- Cubs southpaw Jose Quintana will throw a three-inning sim game Tuesday, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reports. However, there’s still no word on when Quintana will make his 2020 debut after suffering a left thumb injury over a month ago. Even without Quintana, though, the Cubs’ rotation has come storming out of the gates. Entering Monday’s action, the Yu Darvish–Kyle Hendricks–Jon Lester–Tyler Chatwood–Alec Mills quintet was second in the game in FIP (2.76) and fourth in ERA (2.83)
The Cubs announced that utilityman Derek Dietrich has been released so that Dietrich can explore a Major League opportunity with another club. (MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian was among those to report the news.)
Dietrich signed a minor league deal with Chicago just prior to the July opener, and only three days after the Reds released him from another minors contract. Dietrich didn’t receive a call-up to the Cubs’ active roster, and it’s fair to assume that he wasn’t in the team’s plans in the near future, which led to their granting his request for a release. With Dietrich’s track record of multi-positional versatility and a career 107 OPS+, any number of teams could have their eye on him for regular big league duty.
Dietrich spent his first six seasons with the Marlins before playing with the Reds in a somewhat unusual 2019 season. He hit a career-best 19 homers and posted a career-best .462 slugging percentage over 306 plate appearances, though he batted only .187. Much of Dietrich’s 2019 production was built around an incredible 68-PA stretch in May, as Dietrich exploded to hit .293/.397/.931 and 12 home runs.
5:04pm: MLB will postpone this weekend’s Cards-Cubs series, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.
12:25pm: Major League Baseball has officially announced that tonight’s game is postponed due to one additional positive test. However, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that there’s “concern” of a second positive test beyond the one the league has confirmed. That could point to some yet-inconclusive results and also explain the discrepancy between the earlier reporting on the number of positive tests. Clarity on the matter should come later today.
12:10pm: MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that there was only one new positive test. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter link) and a few others have heard the same, though SportsGrid’s Craig Mish tweets that there were two new positives. Whatever the exact number is determined to be, there figures to be additional testing and contact tracing performed before the league decides on the remainder of the Cubs/Cards series. The Cardinals had already been aiming to play 55 games in a span of 52 days, so the postponement of tonight’s game further adds to a notable scheduling challenge.
12:02pm: Tonight’s Cardinals game against the Cubs has been postponed due to new positive Covid-19 test(s) within the Cardinals organization, The Athletic’s Mark Saxon reports (via Twitter). The new positives dash the Cardinals’ hopes of getting back to the field for the first time since July 29. The St. Louis organization had seven players and several staff members test positive over the course of several days beginning last Friday.
This will be the first schedule interruption for the first-place Cubs, and as has continually been the case, there are potential broad-reaching implications beyond the current series. Future opponents could be impacted — the Cards are set to begin a series against the Pirates on Monday — and depending on the outcome of the remainder of this series, the Cubs could now find themselves with multiple doubleheaders added to the schedule.
The Cardinals announced this week that catcher Yadier Molina, pitchers Junior Fernandez and Kodi Whitley, and infielders Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa and Rangel Ravelo had all tested positive for Covid-19. All but Ravelo were placed on the injured list the following day, as was right-hander Carlos Martinez.
The Cubs announced that they’ve signed right-hander Kelvin Herrera and left-hander Matt Dermody to minor league contracts and assigned them to their alternate training site. The team’s 60-man player pool is now full. Herrera, 30, was recently cut loose by the White Sox after being designated for assignment. Dermody, also 30, had been pitching in the independent Constellation Energy League.
Herrera was once a high-end setup man and eventually a closer for the Royals. The hard-throwing righty was part of a juggernaut Kansas City bullpen that fueled the team’s 2014 and 2015 World Series appearances, pitching to a 2.75 ERA with 8.9 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9 in 441 1/3 frames in parts of eight seasons with the Royals. He was eventually traded from K.C. to D.C. in a swap that sent minor leaguers Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel from the Nats to the Royals.
Herrera’s time with the Nats didn’t go well, however. He missed time early with a shoulder impingement, and upon returning he suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot that ended his season. That was hardly an ideal run-up to his first foray into free agency, but Herrera’s standout track record still netted him a two-year, $18MM deal with the White Sox. The pact went even more poorly, though, as Herrera was shelled for 6.54 ERA in 53 2/3 frames with the South Siders before being released last week.
Dermody, meanwhile, has just 25 1/3 innings of big league experience under his belt — all coming with the 2016-17 Blue Jays. He’s spent his entire pro career in the Toronto organization prior to this season, during which time he’s posted a 4.12 ERA in parts of four Triple-A campaigns. His lack of track record may seem questionable, but Dermody has been lights out on the indie circuit this season, allowing just one earned run on 13 hits and six walks with 23 strikeouts in 17 1/3 frames. That showing clearly made an impression on the Cubs, who’ll now have Dermody on hand as a depth option should the need arise.
