Chicago Cubs Rumors

Chicago Cubs trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

NL Central Notes: Maholm, Bucs, Bryant, EJax, Ricketts

Lefty Paul Maholm has a “standing offer” at Triple-A with the Reds, tweets Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. At present, however, Maholm is looking to secure a big league deal if possible. He was released yesterday by Cincinnati.

Here’s more from the NL Central:

  • The Pirates have pillaged the Yankees in recent seasons, particularly in the catching department, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Both teams have placed significant value on pitch framing, but Sawchik suggests that perhaps Pittsburgh has remained more willing to commit to its ideas in that area. I’m not sure if they were ahead of us, we were ahead of them or if we arrived at this way of thinking at the same time. Actually, they were probably first,” said club GM Neal Huntington. “The two clubs evaluate catchers similarly.”
  • The agent for Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, Scott Boras, says that starting the season without the game’s top big-league-ready prospect in the majors is tantamount to staging “ersatz baseball,” Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets“MLB is not MLB without the best players,” said Boras.
  • Cubs starter Edwin Jackson, himself a former Boras client, is still waiting to learn what his role will be in 2015, as ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers reports. It seems likely that he’s headed to a middle relief spot, in spite of the fact that he’s still owed $22MM by the team.
  • Cubs owner Tom Ricketts indicates that his organization is still executing on its plan to build steadily, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports“We knew that if we’re ever going to bring a World Series to Chicago, it’s to be disciplined, and build things the right way,” said Ricketts. We’ve done that. Now, it’s up to us to deliver that promise.” That goes for the team’s player assets as well as its efforts to rehabilitate Wrigley Field, as Nightengale explains.

Added To The 40-Man Roster: Monday

With teams making decisions on the final piece of their Opening Day rosters, especially regarding Article XX(B) players, we’ll keep tabs on the day’s moves to add non-roster invitees to the 40-man.

Right-handed relievers, somewhat unsurprisingly, dominate today’s news in this arena:

  • Lefty specialist Joe Thatcher has been added to the Astros‘ 40-man roster, Rosenthal reports on Twitter. The Article XX(B) veteran will receive a $1MM salary and can add an additional $1.3MM through incentives. If he can return to form, Thatcher could be quite a nice addition to a Houston pen that was an area targeted heavily for upgrades this offseason.
  • Fellow non-roster invitee Roberto Hernandez will also make the club, the Astros have announced. As MLBTR originally reported, Hernandez will earn $2.65MM on the year. The 34-year-old joined the fold in Houston late in the spring, but provides a sturdy and versatile presence as the club seeks to take the next step this year.

Earlier Updates

  • The Twins have announced that righty Blaine Boyer is now a member of the team’s major league roster. Boyer’s deal will pay him $750K at the big league level and includes up to $100K in incentives tied to appearances, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. MLBTR’s Zach Links recently spoke with Boyer about his interesting professional journey.
  • Likewise, right-handed Carlos Villanueva has been added to the Cardinals‘ 40-man roster, the club announced. That means that the veteran swingman will be entitled to a $2MM salary this year with St. Louis. Villanueva, 31, has racked up 863 2/3 MLB innings in 76 starts and over 300 relief appearances. Though he had only a 4.64 ERA last year with the Cubs, Villanueva’s peripherals earned him strong marks from ERA estimators.
  • The Indians have informed righty Anthony Swarzak that he will make the pen, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune tweets. Though it does not appear he has been officially added to the 40-man, that will need to occur. The 29-year-old has a 4.48 career ERA in 439 2/3 frames at the major league level, most of them coming from the pen. Swarzak will take home a $900K salary and can earn up to $350K in incentives.
  • Similarly, the Cubs have told southpaw Phil Coke that he will be on the club, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Coke had exercised his opt-out clause on Friday when he was not added to the 40-man at that time, says Rosenthal. Now, it appears he will receive the $2.25MM (and up to $900K in bonuses) that his deal allows; indeed, the team has now announced that his contract was selected.

MLBPA Issues Statement On Bryant, Prospect Promotions

The MLB Player’s Association has released a sternly worded statement (links to Twitter) regarding the Cubs’ decision to option super-prospect Kris Bryant to start the year.

“Today is a bad day for baseball. We all know that if @KrisBryant_23 were a combination of the greatest Players to play our great game, and perhaps he will be before it’s all said and done, the @Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.”

There are several items in this statement to unpack, of course. For starters, it seems difficult to disagree with the sentiment that it is unfortunate for the game as a whole that Bryant will not start the year in the big leagues. While imagining a mutually agreeable rule tweak to make that happen in the future will not be easy, it certainly seems a worthy pursuit.

Then, there is the interesting second sentence, which seems to draw attention away from the Cubs’ particular decision and focus it instead on the set of incentives that seemingly made it inevitable. Certainly, those words strike a somewhat different posture than that adopted by Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras.

Finally, and most ominously, the union fired a parting shot suggesting that “litigation” could be a method employed in “address[ing]” the Bryant decision and others like it. Presumably, that refers to the possibility of pursuing grievance proceedings under the CBA, rather than some kind of action in open court, but it is interesting regardless because it suggests the union may seek to argue that weighing service time at the start of a player’s career violates the current iteration of the CBA.

Of course, the statement also notes that collective bargaining may be the route pursued to deal with the issue, and regardless of the MLBPA’s actual intentions, the union clearly wishes to put the league on notice that the promotion timeline of top prospects will be at or near the top of the labor agenda in the next round of bargaining. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has recently come out strongly in favor of some form of international draft, and both sides increasingly appear to be lining up their positions. Negotiations are expected to launch in earnest next winter.



Marlins Place Rule 5 Pick Andrew McKirahan On Waivers

The Marlins have placed Rule 5 lefty Andrew McKirahan on waivers, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. McKirahan can be claimed by any team, but will be offered back to the Cubs if he makes it through waivers.

The 25-year-old has had plenty of success in the minors and reached Double-A last year with the Chicago organization. He seemed to have a reasonable chance at earning a role in the Miami pen, but it appears that the Fish will instead roll with Brad Hand as a second lefty. Reviews have been positive, so it would not be surprising to learn that another club intends to give McKirahan a look.


Kris Bryant To Begin Season In Minors

The Cubs announced today that wunderkind Kris Bryant has been assigned to Minor League camp, indicating that he will not make the team’s Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. Second baseman Javier Baez was also optioned to Triple-A today.

The Bryant decision was widely expected, as the Cubs’ long-term benefit by optioning Bryant is almost impossible to ignore. Keeping Bryant in the Minors for even 12 days will leave him with 171 days of Major League service time this season, or one day shy of a full year. In other words, rather than controlling Bryant from 2015-20, the Cubs would gain an extra year of control and have the rights to Bryant through the 2021 season.

Oftentimes, teams will be willing to bring a player north to open the season because they plan on trying to negotiate a long-term deal eventually anyhow. The Cubs may well have interest in extending Bryant — why wouldn’t they? — but Bryant is also a client of agent Scott Boras, who traditionally encourages his players to go year-to-year through arbitration and test the free agent market as early as possible. While there are exceptions — Carlos Gomez, Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez each come to mind — the Cubs have to know that their odds of buying out any of Bryant’s free agent years in advance are considerably thinner than they would be if Bryant had different representation.

Boras has been very vocal on the matter, which has been one of the most oft-discussed storylines this Spring Training. Boras told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that the Cubs had to make a choice regarding Bryant: “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.” Boras would go on to argue that Bryant should have been promoted last September when the rosters expanded.

While it’s not surprising to see an agent advocating for the promotion of his player, it’s also hard to dismiss Boras’ comments as those of a biased party. Bryant batted a ridiculous .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he crushed nine homers in just 44 spring plate appearances while slashing .425/.477/1.175. Ranked by several outlets as the game’s top prospect, Bryant has certainly made a case that he belongs at the Major League level, and it’s difficult to compose an argument that he is not ready for the Majors, from a baseball standpoint.

The Cubs, of course, will not indicate that service time plays an issue in the decision. (Doing so would open the door for a grievance.) However, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein pointed out to reporters that he has never once taken a prospect north to open the season if it meant making his Major League debut, as he feels that Opening Day is a difficult time for a young player to debut. He also cited a belief that it’s good for players to be in a rhythm when called up to the Majors for the first time.

Needless to say, the service time rules that frequently cause teams to stash prospects in the Minors to delay their free agency or to avoid Super Two status figure to be a major talking point in the next collective bargaining agreement. Last year, there was plenty of controversy around the promotion timelines for prospects Gregory Polanco, Jon Singleton and George Springer, among others. MLBPA executive director has called the tactic “unfortunate,” though certain playerss, including Andrew Miller, have voiced an understanding that it’s part of the game.

In the case of Baez, it’s perhaps not surprising to see him begin the year in the Minors. He hit just 169/.227/.324 last season and struck out in more than 40 percent of his plate appearances, and this spring he batted .173/.218/.231 with 20 punchouts in 55 PA. Baez racked up 55 days of service time last year, and he’ll need 117 additional days in 2015 to reach one full year of big league service time.


