Cubs hurler Jake Arrieta still expects to talk to the team about an extension before free agency and believes a deal is possible, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. However, Arrieta noted that extension talks aren’t his No. 1 priority as he focuses on his health and on the team’s chances of replicating last year’s World Series victory. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein, too, said he planned to meet with Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, but as Wittenmyer explains, an extension still feels like a long shot. Boras has already compared Arrieta to right-hander Max Scherzer, who signed a seven-year, $210MM contract with the Nationals two winters ago. Wittenmyer writes that the Cubs aren’t likely to be open to a mega-deal — Jon Lester is just two years into his own $155MM pact — which could lead to Arrieta landing elsewhere in the long run. For the time being, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago tweeted yesterday that there are no talks scheduled between Boras and the Cubs.
- The Cubs passed on matching the Royals’ offer to Travis Wood and on matching the recent commitments made to Jerry Blevins (by the Mets) and Boone Logan (by the Indians) in large part because they’re saving their resources for the summer trade market, writes CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney. “There were some relievers who became available on shorter deals late that we were interested in early on (with) those types of deals,” said president of baseball ops Theo Epstein. “But they weren’t really ready to commit yet to the shorter deal. And then by the time it rolled around late in the offseason, we kind of spent our money.” Epstein specifically cited a desire for “flexibility for in-season moves” and added that the baseball operations department had some “self-imposed limitations” late in the winter. As such, it doesn’t sound as if Cubs fans should expect much in the way of significant additions to the roster between now and Opening Day.
- The Cubs are set to find out today whether slugger Kyle Schwarber will be cleared to get behind the plate, though the organization plans to be cautious regardless. As Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein put it in colorful terms, saying that “we’ll walk before we squat.” Regardless, Schwarber is expected to spend the bulk of his time in left field while serving as at most a third catcher, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
After one of the most tumultuous offseasons in recent history, left-hander David Rollins has cleared outright waivers, tweets Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Rollins will be in Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, where he’ll compete for a spot in the Chicago bullpen.
There are players in Rollins’ boat every offseason — those who are seemingly deemed a fringe 40-man roster candidate by multiple clubs but bounce from team to team as those clubs make other roster maneuverings. (Casper Wells and Gonzalez Germen come to mind as a couple of names that have recently ridden the DFA carousel for much of the offseason.) Rollins, though, is among the most extreme examples of that situation, having been designated for assignment a staggering six times this winter.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business. I get it,” Rollins told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick last week after his sixth DFA. “But I’m still a human. I keep thinking, ’Teams like me enough to pick me up, but nobody wants to take a chance on me.’ It’ll play games with your head, that’s for sure.” Rangers GM Jon Daniels, who has twice claimed Rollins this winter, weighed in on the matter to Crasnick as well, noting that some kind of limitation on the waiver process has at least been discussed at the annual GM meetings, though no rule has been agreed upon. Rollins’ agent, Jonathan Maurer, also spoke to Crasnick about the difficulties the process can place on certain players. (The entire piece is well worth a read, as it’s rife with quotes from multiple vantage points on the matter.)
While Rollins has yet to experience much in the way of Major League success — he has a 7.60 ERA in 34 1/3 Major League innings — he’s a fairly hard-throwing left-handed reliever with a solid minor league track record. Rollins has averaged 92 mph on his fastball in the Majors, and he owns a 2.82 ERA with 7.1 K/9 against 1.2 BB/9 in 60 2/3 innings at Triple-A in his career. The former Rule 5 pick does have an 80-game PED suspension issued back in 2015 hanging over him, but that hardly seems to have curbed interest in him.
Though the offseason has undoubtedly been exhausting for Rollins, he’ll now at least have some peace of mind as he heads to Spring Training with the Cubs in hope of securing a spot in the big league bullpen. That looks to be an uphill battle, as the Cubs project to have Brian Duensing and one of Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson in the bullpen. Additionally, they’ve reportedly made an offer to bring Travis Wood back into the mix, and Rob Zastryzny also remains on the 40-man roster.