The Cubs have gotten out to a hot start, but their bullpen remains an obvious weakness. High-priced closer Craig Kimbrel has looked lost since signing in Chicago, and the team hasn’t spent on any other bullpen help in the past several years. They’re currently relying on a patchwork group that has seen Rowan Wick and the talented-but-inconsistent Jeremy Jeffress shoulder the bulk of the high-leverage situations as Kimbrel continues to struggle. Herrera is the second former AL Central All-Star on whom the Cubs are rolling the dice. They signed former Indians closer Cody Allen to a minor league deal and assigned him to their alternate training site last week.
Cubs starters rank first in the Majors in ERA (1.95), second in FIP (2.52) and sixth in xFIP (3.51). Their relievers, as a whole, rank 29th in ERA (7.20), dead last in FIP (6.90) and 23rd in xFIP (4.81).
10:42AM: The Cubs announced Steele’s promotion, and in a corresponding move, right-hander James Norwood was placed on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to July 30) due to right shoulder inflammation. Pitching in his third season for the Cubs, Norwood has a 16.20 ERA over 1 2/3 innings pitched this season.
9:22AM: The Cubs will promote left-hander Justin Steele to their 30-man roster prior to today’s game, The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney reports (Twitter link). Steele is already on the 40-man, though a corresponding move will need to be made to create room on the big league roster.
The 25-year-old Steele was a fifth-round pick for the Cubs in the 2014 draft, and he’ll now get his first taste of MLB action following six seasons and 320 2/3 innings pitched in the minors. Steele has worked almost exclusively as a starter, though he will be used as a reliever in Chicago to try and help the struggling Cubs bullpen. Some extra southpaw depth is particularly necessary since Kyle Ryan and Rex Brothers, the two lefties in the relief corps, have both gotten off to a tough start.
Steele’s career was stalled by a Tommy John surgery in 2017, though he has a 3.62 ERA, 2.41 K/BB rate, and 8.9 K/9 over his minor league career. MLB Pipeline ranks him as Chicago’s 21st-best prospect in Chicago’s farm system, noting Steeler’s plus four-seamer and “one of the best curveballs in the system.”
The Cardinals and Brewers scheduled doubleheader for Sunday has been postponed, MLB announced in a statement. The Cardinals had 3 players and 1 staff member test positive for coronavirus this weekend with four pending tests still unresolved, tweets ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. The positive tests will affect the schedule for the next week as well. The Tigers and Cardinals were originally supposed to play a home-and-home pair of series this week in St. Louis and Detroit. Following the cases of coronavirus in St. Louis, however, all four games will be played in Detroit, including a doubleheader on Wednesday. The Brewers’ schedule will be unchanged, as they’ll head to Chicago to take on the White Sox.
- Contrary to earlier speculation, Casey Mize will not make his major league debut for the Tigers on Sunday, writes The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen. Without a minor league pipeline in which to develop, many young players have made their debuts already this season, including highly-touted pitching prospects like Brady Singer of the Royals and Nate Pearson of the Blue Jays. For the time being, however, the Tigers continue to play coy with the future of Mize. Despite the rampant speculation that Mize would earn his promotion to take part in Sunday’s doubleheader, the Tigers finally tabbed Daniel Norris and Rony Garcia instead. Norris will make his 2020 debut after previously testing positive for coronavirus. Garcia, a 22-year-old Rule 5 pick from the Yankees, made his debut on Tuesday getting against the Royals. Garcia went 3 innings, giving up 3 runs, 2 of which were earned.
- The Cubs are considering moving Craig Kimbrel out of the closer’s role as the veteran fireballer has continued to surrender the long ball at an alarming rate, per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian and others. Cubs manager David Ross was noncommital when asked to comment on the situation. Jesse Rogers of ESPN noted that Kimbrel has given up a rather shocking 11 home runs in just 22 innings since joining the Cubs midseason last year. Kimbrel is arguably one of the most successful closers the era, but he has yet to figure it out in Chicago. With the bases loaded in the seventh inning today, Ross turned the ball over to Jeremy Jeffress, who would be a top contender to replace Kimbrel. Though he too is coming off a difficult 2019, Jeffress does have experience closing out games (45 career saves). If today’s game was any indication, however, Ross may choose to deploy Jeffress in high-leverage moments while distributing closing opportunities piecemeal to some combination of Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan, Kimbrel, and Jeffress.
It’s been a busy sports day with the NBA and NHL back in action, not to mention the many MLB games still underway. As the action rolls along, we’ll use this post to review some minor moves you may have missed…
- Catcher Jonathan Lucroy has been assigned to the Red Sox alternate training site in Pawtucket after clearing waivers, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). He’ll stay in their 60-player pool after catching a total of two innings behind the plate for the big-league team. Lucroy, 34, has enjoyed a long and productive career, but a steep dropoff in production following his second All-Star appearance in 2016 has led to a meandering period for the veteran receiver. In addition to the Red Sox, Lucroy has dressed for the Cubs, Angels, Athletics, Rockies, and Rangers since coming to semi-stardom with the Brewers.
