To clear room, the Cubs announced several 40-man departures. Utilitymen Robel Garcia and Daniel Descalso are both off of the list; the former was designated for assignment and the latter was placed on the 45-day injured list. Also moving off of the MLB roster was outfielder Mark Zagunis, who opted out of the 2020 season.
Rays left-hander Blake Snell, the recipient of a cortisone shot in his elbow last week, threw 20 fastballs on flat ground Tuesday and came out of it “fine,” according to manager Kevin Cash (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). Snell’s slated to continue working back this week, but even if things go well, it does seem the former Cy Young winner will miss at least the opening week of the regular season, Topkin suggests. Snell’s elbow issues date back to last season, as he underwent an arthroscopic procedure in late July that shelved him for almost two months.
- Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton left the team’s game after the first inning Tuesday with a tweaked left hamstring, manager Dave Martinez told Sam Fortier of the Washington Post and other reporters. The Nationals don’t regard it as a serious injury, however, as Martinez noted that Eaton likely would have stayed in had it been a regular-season game. Meanwhile, fellow Nats outfielder Victor Robles has been battling a sore left side since last week, but he also seems to be OK. If he gets through the next few days without issue, Robles could return to the team’s lineup during the upcoming weekend, per Pete Kerzel of MASNsports.com.
- It remains unclear how the Cubs will distribute playing time at second base this season, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com writes. Minor league pickup Jason Kipnis has been fighting for the starting job with holdovers Nico Hoerner, David Bote and Daniel Descalso this spring. “It really is a wait and see,” manager David Ross said of the four-way competition. A former All-Star with the Indians, Kipnis possesses the longest track record of the quartet, but his offensive production declined to a noticeable extent from 2017-19, thus stopping him from landing a guaranteed contract.
- Sticking with the Cubs, flamethrowing pitching prospect Manuel Rodriguez is down for the time being with a Grade 2 biceps strain, Bastian tweets. Rodriguez, 23, hasn’t pitched above the High-A level to this point, but the Cubs are believers in his potential. They added Rodriguez to their 40-man roster last November to prevent another team from grabbing him in the Rule 5 Draft.
The Cubs started seven different players at second base in 2019 with generally uninspiring results. Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Tony Kemp are now gone. Let’s take a look at the options who remain to fill that spot on the north side in 2020.
- Jason Kipnis: Chicago signed Kipnis to a minor-league deal after Cleveland cut bait last offseason. The former star has slumped to a .236/.305/.403 (85 wRC+) mark over the past three seasons, especially struggling against left-handed pitching. His defensive metrics are mixed, with UZR more bullish than DRS or Statcast. At 32 (33 in April), the Illinois native probably won’t be returning to his 2015-16 heights, but there’s hope he can offer reasonable production on both sides of the ball. With that in mind, Kipnis looks to be a good bet to make the Opening Day roster, Patrick Mooney of the Athletic reported today.
- David Bote: Bote got the lion’s share of playing time at second last season, although he’s capable of bouncing around the infield. The 26-year-old has put up league average numbers over his first 566 plate appearances (.257/.362/.422). There’s a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, though, and his career 11.1% walk rate seems a bit inflated by some opportunities hitting in front of the pitcher. The organization clearly believes in him, having extended him through 2024 (with a pair of club options) last spring.
- Nico Hoerner: The Cubs’ top prospect, Hoerner made it up for a September cameo. A polished hitter coming out of Stanford, he always profiled as a fast riser, but the club may prefer to slow things down a bit. Mediocre results over his first 82 MLB plate appearances certainly won’t sour the organization on him, but Hoerner only logged 294 plate appearances in the high minors, all in Double-A. There’s a case to be made for giving him some seasoning at Triple-A.
- Daniel Descalso: A late-career swing change seemingly reinvigorated Descalso’s career in Arizona in 2018. The Cubs bought in, signing him to a two-year deal last offseason. Unfortunately, he fell completely flat, hitting just .173/.271/.250 (42 wRC+) in 194 plate appearances. 2018 now looks like an outlier rather than a breakout, as Descalso’s been at least ten percentage points below average at the plate in every other season of his career.
