- Evaluators from the Cubs and Cardinals were recently on hand to watch the Rays last week, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The Rays’ limited payroll capability could make them sellers regardless of their record, though the team is also off to a slow 8-13 start overall (though Tampa has won five of its last six games). It isn’t known what players were being watched, though the Cubs have been heavily linked to Chris Archer in the past while the Cardinals had strong interest in Alex Colome this offseason.
Ben Zobrist says he’s headed to the DL to tend to a minor back injury, via Jesse Rogers of ESPN. There doesn’t seem to be any serious concern, but Zobrist has missed the past few games due to the injury, so the Cubs appear to be proceeding with caution. They’ll be able to make the move retroactive by a few days, so it seems unlikely he’ll be out for very long. The versatile Zobrist is in the third year of a four-year, $56MM contract with Chicago. He’s certainly off to an impressive start; in 49 plate appearances so far this season, the veteran has hit .326/.408/.465 with more walks (six) than strikeouts (5). For the time being, players like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ will likely continue to get an extra game here and there to plug the gaps created by Zobrist’s absence
A pair of additional injury notes elsewhere in MLB…
- The Marlins officially placed 31-year-old righty Odrisamer Despaigne on the DL last night (along with fellow reliever Chris O’Grady), as we noted in our daily roster roundup. The reason was a strained forearm, which is always a concerning injury when it comes to pitchers. According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, Despaigne had the following to say about his injury: “I first felt it tight when I was warming up in the bullpen. I tried to keep going with it. When the game started, it’s when I started to feel the pain.” For the Marlins, it’s yet another development that thins out an already-shaky pitching staff.
- Two-way Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani appears to be making progress in regards to his blister issues. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register tweets that Ohtani feels his blister is “recovering”, and that he’s on schedule to make a start on Tuesday in Houston. Fletcher also notes that Ohtani worked with pitching coach Charlie Nagy in a bullpen session, and came away with some things he can use (presumably to prevent a re-aggravation of the injury).
- The Cubs have placed long reliever Eddie Butler on the 10-day DL with a groin strain. He turned in four strong appearances to open the year but has been knocked around in his last two and now owns a 4.30 ERA over 14 2/3 innings, with ten strikeouts against five walks. There’s no reason at this point to believe that Butler will be sidelined long. Fellow righty Luke Farrell received the call to take the open active roster spot. He, too, ought to be able to give the team innings in some volume when needed, as he’s stretched out to start.
As expected, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was activated from the DL after a minimal time away from the team. But plenty of other players are still hurting, so we’ll take a spin around the league to catch up on the latest injury news of note:
It’s no secret that talent alone doesn’t necessarily dictate when top prospects will reach the major leagues. Ballclubs have significant financial and competitive incentives to keep top prospects down in the minors even when they’re hitting the cover off the ball, or embarrassing every opposing batter from the mound. These incentives are a by-product of MLB’s service time regulations.
For those unfamiliar, the basic concept is as follows: players accrue service time for each day spent at the MLB level, even if they’re on the major league disabled list. After a player collects six years of service time, he’s eligible for free agency.
Things get far more complicated from there, however. MLB has specific regulations in place to account for partial seasons, since the vast majority of players are promoted at some point in the midst of the season. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these regulations (and certainly the most controversial) is that a player doesn’t get a full season’s worth of service time if he spends 12 days in the minors.
That seemingly short amount of time is the difference between the Cubs keeping Kris Bryant under team control through 2020 or 2021, which was (unofficially) the reason the team elected to keep him at Triple-A to start the season. At the end of 2020, Bryant will fall exactly a day shy of qualifying for free agency, giving the team the rights to one more of his prime seasons.
The conversation has once again resurfaced (though admittedly to a lesser extent) in regards to Braves prospect Ronald Acuna. Although the 20-year-old annihilated Grapefruit League pitching to the tune of aÂ .432/.519/.727 batting line with four homers and four steals, Lane Adams and Peter Bourjos made the opening day roster while Acuna was reassigned to minor league camp. He’s now been down long enough to give the Braves control over him for an additional season.
It’s hard to blame teams for managing the service time of top prospects in this way, especially a Braves club that has little chance to contend this season as it is. From a pure baseball standpoint, the fraction of a WAR that AcunaÂ might have contributed in those first 12 days (it’s worth noting that he’s off to a .152/.222/.182 start in Triple-A) is worth tens of millions less than the WAR total he’s likely to post in the year 2024.
On the other hand, the system is hardly fair to the players. At its core, it seems absurd that a single day of service time can cost a player the additional seven or even eight figures he could have earned if his final arbitration season had instead yielded open market value for him.
