- The Cubs will be in attendance for free-agent left-hander Carlos Rodon’s workout this week, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score writes. Rodon has spent his entire career thus far in Chicago, where he has pitched to a 4.14 ERA/4.32 SIERA with a 22.6 percent strikeout rate and a 9.6 percent walk rate in 536 2/3 innings as a member of the White Sox. Rodon looked like a solid mid-rotation type earlier in his career, but the 28-year-old has declined since 2018 because of shoulder troubles and Tommy John surgery. He became a free agent when the White Sox non-tendered him in December.
- If signed, Rodon could help the Cubs replace veteran southpaw Jon Lester in their rotation. Lester officially joined the Nationals on Wednesday, when he revealed to Bob Nightengale of USA Today and other reporters that the Cubs did make a late push to re-sign him. The details on the Cubs’ offer aren’t known, but the Nationals brought him in on a one-year, $5MM guarantee. Lester signed a six-year, $155MM deal with the Cubs before 2015, and he and the team enjoyed great success during that contract.
The Phillies narrowed their focus on Andrelton Simmons before he signed with the Twins this afternoon, writes Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Didi Gregorius remains in play to return, but he may not be so keen on another one-year deal. Regardless, the Phillies prefer not to move Jean Segura back to short, notes Lauber. Even with Gregorius more-or-less the only remaining starting shortstop on the market, Segura’s presence, as well as Scott Kingery, means they don’t have to panic on an overpay. Should they ultimately strike out on Gregorius, Jonathan Villar and Hanser Alberto lurk as free agents, or the Phils could turn to the trade market to make a play for either Trevor Story of the Rockies or Javier Baez of the Cubs. Neither club has seemed particularly likely to move their star shortstop, but Phillies’ president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski might be the guy to convince them. Let’s check in on some other infield news…
- With middle infielders flying off the shelves, Kolten Wong is seeing an uptick in interest, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). The ace defensive second baseman has seen at least preliminary interest from the Tigers, Mariners, Rays, Cubs, Phillies, and Cardinals, with whom he’s spent his entire career. Wong’s power disappeared in 2020, slashing .265/.350/.326, but he won a second consecutive Gold Glove Award and continued to be an on-base presence for the Cardinals. Wong has quietly posted 3.3 bWAR per 600 plate appearances throughout his career, and as he enters his age-30 season, he could prove one of the more impactful free agents remaining on the market.
- The Tigers plan on experimenting with Isaac Paredes at second base, writes Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press. Paredes is penciled in as the Tigers’ everyday third baseman, but manager A.J. Hinch said basically that there is no harm in expanding the 21-year-old’s skill set. He’s been on fire playing winter ball, and with Jeimer Candelario having a big season in 2020 (and Spencer Torkelson on his way to claim one of the infield corners,) it’s certainly worth testing the limits of Paredes’ defensive abilities.
TODAY: The Cubs have officially announced the signing.
JANUARY 22, 10:31am: Romine’s deal comes with a $1.5MM guarantee, tweets Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago.
Romine, 32, gives the Cubs an experienced backup option to Willson Contreras, replacing Victor Caratini, who was traded to the Padres as part of the Yu Darvish deal. Romine spent the 2020 season in Detroit — his first professional season anywhere outside the Yankees organization — but managed just a .238/.259/.323 batting line in 135 trips to the dish.
The longtime Yankees backup has never provided much in the way of offense, evidenced by a lifetime .239/.278/.361 slash through 1251 plate appearances. He did turn in a more impressive .281/.310/.439 output during his final year with the Yankees, but that production looks more like an outlier than the start of a new norm for Romine.
Defensively, Romine has generally been regarded as an above-average pitch framer, though his numbers have dipped over the past couple seasons. His career 23 percent caught-stealing rate is south of the roughly 27 percent league average, although Romine reached as high as 30 percent in that regard as recently as 2019. Baseball Prospectus typically rates him as average or better at blocking balls in the dirt.
Romine is standard-fare backup catcher who’ll give the Cubs an experienced option that allows promising youngster Miguel Amaya to open the season in the minor leagues. Should the team still move Contreras, which they’re reportedly open to doing, they’ll need to bring in another catcher, however — one with more upside and the potential to serve as a regular option.
With Romine in the fold, the Cubs’ payroll climbs, modestly, to about $145MM. They’re nowhere near the $200MM+ marks they carried over the past couple seasons (prior to prorating, of course, in 2020), but ownership’s mandate to scale back payroll has been readily apparent for quite some time now.
Dermody had been slated to return to the Cubs after briefly appearing with the organization last season. The Chicago organization granted him his release to pursue what is in all likelihood a better earning opportunity in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.