FEB. 13: FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweets that Wood is expected to make a decision on his new team in the very near future — possibly as soon as today.
FEB. 12: The Cubs have made contract offers to Travis Wood, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter links), though the Padres and two other teams are also still in the mix for the free agent lefty. The Yankees aren’t one of the other teams; New York reportedly checked in on Wood recently, though the Yankees weren’t considered to be top candidates for his services.
Wood’s market has begun to generate more buzz in recent days, though the veteran southpaw has seen his name pop up in rumors for much of the winter. Besides the Yankees, Padres and Cubs, the Marlins and Blue Jays were also linked to Wood at different times this offseason, and either of those clubs still makes sense as one or both of the mystery teams pursuing the left-hander (though Miami has made a number of other pitching additions).
Wood’s history as a starter has drawn interest from multiple teams looking at him as rotation help, with the Padres included in that list. The Cubs would be looking to use Wood as a swingman, while it isn’t known what role the other two suitors intend Wood to fill.
For the first five seasons of his big league career, Wood was a durable and mostly effective starter for the Reds and Cubs before transitioning into a relief role for Chicago during the 2015 season. He posted tremendous numbers as a reliever in 2015 and continued to get good results last year, posting a 2.95 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and 1.96 K/BB rate over 61 bullpen innings. Thanks to such factors as his low strikeout rate and a .215 BABIP, however, advanced metrics (4.54 FIP, 4.83 xFIP, 4.46 SIERA) painted a less-impressive picture of Wood’s season.
Looking at the Cubs’ left-handed options, Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson are vying for the fifth spot in the rotation, with Brian Duensing and Rob Zastryzny in line for potential bullpen jobs with the loser of the fifth starter battle. The Cubs could feel more comfortable with a familiar face like Wood in a swingman or spot starter role rather than relying on several other more inexperienced depth options (Zastryzny, Eddie Butler, Alec Mills, Ryan Williams).
The Cubs and right-handed reliever Pedro Strop have reached a deal to avoid arbitration, tweets Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Strop’s 2017 salary will be $5.5MM – a little above the $5.3MM midpoint. As MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker shows, Strop had been seeking $6MM, while the Cubs’ $4.6MM offer came in well below that figure.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Strop would receive $5.5MM via arbitration on the heels of a third straight excellent season. Strop, 31, logged a sub-3.00 ERA (2.85, to be exact) and at least 20 holds (21) for the third consecutive year. He also posted tremendous strikeout and walk rates of 11.41 and 2.85, respectively, to go with a lofty 58.5 percent ground-ball mark. Injuries limited Strop to 47 1/3 regular-season innings, his lowest total since 2011, but he did get solid results over 5 2/3 playoff frames for the World Series champions. In postseason series wins over the Giants, Dodgers and Indians, Strop struck out three and yielded two earned runs on three hits and one walk.
With Strop’s salary now set for 2017, the Cubs have settled with all of their arbitration-eligible players. Strop could be entering his final season with the club, as he’s scheduled to become a free agent next winter.
The Cubs continued adding to their starting pitching depth in the past two weeks by trading for righties Eddie Butler and Alec Mills, both of whom had been designated for assignment by their old teams. Notably, the Cubs gave up prospects of at least modest value to acquire those players — righty James Farris went to the Rockies with an international bonus slot in the Butler deal, and outfielder Donnie Dewees headed to Kansas City for Mills. But the Cubs felt Butler and Mills were attracting enough interest to justify giving up talent to get them, according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.
“Both were getting phone calls,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Thursday in an interview with ESPN 1000. “They have options. They can make starts for you. Finding guys who can make starts for you is very difficult and very expensive. We showed the appropriate urgency to get those guys.”
The fact that both pitchers had options was clearly important to the Cubs, as Rogers notes. But the team also thinks Butler, in particular, has a chance to be more than a depth starter.
“He’s an excellent change-of-scenery guy,” said Hoyer. “Our best example is Jake Arrieta. Sometimes a talented guy needs a change of scenery, and that was our logic with Eddie Butler.”