There wouldn’t seem to be an easy solution to the issue, either. There’s not exactly a midway point between becoming a free agent and being under team control for an additional season (though the Super TwoÂ regulations at least guarantee players more arbitration dollars if they’ve accrued a significant portion of a seventh year’s service time). One could say that 12 days is an awfully small percentage of a season and that players should gain the full year even if they spent 20 days, 30 days, 40 days, etc. in the minors, but no matter what, it’d always come down to one day making a multi-million dollar difference in value.
What do you think? Should the service time rules change, or are they perfectly reasonable the way they are now? (Poll link for app users)
The Cubs were known to have made “one last call” to Jake Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras before signing Yu Darvish, and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman provided some new details on that exchange. Theo Epstein proposed a “theoretical” offer of six years and $120MM to Arrieta if, and only if, things did not work out with Darvish. Epstein reportedly didn’t seriously think Arrieta’s camp would take the offer, and the executive was “just making the call to show respect” to a player who was such a major factor in Chicago’s recent success. Even if Darvish had turned the Cubs down, it still doesn’t seem as if Arrieta and the team would’ve been able to come to an agreement, as Arrieta simply wanted a larger average annual value than Chicago was willing to offer (due to their desire to stay under the luxury tax threshold). The Cubbies also are said to have put $48MM over four years on the table for Alex Cobb earlier in the winter before putting pen to paper with Darvish, and Heyman speculates that the Cubs might have eventually become interested in Alex Cobb had they missed out on both Darvish and Arrieta.
In a minor signing that flew under our radar at the time, the Cubs picked up veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan on a minor league contract just prior to Opening Day (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney). The 32-year-old Coghlan has batted just .190/.292/.307 over the past two seasons but was a productive bat for the Cubs in 2014-15, hitting .265/.346/.447 in 935 plate appearances. As Mooney noted, his late signing sent him to extended Spring Training to open the season, though Coghlan seems likely to eventually join Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate in Iowa.
The Cubs have selected the contract of outfielder/first baseman Efren Navarro, per a club announcement. He’ll take the roster spot just vacated by Anthony Rizzo, who’s headed for what the team hopes to be a brief DL stint.
Navarro, who’ll soon turn 32, has seen action in five MLB campaigns. But his next trip to the plate will only be his 350th at the game’s highest level. Navarro carries a career .243/.306/.334 batting line.
Unsurprisingly, the results have been better in the upper minors. Navarro has maintained a .303/.370/.427 slash through nearly 3,500 plate appearances over eight seasons at Triple-A.
Clearly, Navarro is going to need some good fortune — and a good showing — to carve out a sustainable role at the major-league level with the Cubs. Barring any intervening changes in the health situations of other players, he’ll likely end up being bumped from the roster upon Rizzo’s return to action.
Anthony Rizzo’s back issues have forced the Cubs to place him on the 10-day DL, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Tribune tweeted and has since been announced. But it seems there’s little reason to anticipate a lengthy absence for the first baseman, who nearly avoided a stint on the shelf altogether. The move was backdated to Friday the 6th, so Rizzo — who has averaged 154 games annually since the start of the 2013 season — is already less than a week away from being eligible to be reactivated.
Mariners first baseman Ryon Healy showed up to the team’s clubhouse today in a walking boot; he twisted his ankle in a postgame workout, says Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. It’s been described as a “pretty bad sprain”, and Healy will have an MRI soon. The expectation seems to be that he will require a DL stint, though the severity of the injury is unclear at this time. Healy provided the heroics in last night’s win; it seems likely that Dan Vogelbach will receive everyday at-bats in his absence.
More injury items from around the league…
- Cardinals left-hander Ryan Sheriff has been placed on the DL with a toe injury; the team has recalled right-hander John Brebbia from Triple-A Memphis in a related move. Sheriff was added to the roster with the news that Brett Cecil would be out for an extended period of time; he allowed one earned run in his 2 2/3 innings of work this season. Sheriff also managed a 3.14 ERA last season in 14 1/3 innings of work for the Cardinals.
- Anthony Rizzo has missed a couple of games for the Cubs due to back tightness, says Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. The first baseman’s back has evidently been bothering him ever since the club’s trip to Cincinnati. Rizzo has just three hits (including one home run) in 32 plate appearances to begin the season.
- J.C. Ramirez is officially headed to the DL with forearm issues, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times tweets. We noted earlier that the righty had been experiencing forearm tightness; he now joins fellow Angels starters Matt Shoemaker and Andrew Heaney on the disabled list, leaving the club incredibly thin in the rotation beyond Garrett Richards, Shohei Ohtani and Tyler Skaggs. Parker Bridwell and Nick Tropeano seem to be the likeliest candidates to get rotation attention, but for the time being the club has recalled relievers Felix Pena and Eduardo Paredes (righty reliever Akeel Morris was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake).