salary as termination pay (paid at the “minor league rate” for players on Optional Assignment to the minors). An unsigned player on an MLB Reserve List released during the off-season receives no termination pay.”

Rally Weimaraner
1 year 6 months ago


1 year 6 months ago

As a Cubs fan, I have been very confused on why this was going to be a MLB deal. This may be the logic behind the decision. Thoyer takes a chance at Spring Training to eyeball McDonald’s upside. Worst case scenario, it costs 45 days salary, a 40-man spot for a month and Brooks Raley. Kind of like a souped up minor league contract.

Joe Orsatti
1 year 6 months ago

they don’t have any space for another guaranteed starter
1.) Jeff Samardzija (2015 FA)
2.) Travis Wood (2017 FA)
3.) Edwin Jackson (2017 FA)
4.) Jason Hammel (2015 FA)
5.) Jake Arrieta (2017 FA)
6.) Chris Rusin (2020 FA)
7.) Justin Grimm (2020 FA)
9.) Tsuyoshi Wada (2015 FA)

Especially with their prospect
Neil Ramirez and Pierce Johnson

1 year 6 months ago

6-9 are all guys who are not MLB ready. At worst he battles for the 5 spot with Arrieta, the other moves to the bullpen.

Damon Bowman
1 year 6 months ago

Sure looks like Theo Epstein and the Cubs are making provisions for filling the hole when they trade Samardzjia. By the way, what in the world is a non-guaranteed Major League contract and why in the world would the Cubs offer that up? You’re making it non-guaranteed so you can cut him loose before Opening Day and not be on the hook for anything, but you had to make room on the 40-man roster to bring him in? I don’t get that at all. In one way it says you’re confident you won’t get burned and lose out because of clearing a roster spot, but on the other hand the contract is non-guaranteed. Very strange.

1 year 6 months ago

If JS is traded, let’s hope they get more than prospects. Jeff is more valuable than that. But then…… value is passe……right? I’m an old man and in my day people had value, but today, times are different and humans are just commodities. And nothing has value anymore. I got schooled by a twenty year old on this.Twenty year olds know everything. God, I am glad to be in my sixties.