As Rogers notes, Mills was only designated for assignment when the Royals signed Jason Hammel, whose option the Cubs declined earlier in the offseason. The team’s pursuit of starting depth now raises the question of whether the team would have been better off had it simply exercised the option. But Rogers says a key reason the two sides parted ways was that Hammel had a conflicted relationship with manager Joe Maddon, who Hammel felt didn’t have appropriate faith in him and who frustrated him by pulling him out of games before he would have liked to depart. Though the option on Hammel’s contract was a team option, the Cubs allowed him to decide whether he wanted to leave, and Hammel made the call. Rogers’ sources tell him that was due primarily to his relationship with Maddon.
In any case, beyond Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey, the Cubs now have Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson, along with Rob Zastryzny, Ryan Williams and now Butler and Mills. Of the last four, it has yet to be determined who the Cubs will turn to first should they need extra rotation help in the big leagues.
- The Cubs thought they were doing Jason Hammel a favor when they declined his $12MM option in November, thereby enabling him to reach free agency, but it ended up hurting the right-hander’s value, writes ESPN’s Buster Olney (subscription required). Hammel agreed to a two-year, $16MM deal with the Royals on Sunday, though it took nearly three months for him to find a job despite being one of the most accomplished starters available in a weak class of free agents. Rival teams inferred from the Cubs’ decision that the Theo Epstein-led franchise didn’t think Hammel was good enough to crack their rotation going forward, Olney suggests, and late-season elbow tightness didn’t help matters. The 34-year-old Hammel didn’t pitch past Sept. 24 — when he allowed six earned runs in a 2 1/3-inning start — meaning he missed the Cubs’ run to the World Series.
- Meanwhile, Cubs senior VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod spoke recently about the state of the arms on the Chicago farm, as Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reports. While the club lacks “impact starters at the upper levels,” he notes, there’s optimism more broadly. “We now feel really good, not just with the depth of the organization but having some major league starting impact guys who are at the the A-ball level and progressing toward Double-A now,” said McLeod, who also discussed the team’s hopes for just-acquired righty Eddie Butler.
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.
TUESDAY: The Brewers, Reds, Indians, Orioles, Astros and Twins also sent scouts to observe Maness’ workout, according to Goold.
MONDAY: Scouts from at least 16 Major League clubs were on-hand today to watch free agent right-hander Seth Maness work out, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Instagram). Per Goold, the Royals, Cubs and Nationals were all represented at Maness’ audition.
Maness’ showcase is especially intriguing due to the circumstances surrounding his injury. The 28-year-old suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament last summer and underwent surgery in August, but he elected to undergo an experimental “primary repair” surgery that, if successful, could represent a potential alternative to Tommy John surgery. Not every pitcher with a torn UCL can turn to the primary repair procedure as an alternative — the operation is dependent on the location and extent of the ligament tear — but certainly a return to health for Maness in seven and a half months would pique the interest of others with similar diagnoses around the league. (Those who are interested in the matter and missed Goold’s column on Maness last month should absolutely take the time to read through his breakdown of the operation itself and the larger-reaching potential implications of the surgery.)
The 28-year-old Maness was a fixture in the St. Louis bullpen from 2013-16, racking up 237 1/3 innings with a 3.19 ERA, 5.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a hefty 59.4 percent ground-ball rate along the way. Last season, however, he logged a 3.41 ERA with career worst K/9 and BB/9 rates of 4.6 and 2.3, respectively. Following the August operation, the Cardinals non-tendered him rather than pay him a projected $1.6MM via arbitration (projection via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz).
As an added bonus for any club that ultimately signs Maness, if he is indeed able to return and pitch at a high level, he’d remain under club control not just for the 2017 season but through the 2019 season. Maness wrapped up the 2016 campaign with three years and 154 days of Major League service time, so he’d be arbitration-eligible in each of the next two winters before hitting free agency in advance of his age-31 season.