1:24PM: Brach will earn at least $4.35MM in guaranteed money in 2019, Rosenthal tweets. The mutual option is also more of a dual option for the 2020 season, similar to what we’ve seen in recent contracts for Zach Britton and Yusei Kikuchi. If the Cubs exercise their option for 2020, Brach will receive $9.5MM over the course of the two seasons. If Brach exercises his side of the option but the Cubs do not, Brach is still under team control for 2020 but at a lesser salary.
11:59AM: The Cubs have agreed to sign free agent reliever Brad Brach, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link). The deal is a one-year contract worth $3MM, as per Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports (Twitter links), and the two sides hold a mutual option for the 2020 season. Brach, a client of Big League Management Company, will have to pass a physical before the deal is official.
After four years of excellent numbers out of the Orioles’ bullpen from 2014-17, Brach’s production stumbled in the first half of the 2018 season, as he posted a 4.85 ERA over 39 innings with Baltimore. Brach had an untidy 4.4 BB/9 rate over that stretch, though an inflated BABIP may have somewhat unfairly contributed to Brach’s struggles. After a deadline trade to the Braves, however, Brach looked more like his old self, delivering a 1.52 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and a 2.44 K/BB rate over 23 2/3 frames for Atlanta.
On the whole, Brach posted a career-best 46% grounder rate in 2018, though he also had a career-worst 35% hard-hit ball rate, far surpassing his previous high of 29.6%. His fastball also averaged 94.4mph after three years of topping the 95mph threshold, though Brach also threw his fastball less often than usual last season, instead using his changeup with greater frequency in 2018 than in any season save 2015.
These warning signs and Brach’s age (33 in April) may have been enough to lower Brach’s price tag to just one guaranteed season. (MLBTR ranked Brach 41st on our Top 50 Free Agents list, with Tim Dierkes, Steve Adams, and Jeff Todd projecting Brach for a two-year, $12MM deal.) The mutual option does provide the right-hander with the ability to test free agency again next winter if he returns to his old form, making the deal essentially a pillow contract.
Brach served as Baltimore’s closer in 2017 when Britton was on the disabled list, and he could very well pick up some save opportunities early next season as Brandon Morrow recovers from November elbow surgery. At the very least, Brach will provide some backing behind Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., or whomever ends up handling the ninth inning while Morrow is out, assuming Joe Maddon doesn’t deploy a committee approach.
Getting the 2013-17 version of Brach for, at most, $9.5MM over two years would be a nice coup for a Cubs team that has been facing a payroll crunch all winter. Even the modest expenditure for Brach, however, puts Chicago into a higher Competitive Balance Tax bracket. As per Roster Resource’s projections, the Cubs now have a luxury tax payroll over just under $229MM for next season, putting them in line for an additional tax beyond the usual 20% “first-time” rate for not only exceeding the $206MM luxury tax threshold, but exceeding it by more than $20MM. There had been speculation that the Cubs could explore trading a big contract or two off its current roster to afford bullpen help or other acquisitions, and it remains to be seen if Theo Epstein’s front office has more moves in store to cut payroll and/or land new players.