- Robel García: García, 26, is a phenomenal story, having parlayed a stint in Italy to a return to affiliated ball (and eventually his MLB debut) in 2019. He obliterated the minors to the tune of a .284/.369/.586 line in 388 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. That came with a 30.9% strikeout rate, though, and the whiffs became an even bigger issue in his MLB audition. García struck out in 35 of his 80 MLB plate appearances with an unpalatable 20.9% swinging strike rate. That he’s even in consideration for the job is remarkable considering where he was a year ago; he’ll have to alleviate the swing-and-miss to be a viable everyday option, though.
Also in camp as non-roster invitees are Corban Joseph, Carlos Asuaje and Hernán Pérez. Joseph has intrigued teams recently with quality minor-league numbers, but he’s a 31-year-old with 94 MLB plate appearances to his name. Asuaje, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing tenure in the KBO, while Pérez has hovered around replacement-level over parts of eight seasons as a utility option. Each would seem to need an eye-opening spring to earn the job. Ditto prospect Trent Giambrone, who is also in camp but was left unprotected for (and went undrafted in) the Rule V draft.
Ian Happ could have added another name to the mix. However, the coaching staff considers Happ more of an option in center field, Mooney reports. Thus, it seems likeliest one of the names above picks up the slack at the keystone in 2020.
3:36pm: Strop’s injury will cost him more than the 10-day minimum, it seems. The right-hander told reporters that an MRI performed earlier today revealed a Grade 2 strain (Twitter link via Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times). Strop says that there’s no timeline for his return at this point. For now, he’ll take three to four days to rest the hamstring before he begins working back.
3:20pm: Russell is in tonight’s lineup, playing second base and batting eighth, the team announced. Zobrist has been placed on the restricted list after being granted a leave of absence to deal with a personal matter, per the club.
2:34pm: The Cubs have decided to activate shortstop Addison Russell for tonight’s game, according to David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter links). He will see his first game action since last September.
It seems that the timing of the decision was driven by the potential unavailability of Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso. The former missed yesterday’s game with an undisclosed personal matter while the latter has been nursing an ankle injury.
Russell recently finished a 40-game suspension issued under the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. His former wife has alleged a variety of abusive actions during their marriage.
The Cubs initially optioned Russell to Triple-A, though his stay proved short. A lifetime .242/.313/.392 hitter through nearly two thousand MLB plate appearances, he carries a .222/.357/.467 batting line in 56 PA this year at the highest level of the minors.
Russell is five days away from passing into the 4+ MLB service class. Assuming he stays up, he’ll be eligible for arbitration twice more before qualifying for free agency.
The National League’s Central division projects to be a closely fought contest, making it all the more important for each team to have all of its players available and in top form. Here are the latest notes on a few health situations from the division:
- Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress is likely to open the year on the injured list, skipper Craig Counsell acknowledged to reporters including Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Twitter link). The veteran righty was slowed by some shoulder issues early and has not yet returned to working from the mound, though he is throwing. While the Brewers would no doubt prefer to have Jeffress available from the jump, there’s no sense rushing him and risking a lengthier absence.
- The Cubs have a shoulder issue of their own, as infielder Daniel Descalso is dealing with soreness, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). There’s no indication that it’s a serious malady, though neither is a timeline presently available. On the bright side, the initial indications are that reliever Pedro Strop’s injured hamstring won’t be a major concern. As ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers reports (Twitter links), Strop is quite confident that he’ll be able to return in time to get ready for the start of the season. Though he’ll be taking a break from his mound work, Strop was able to participate in practice today, indicating that the rest is primarily a precautionary matter.
- The Cardinals now have a plan in place for right-hander Carlos Martinez, per MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch (Twitter link), to bring him through some shoulder weakness. Martinez will “build up arm strength” with a throwing program over the next two weeks. At that point — just on the cusp of the season — the team will decide how to complete his preparation for the season. It’s still possible, from the club’s perspective at least, that Martinez will be on a program designed to deliver him to the MLB pen. As of late last month, that was not a path he wanted to take.
3:54pm: Descalso’s contract comes with a small incentives package as well, Heyman tweets. He’ll earn $50K for reaching each of 425, 450 and 475 plate appearances in a given season, plus another $100K upon reaching 500 PAs.
2:02pm: The signing has now been announced. Descalso will earn salaries of $1.5MM and $2.5MM, per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian (via Twitter).
10:42am: The Cubs have agreed to terms with veteran utilityman Daniel Descalso, according to reports from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link) and Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter). Descalso, a client of Pro Edge Sports, will be promised $5MM over two seasons, per Rosenthal (Twitter links). There’s a club option as well for the 2021 season, with a $3.5MM price tag and $1MM buyout.