It’s a good outcome for Dermody, a thirty-year-old hurler who has accrued only minimal MLB experience to this point (26 1/3 innings over three seasons). He was relegated to indy ball action in 2020 until the Cubs came calling with an offer.
Though he has some experience starting games in the low minors, Dermody has mostly functioned as a reliever as a professional. Over 87 1/3 total Triple-A innings, he carries a 4.12 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 23 walks.
- MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweets that Jeremy Jeffress is on the radar of several clubs, including the Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, Dodgers, Mets, Phillies, Nationals and Blue Jays. It’s a wide field, though the level of interest of each team surely varies. The 33-year-old Jeffress was dominant back in 2018 but hasn’t replicated that form since. He did post an aesthetically pleasing 1.54 ERA and 54.4 percent grounder rate in 23 1/3 innings with the Cubs last year, but the rest of his numbers were something of a mess. Jeffress’ 13.6 percent walk rate was his worst since establishing himself as a consistent presence in MLB bullpens, while his 19.3 percent strikeout rate was 10 percent lower than his 29.8 percent clip from that brilliant 2018 campaign. Last year also saw Jeffress post career-worsts in average fastball velocity (93.3 mph), average exit velocity (89.9 mph) and hard-hit rate (45.6 percent). If Jeffress can rediscover his ’18 form, he’d be a premium late-inning option, but last year’s ERA was propped up by a .161 average on balls in play that is miles south of his career .308 mark.
The Cubs have agreed to a deal with right-hander Shelby Miller, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (via Twitter). The non-guaranteed contract will pay Miller $875K if he makes Chicago’s big league roster, with another $600K available in bonus money. The signing will be official when Miller passes a physical.
Miller signed a minor league deal with the Brewers last winter but didn’t see any action, as he opted out of the 2020 season in August. Since the start of the 2017 season, Miller has tossed only 82 big league innings, thanks in large part to a Tommy John procedure that sidelined him for much of 2017 and 2018.
Still only 30 years old, Miller will be joining his sixth different organization in a pro career that has seen major highs and lows. Drafted 19th overall by the Cardinals in 2009, Miller posted very strong numbers over his first three MLB seasons — with St. Louis in 2013-14 and with Atlanta in 2015, after Miller was swapped to the Braves as part of a noteworthy trade that saw Jason Heyward go to the Cards. Unfortunately for Miller, he was part of another blockbuster trade a year later, going to the Diamondbacks and then never again regaining his early-career form.
There isn’t much risk for the Cubs in adding Miller as a reclamation project, as Miller could be one of a few veterans brought into camp on low-cost or non-guaranteed contracts as Chicago looks for veteran rotation depth. Beyond Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies, the Cubs’ other rotation candidates don’t have much experience — projected third and fourth starters Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills, and then a plethora of young arms competing for a look as the fifth starter.
The Cubs have avoided arbitration with third baseman Kris Bryant, catcher Willson Contreras and right-hander Zach Davies, per reports from Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago and Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. Bryant settled for $19.5MM, while Contreras will make $6.65MM and Davies will earn $8.63MM.
While the salaries of Bryant and Contreras for 2021 are now known, it’s unclear whether either will actually rake in that money as members of the Cubs. They have been stalwarts for the club throughout their careers, but with the Cubs in retooling mode this winter, both players have frequented trade rumors. Of course, this doesn’t look like the optimal time to move Bryant, a former NL MVP who put up uncharacteristically bad numbers in 2020. The Boras Corporation client only has a year of control left, though, so the Cubs may try to get what they can for him before the season starts.
The Cubs would have much less difficulty landing solid value for Contreras, who continued his run as a top-tier catcher last season. Not only is he a bargain relative to his production, but Contreras has another year of arbitration eligibility remaining.
The 27-year-old Davies is new to the Cubs, having joined them as part of their return from the Padres last month for righty Yu Darvish. Davies, who enjoyed a career year in 2020, will be eligible for free agency next offseason.
MLBTR forecast a $10MM to $11.9MM arbitration salary for Baez earlier this offseason, so this deal checks in near the top of that projection. The Cubs could still try to work out an extension with Baez, though it doesn’t seem that will happen in the immediate future. For now, the 28-year-old remains on track to become a free agent after the upcoming season.
Regardless of whether an extension comes together, both the Cubs and Baez will hope for a better year out of the two-time All-Star, who posted one of his worst seasons in 2020. Baez did appear in 59 of the Cubs’ 60 regular-season games, but he batted a disastrous .203/.238/.360 (57 wRC+), recorded his worst ISO since 2016 (.158), and amassed 75 strikeouts against a mere seven walks over 235 plate appearances. That was hardly the star-level output Baez provided the Cubs from 2018-19, when he combined for a line of .286/.321/.544 (123 wRC+) in 1,206 PA and was among the most valuable infielders in the sport.