NL Notes: Bryant, Garcia, Villanueva, Nats, Mets

The Cubs‘ impending decision about whether to have Kris Bryant start the season in the minors has players around baseball talking about service-time rules, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes in a story that collects responses to Bryant’s situation from players from several teams. “Hey, we have a chance to make a lot of money in this game, but the rules are the rules,” says Yankees reliever Andrew Miller. “If that works in the Cubs favor, and the Cubs are a better team for that, they’re entitled to (use the rule to their favor). We negotiated that. It’s the reality of what our collective bargaining agreement says.” Here’s more from the National League.

  • Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia will miss his start due to a shoulder issue, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. Garcia likely will not be in the team’s Opening Day rotation. Garcia had impressed the team in camp and might well have made the Cardinals’ rotation, particularly since having him start rather than Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez would have been the best way for the Cards to protect their assets — they could have easily just optioned Gonzales to the minors, put Martinez in the bullpen and kept all three pitchers. Instead, it’s yet another injury for Garcia, who’s dealt with plenty of them in the past few seasons. There is, however, reason to hope it won’t be serious — GM John Mozeliak (via Langosch on Twitter) characterizes the injury as fatigue and the missed start as “more of a pause than anything.”
  • Pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who’s on a minor-league deal with the Cardinals, can opt out of that deal Monday, Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch notes (via Twitter). Villanueva has gotten fairly good results in camp and has a track record of providing solid performances in a swingman role, so the Cardinals could try to find space for him on their roster.
  • Intentionally or not, the Nationals, who have lefty relievers available, gave the lefty-starved Mets a look at Jerry Blevins Saturday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. (Blevins struck out Curtis Granderson but gave up a triple to Lucas Duda.) The Nationals have Blevins, along with Xavier Cedeno and Matt Thornton, and all are out of options, so they could end up trading one.

Cubs Release Felix Doubront

The Cubs have released pitcher Felix Doubront, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat notes (Twitter links). Doubront was set to make $1.925MM in his first season of arbitration after settling with the Cubs in January. By releasing him, though, the Cubs will only be responsible for about $473K termination pay.

Doubront was one of a large number of Cubs who were out of options, and he was one of several pitchers competing for what was effectively a single bullpen spot. He also struggled this spring, allowing nine runs in seven innings (although he struck out four and walked none).

Doubront is only two years removed from two decent seasons as a starter with the Red Sox. He struggled in Boston last season, however, and earned criticism for his attitude and effort before heading to Chicago in a minor move. He also struggled with his velocity last season. Nonetheless, Doubront is still only 27, and one would think he would have little trouble finding a new team in need of pitching, particularly starting pitching.


Minor Moves: Arguelles, Rays, Lorick, Lopez, Rockies

Here are the day’s minor transactions from around the league…

  • Baseball America’s Matt Eddy delivers a series of recent releases. You can check his always-useful Twitter feed for the full run, but the highlight is probably the Royals‘ release of lefty Noel Arguelles (Twitter link). A high-profile signee out of Cuba back in 2009, the 25-year-old was hit hard in Double-A last year after switching full-time to a relief role. He was brought as a minor league free agent, but Kansas City has apparently seen enough.
  • Eddy also tweets that the Rays have parted ways with two of the team’s seven supplemental first-rounders from 2011, shortstop Brandon Martin and outfielder James Harris. Both players are still just 21 years of age, but neither has mastered the lower minors or even reached the High-A level.
  • The Cubs have released left-hander Jeff Lorick, per the team’ transactions page. The 27-year-old Lorick was a 20th-round selection back in the 2009 draft and spent the 2014 campaign (his age-26 season) at Double-A Tennessee, where he worked to a 4.52 ERA in 63 2/3 innings of work. Lorick struggled as a starter in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League in 2011, but he’s always missed a good number of bats when working as a reliever. However, he’s also walked more than four hitters per nine innings and has yet to reach the Triple-A level.
  • The Marlins have released second baseman Alfredo Lopez, also via the team transaction page at MLB.com. The 25-year-old batted .216/.298/.263 at Double-A in 2014 and had spent most of the 2015 spring working in Minor League camp. Lopez has hit well in the lower minors (.300 average, .384 OBP in Class-A Advanced) but stalled in Double-A and has very limited experience at the Triple-A level.
  • The Rockies released outfielders Jared Simon and Brian Humphries as well as infielder Matt Wessinger, per the MLB transaction page. Simon, a 2010 sixth-round pick, and Humphries, a 14th-rounder in 2011, each spent last season with Double-A Tulsa and OPSed south of .700. Wessinger is perhaps the most notable, as he was a fifth-rounder as recently as 2012, but he batted just .214/.278/.295 at Class-A Advanced in 2014.

NL Central Notes: Bryant, Kang, Reds, Cardinals

Cubs president Theo Epstein said yesterday that he’s never taken a Minor Leaguer and put him on an Opening Day roster with zero prior big league experience, but super-prospect Kris Bryant feels like he could be the exception to that rule, writes ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers“I look at it as ‘Why not me?” Bryant said on Friday. “I think I’m the type of guy that can go out there and do it. I’ve made it a point of mine to come out here and show them that I can.” Bryant, of course, is the talk of Spring Training with nine homers and a ludicrous .406/.472/1.313 batting line in 36 plate appearances. The Cubs, though, can delay his free agency by a full season if they keep him in the Minors for a bit less than two weeks to open the season. While Cubs management and ownership naturally insists that any decision would be baseball-related as opposed to business-related, it seems likely that Bryant would be recalled early in the season once the year of team control is gained.

More from the NL Central…

  • Jung-ho Kang has struggled to a .111 average in Spring Training thus far, but Pirates GM Neal Huntington is still planning on bringing the Korean infielder north with the club to open the season, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’ve seen some really good things,” Huntington told Biertempfel in regard to Kang.
  • Chris Dominguez, Brennan Boesch, Ivan De Jesus and Irving Falu are all competing for the Reds‘ final bench spots, writes MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, and each has performed well in Spring Training. Manager Bryan Price also noted that the rotation isn’t yet settled. Anthony DeSclafani, Jason Marquis and Raisel Iglesias are all in the mix for the final two spots, and Price explained how his club is looking beyond statistics to determine who will fill those roles. In general, he spoke very highly of DeSclafani, so it seems likely that he’ll be in the rotation to open the year.
  • Cardinals GM John Mozeliak spoke with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (subscription required/recommended) about his tendency to hang onto young pitching and his deviation from that process by trading players such as Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to land John Lackey and Jason Heyward“Believe it or not, even though in these deals it appears like we’re giving up the control factor, we felt they were fair deals for both sides,” said Mozeliak. “Put it this way: We understand the risk.” Mozeliak went on to discuss the increased importance teams now place on prospects as opposed to the 1990s and early 2000s, noting that cost control has become an increasingly large factor in trades. The Cardinals, Goold writes, have an in-house algorithm and scouting process to assign dollar values to players, which they use in free agency and in trades. Said Chairman Bill Dewitt, Jr.: “Our model is value-based, and what we want to do is get value back for value given. Because there is always opportunity to use resources to acquire talent.”

Central Notes: White Sox, Dozier, Baez, Madson

If all the high-profile moves the White Sox have made this offseason don’t work out, the organization plans to be “nimble” in trying to contend in 2016 and beyond, GM Rick Hahn tells MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. “Knock on wood, given the young players that we have in the organization now and the ones we have coming and players under control for the next several years, I don’t think that what happens in ’15 is going to cause us to take a significant step backwards in terms of that plan,” says Hahn. “It just may have us reallocate assets to future seasons so that we can get back on track quickly.” That might suggest that the White Sox could trade someone like Jeff Samardzija, who is eligible for free agency after 2015, if the team doesn’t contend this summer. That stands to reason, of course, although it’s somewhat rare to hear a GM describe contingency plans in a year in which his team is expected to contend. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • Twins infielder Brian Dozier‘s new extension contains a few potential bonuses, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Dozier can make $100K for winning and MVP or World Series MVP award, plus $25K for Gold Gloves or All-Star appearances.
  • The Cubs haven’t yet decided whether Javier Baez will make the team out of camp, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com writes. “You put your present and future hat on. In the present tense, there has to be some adjustments made at the plate; future tense, I can see all those things coming together,” says manager Joe Maddon. Baez hit nine homers in 229 big-league plate appearances last year, but struck out in 41% of his plate appearances. As Tim Dierkes noted in today’s Offseason In Review post on the Cubs, Baez is part of a hazy middle infield picture in Chicago.
  • Royals reliever Ryan Madson says he has an opt-out at the end of Spring Training, but he hasn’t thought about exercising it, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. Madson, who has not appeared in the big leagues since 2011, is simply enjoying getting back to pitching after years of injury troubles.