It was easy to forget since he did not pitch in 2019, but the Cubs inked righty Kendall Graveman to a fairly unique contract last winter. Now, the team will soon face a decision on his future with the organization.
Graveman’s deal promised him $575K for 2019 and included a $3MM club option (sans buyout) for the season to come. The team will soon have to decide whether to exercise that option. While he’s still within the limits of arbitration eligibility, Graveman can’t be kept by that method. MLBTR has learned that his contract includes a provision requiring the club to release him if it does not pick up the option.
The whole reasoning behind the Cubs’ signing of Graveman was to open this possibility. Indications are that his work this year was relatively promising. The 28-year-old former Jays and A’s hurler was never expected to make it back to the majors this year while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. But he was able to ramp up to the point that he made two minor-league rehab starts, totaling six innings of action. And he performed all of his efforts under the watchful gaze of the Cubs organization, giving them a close look at the progress and (nearly) end results.
In weighing the decision, the Cubs will no doubt be closely considering how best to construct a cost-efficient 2020 rotation. There are several other soon-to-be free-agent candidates for buy-low/bounceback contracts. But those might end up being more expensive. And the players in question haven’t been under a Cubs microscope all year long.
There are some other factors to consider here as well. Graveman’s 2020 contract would include a $2.5MM incentive package. The Cubs would likely gladly pay that if he’s healthy and effective enough to earn it. Plus, the team would still be able to control him via arbitration for the 2021 campaign if all goes well, effectively creating another option year.
It’s arguable that the Cubs would be in decent shape in the rotation if they hang onto Graveman, even without further action beyond some depth moves. A resurgent Yu Darvish would front the staff along with Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana, with veteran lefty Jon Lester trying to finish out his contract with a bang. Graveman would be looking to get his career back on an upward trajectory. He had been a sturdy rotation piece for the A’s from 2015-17, turning in 407 frames of 4.11 ERA ball, before running into elbow troubles. There are also some younger options in the Cubs system, not that any appear to be sure things at this point.
Of course, that isn’t exactly an imposing staff to carry into a season in which your team is trying to break a two-year string of disappointment. The Cubbies might well prefer to chase a different arm. Even then, picking up Graveman’s option might be worthwhile. The club could still utilize him as a swingman or even put together a trade to another team that would love to take a shot at him for that rate.