The 2020-21 international signing period is officially underway, and though this signing period is open until Dec. 15, 2021, many of the big names have already signed. Teams have long since lined up deals with newly eligible teenage players, so the news today largely represents confirmation of what was anticipated. Still, it’s a day of no small moment, particularly for the young men embarking upon professional careers.
Let’s round up some of the most notable signings of the day. Most of these agreements have been known for awhile, as both Baseball America’s Ben Badler (signings tracker; scouting links) and MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (Twitter feed; rankings) have listed each club’s expected landing spot and approximate signing bonus on their rankings for months. You can find each team’s total bonus pool and other information on the process right here. Check the above links for further information and other signings. Despite today’s announcements, many of these deals won’t become official for even a couple of weeks, notes Sanchez. Here are a few key deals:
- Yoelqui Céspedes, OF, White Sox: The half-brother of outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, the Cuban outfielder joins a strong international tradition in Chicago with the White Sox, who currently field Cuban stars such as reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, centerfielder Luis Robert, and third baseman Yoan Moncada. MLB.com has Céspedes ranked as the top international prospect in this class thanks to being a “a five-tool player with above-average tools across the board.” Baseball America is slightly less bullish, putting him at No. 12 on their board, noting that the pandemic limited opportunities for scouting. The 23-year-old will be one of the older prospects from this class to sign, and though he has the ability to play center, Robert’s presence in Chicago means he is probably ticketed for right. The White Sox also signed Cuban hurler Norge Vera for $1.5MM. Vera came in at No. 15 on MLB.com’s rankings. Fangraphs has Cespedes as Chicago’s new No. 25 ranked prospect, and Vera at No. 14.
- Armando Cruz, SS, Nationals: Cruz officially joined the Nationals today for the most money the Nationals have ever paid out to single player during the international signing period, with The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli (via Twitter) pegging the final number at $3.9MM. BA writes in their scouting report, “He’s a defensive wizard with phenomenal hands and a strong arm, combining the ability to make acrobatic, highlight plays along with the internal clock and game savvy well beyond his years.” The Nationals signed 11 international players in total, notes Ghiroli.
- Pedro Leon, OF, Astros: Houston will pay $4MM to add MLB.com’s 7th-ranked international prospect to their system, per Sanchez. Baseball America has Leon as the top prospect of his class. Like Céspedes, the Cuban outfield is one of the older members of this class, but he brings plus speed, power, and the ability to stick in centerfield.
- Manuel Beltre, SS, Blue Jays: The Blue Jays added perhaps the most advanced hitter of the class in Beltre. MLB.com has Beltre as the No. 24 ranked prospect in the class, signing for $2.6MM, though Shi Davidi of Sportnet.ca (via Twitter) pegs the final number to be closer to $2.35MM. The Dominican shortstop could ultimately end up at second base, Sanchez writes, but he has arm enough to stay at short.
- Pedro Pineda, OF, Athletics: MLB Insider Jon Heyman (via Twitter) has Pineda signing with Oakland for less than $4MM, but the sum isn’t likely to fall far below that threshold. Baseball America has Pineda as the No. 11 ranked prospect in this class, writing, “Pineda is a strong, athletic, physical center fielder with a loud tool set and a power/speed threat. He has excellent speed, a fast bat and the power potential to hit 25-plus home runs.”
Several other well-regarded prospects also secured bonuses of $2MM or more, with the specifics provided here by Sanchez:
Former major league left-hander Danny Hultzen has retired from playing, but he’ll remain in the game as a member of the Cubs’ front office, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports. Hultzen will work as a pitching development assistant under Cubs assistant general manager/vice president of pitching Craig Breslow.
The Mariners selected Hultzen second overall out of the University of Virginia in the 2011 draft, choosing him instead of such current stars as Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and George Springer, but the pick proved to be a mistake in hindsight. While Hultzen did rank among the game’s top prospects in the ensuing couple years after his draft, shoulder injuries and the surgeries that accompanied them dogged him as a professional player. He missed most of 2013 and all of 2014, barely pitched from 2015-16 and then took 2017 off to complete his degree.
Hultzen returned to the pros in ’18 on a minor league contract with the Cubs, finally making his MLB debut in September 2019 with 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Although the Cubs then re-signed him to a non-guaranteed pact, Hultzen didn’t get back to the mound during a 2020 season devoid of minor league baseball. Now, though, the 31-year-old will have a chance to impact the organization in a different role.