The Cubs have acquired right-hander Alec Mills from the Royals in exchange for minor league outfielder Donnie Dewees, the team announced via press release. In order to clear a spot for Mills on the 40-man roster, left-hander David Rollins has once again been designated for assignment. The 25-year-old Mills was designated for assignment himself earlier this afternoon, suggesting that talks between the Cubs and Royals were either in the works prior to the DFA or came together very quickly.
The acquisition of Mills, for the Cubs, is not entirely dissimilar from the recent pickup of right-hander Eddie Butler from the Rockies. Both right-handers give the Cubs an optionable right-hander that can serve as a depth piece for the the back of the rotation or potentially work out of the bullpen. It seems likely that Mills and Butler will both be Triple-A-bound to start the season, but both could realistically emerge on the big league roster at various points throughout the 2017 season — especially if the Cubs do employ spot starters with regularity later in the offseason to keep their top arms fresh.
Mills made his MLB debut in 2016 on the heels of a solid season split between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. In 125 2/3 minor league innings, he worked to a 3.22 ERA with 8.7 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9 with roughly average ground-ball rates. While he’s not universally lauded as a prospect, he’s received some attention from Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, Baseball Prospectus’ Jeffrey Paternostro and from Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Reviews on Mills range from solid relief prospect/occasional spot starter with useful sinker to a potential back-of-the-rotation starter.
The 23-year-old Dewees, meanwhile, fits the Royals’ profile of a speed- and contact-oriented hitter. The 2015 second-rounder hit .284/.338/.416 with five homers and 31 stolen bases across 577 plate appearances between the Class-A Midwest League and the Class-A Advanced Carolina League in 2016.
ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated Dewees 15th among Cubs farmhands (subscription required and strongly recommended), noting that he’s a 70-grade runner that can handle center field from a range standpoint but has a 20-grade arm that limits him to left field. Longenhagen ranked him 19th among Cubs prospects offering a similar take (albeit a 30-grade arm instead of 20), writing that without the power to profile as a left field regular, his best scenario is a Ben Revere type. B-Pro’s Steve Givarz was a bit more optimistic about his glovework but still pegs him as more of a fourth outfielder than a potential starter.
As for Rollins, this latest DFA continues one of the more remarkable offseasons in recent memory. Rollins opened the offseason on the Mariners’ 40-man roster but was claimed off waivers by the Cubs in mid-November. Since that time, he’s been claimed by the Rangers, who lost him to the Phillies on waivers not long after. Philadelphia designated him for assignment less than two weeks later and lost him back to Texas on waivers. That stay with the Rangers was even shorter than the first, as the Cubs claimed him once again just two days later.
Chicago will now once again try to slip Rollins through waivers, though given the number of times he’s been claimed this winter, one shouldn’t simply assume that he’ll make it through waivers. Teams that have lost out on left-handed relievers in free agency, for instance, could look at Rollins as a potential fallback option.
Rollins, 27, has a 7.60 ERA in 34 innings with the Mariners across the past two seasons and has averaged 7.1 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9 with a 41.9 percent ground-ball rate. A .379 BABIP in his big league career indicates that he’s had his fair share of misfortune on balls in play, though most ERA estimators peg him for an ERA in the mid-4.00s. Nonetheless, he’s been claimed off waivers five times by three different teams this winter, so there are obviously a fair amount of talent evaluators that believe he can provide some value to a big league team in 2017 and beyond.