This move, if completed, promises to deliver the Cubbies some of the veteran grit they felt they were missing in a 2018 season in which they came up a bit short of their own lofty expectations. It would also bring Descalso back to the NL Central division after a four-year foray into the NL West.
Descalso will help the Cubs cover for the absence of Addison Russell over the first month or so of the season, likely seeing quite a bit of action at second while Javy Baez plays short. Once Russell returns to the club from his domestic abuse suspension, as now seems to be the plan, Descalso will in all likelihood step back into the utility role to which he’s best suited.
If that’s all that takes place, the Cubs would feature a variety of versatile position players to work with. Russell and especially Baez would occupy a fair bit of the middle-infield action, with Descalso filling in there and at third base. Presumably, Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ will spend the majority of their time in the outfield, though both have ample experience on the dirt as well. Just where David Bote will fit in all of this isn’t clear, but the Cubs certainly won’t mind having the depth and he’s optionable as well.
Of course, there could yet be further roster tweaks still to come. The Cubs have engaged the market in a surprisingly spartan manner thus far, with the club sending signal after signal that it’s not going to add much payroll. But there could still be trade possibilities to work through and it’s still reasonable to wonder whether the Chicago organization has a big strike still in it if the right opportunity arises.
Descalso, of course, spent the early portion of his career with the bitter-rival Cardinals. He earned his playing time as a gritty, pesky, versatile player who did enough in the field and on the bases to overlook his generally subpar bat.
In recent years, though, the 32-year-old Descalso has opened up some new aspects to his game. Beyond getting acquainted in the corner outfield, he has become an increasingly aggressive flyball hitter. The initial returns have been impressive, as Descalso has turned into a lite version of a three-true-outcomes hitter.
Last year, in 423 trips to the plate, Descalso popped 13 long balls. He struck out and walked at career-high rates, 26.0% and 15.1% respectively, while turning in a productive overall .238/.353/.436 slash. That was good for a 111 wRC+, a nice number for a player who had never before topped 90 in a given season. With quality baserunning added in, Descalso clocked in at 1.6 fWAR — easily a career-high.
Descalso hasn’t played much shortstop in recent seasons, though that is in part no doubt a reflection of the needs of his former teams. It’s also not a primary concern for the Cubs, who can utilize Baez and Russell at the position.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Cubs are “in strong pursuit” of Daniel Descalso, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). They’ll have interesting company in the bidding, though, as the division-rival Cardinals are also involved on their former infielder, as previously rumored and as Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets.
Descalso, 32, was a mainstay with the Cards for several years, but has spent the past four seasons out west with the Rockies and D-Backs. In that time, the veteran has not only spread his wings a bit defensively but heated up a bit with his left-handed bat.
Known primarily as a utility infielder, Descalso has now spent a fair amount of time in the corner outfield. It’s likely that these and other clubs will mostly value him for his ability to field any position on the dirt, but it surely doesn’t hurt that he’s now familiar with left field.
At the plate, Descalso has earned a rather expansive role in Arizona by producing sturdy on-base numbers. He’s still a clearly below-average hitter over the course of his career, but Descalso has also perhaps shown some newfound abilities at the plate as an acolyte of the flyball revolution.
Last year, Descalso popped a career-high 13 long balls and turned in a healthy .198 ISO — well north of anything he had shown previously. An aggressive new approach also resulted in quite a few more strikeouts (26.0%) than usual, but Descalso more than made up for that by setting new career marks (by a wide margin) with a 15.1% walk rate and 43.1% hard-contact rate. The results — a .238/.353/.436 slash — were impressive.
Given those changes, and Descalso’s preexisting reputation as a reliable veteran and generally solid defender, it’s not hard to see why these two contending clubs have interest. Presumably, others do as well, though the infield market is still quite overloaded with possibilities.
A busy day of pitching transactions included Tanner Roark being traded from the Nationals to the Reds, and free agent Lance Lynn nearing an apparent agreement with the Rangers. Those moves take two potential Giants targets off the board, as Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area reported that San Francisco had interest in its own Roark deal, while The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly noted that the Giants had interest in Lynn before his reported price tag (three years and $30MM from Texas) rose too high for their liking. The Giants are known to be exploring reinforcements for a rotation that has still has Madison Bumgarner as the ace, but a lot of inexperience and question marks in the rest of the starting five.