- The Cubs signed pitcher Matt Dermody out of the Independent League, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter). Everyone is in need of extra pitching depth these days it seems, though the Cubs have a particularly unsettled situation in their bullpen. Dermody is a 30-year-old southpaw who last appeared in the majors in 2017 for the Blue Jays. He made 23 appearances that season, going 2-0 with a 4.43 ERA/6.25 FIP across 22 1/3 innings. Cubs relievers have been the worst such group in the game so far this season. Prior to Saturday’s action, they pitched to a combined 9.55 ERA/9.51 FIP across 21 2/3 innings.
- The Giants assigned catcher Rob Brantly to their alternate training site, per The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly (via Twitter). The 31-year-old catcher cleared waivers after appearing in one game for the Giants, going hitless in three at-bats. Tyler Heineman and Chadwick Tromp are the catchers that remain on San Francisco’s active roster.
The Cubs announced Friday that they’ve signed right-hander Cody Allen to a minor league contract and assigned him to their alternate training site in South Bend. The team’s player pool is now up to 58.
It wasn’t that long ago that Allen, 31, was considered one of the game’s best closers. He’s struggled considerably over the past two seasons, but from 2013-17, Allen was a ninth-inning buzzsaw in Cleveland, pitching to a 2.59 ERA and 2.86 FIP with 122 saves, 11.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 0.86 HR/9.
In the two years since that dominant stretch, though, Allen’s average fastball has dipped by a bit more than three miles per hour. He stumbled to a 4.70 ERA in his final year prior to free agency but was still able to land a sizable one-year deal with the Halos. Unfortunately, he was clobbered for an ERA north of 6.00 and cut loose before the season had even reached the halfway mark. Allen carries a 5.10 ERA with 109 strikeouts against an unpalatable 53 walks in his past 90 MLB frames.
Two years ago, a bullpen featuring both Allen and Craig Kimbrel would’ve been the envy of 29 other teams in the league. Both pitchers have seen rapid downturns in performance now, however. The Cubs badly need one or both former stars to figure things out, as their patchwork bullpen has already proven to be a major weakness early in 2020. Chicago relievers have already yielded 20 runs on 18 hits and a ghastly 20 walks in just 18 2/3 innings. Seven of those hits have left the yard.
The Reds have claimed infielder Robel García off waivers from the Cubs, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. García had been designated for assignment by the Cubs on Thursday. He has been optioned and assigned to the Reds’ alternate training site
The 27-year-old made a name for himself with his hot hitting in the upper levels of the Cubs’ minor-league system. In 98 games between Double- and Triple-A last year, García hit .284/.369/.586 and slugged 27 home runs. He forced his way into the Cubs’ Major League plans, appearing in 31 games and making 80 plate appearances.
His hitting slowed down some at the MLB level, and he struck out in a whopping 43.75% of plate appearances. Nonetheless, he managed a respectable .775 OPS, thanks to his 5 home runs and a passable 8.75% walk rate. Primarily a second baseman, García also played both corner outfield positions during his rookie season.
With an already crowded outfield mix in Cincinnati, he figures to see most of his playing time at second base, which is currently something of a toss-up with Mike Moustakas hitting the injured list; Josh VanMeter occupied that spot this afternoon. VanMeter, a left-handed hitter, could form a platoon with the switch-hitting García, though the latter fared considerably better as a lefty in his first taste of big-league action (to be fair, he got just 20 plate appearances against southpaws).
With final roster decisions in the books and the 2020 season underway at long last, it’s time to make some predictions. We’ve started to poll the MLBTR readership on each of the game’s six divisions — starting with the AL Central. With plenty more teams primed to crack the postseason under the inclusive new playoff qualification system, let’s jump the pond and take a look at the NL Central.
Kyle Hendricks gave the Cubs an early lead in the division yesterday with a 2 1/2 hour complete game shutout of the Brewers. The Reds were right there with them in blowing away the Tigers. Many believe the Reds won the offseason, and their beefed-up lineup looks to bullrush the rest of the division. Matt Davidson took the Reds’ DH at-bats in game one, but newcomers Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos will cycle through as well. The pitching is underrated, and they’re going to be a force. The Brewers roll out two of the most impactful rostered players in the sport in Josh Hader and Christian Yelich, a dangerous pair of superstars in a short season. The Pirates are an organization in transition, and if they manage a string together a competitive 60-game season, it’ll be a surprise. Until a new champ is crowned, however, the Cardinals remain the toast of the NL Central. With Carlos Martinez back in the rotation and Matt Carpenter set to take a healthy slate of DH at-bats, the 2020 Cardinals are a slightly different shape, but no less formidable.
Which team do you think is the best of the bunch? (Poll link for app users.)