Some more from around the NL West…
- The Dodgers have been in touch with the Pirates about catcher Francisco Cervelli, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Coming off a solid 2018 season, Cervelli has received trade interest from several teams. The 32-year-old is only under contract through 2019 (at $11.5MM in salary), so that type of short-term fit could appeal to a Dodgers team that has top catching prospects Keibert Ruiz and Will D. Smith getting closer to cracking the MLB roster. In addition to starters like Cervelli, Gurnick notes that L.A. is also looking at “fallback options” like veteran catcher Nick Hundley.
- The Dodgers have been heavily linked to the Reds in trade talks, and while Yasiel Puig has prominently featured in these rumors, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman (Twitter links) hears that Puig hasn’t been involved in one of the latest proposals. This version of a deal would see Matt Kemp and Alex Wood go to Cincinnati in exchange for Homer Bailey, which would shave roughly $13MM off of the Dodgers’ luxury tax payroll calculations since Kemp’s contract has a higher average annual value than Bailey’s deal. Given Bailey’s struggles and injury problems over the last few seasons, one would imagine L.A. might pursue something more substantial back (i.e. a prospect or two) rather than pure salary relief, though it’s worth noting that the Dodgers acquired Kemp last offseason in a deal that certainly appeared at the time to be simply a bad contract swap. Clearing some luxury tax room would likely also allow the Dodgers to make another big-ticket addition.
- Zack Greinke might not be dealt until the trade deadline, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets, as the Diamondbacks feel they could get more for the ace right-hander in July than they could now, with so many other starters available on the market. Those other pitchers also don’t come with Greinke’s hefty $95.5MM contract attached, making it difficult for the D’Backs to find a trade partner at the moment.
- With the Padres hunting for a utility infielder, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link) suggests a few options with ties to the organization. The Rangers’ Jurickson Profar or the Diamondbacks’ Nick Ahmed would make sense as trade targets, as GM A.J. Preller is very familiar with Profar from their time together with the Rangers, and Ahmed was a “favorite” of manager Andy Green when Green was on Arizona’s coaching staff. Veteran free agent Daniel Descalso could also be a fit.
The Cardinals made a monumental move this week when they acquired superstar first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks, but the Redbirds certainly aren’t done yet. Currently mired in their first three-year playoff drought since the late 1990s, the Cardinals are emphasizing the need for immediate improvement, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak revealed after the Goldschmidt trade (via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
With the Winter Meetings on the verge of beginning, Goold has the latest on where the 2019-minded Cards could attempt to upgrade next:
- While the Cardinals have been connected to outfielder Bryce Harper, arguably the best free agent available, Goold hears their interest may hinge on the length of his next contract. If Harper’s desired length on his forthcoming deal drops to fewer than 10 years, St. Louis would be more inclined to get seriously involved, Goold indicates.
- With left-handed relief help high on the Cards’ list, they “remain engaged” on free agents Zach Britton and Andrew Miller, Goold reports. And though Mozeliak has expressed confidence in flamethrower Jordan Hicks’ potential to serve as the Cardinals’ primary closer in 2019, the team could offer the ninth inning to Britton or Miller, Goold writes. Both the 30-year-old Britton and Miller, 33, come with plenty of game-ending experience, having combined for 195 saves. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, Steve Adams and Jeff Todd forecast both hurlers to sign three-year deals in the $30MM range.
- The Cardinals are also seeking a lefty-swinging utility infielder, which could lead to a reunion with ex-Redbird Daniel Descalso. The club has had talks with Descalso’s agent, according to Goold. A third-round pick of the Cardinals in 2007, Descalso played for the team from 2010-14, during which he was part of its most recent World Series winner (2011). The 32-year-old generally hasn’t been much of an offensive threat during his career, but he found another gear last season in Arizona, where he hit far more line drives and fly balls and far fewer grounders. The changes helped Descalso bat an above-average .238/.353/.436 (111 wRC+) with career highs in home runs (13), walk rate (15.1 percent) and isolated power (.198).
Left-hander Patrick Corbin is set for a lucrative trip to free agency in the offseason, having just wrapped up a campaign in which he was somewhat quietly one of the majors’ premier pitchers. Corbin, who reached 200 innings for the first time in his career, ranks third among starters in FIP (2.47), fourth in fWAR (6.3), sixth in K/9 (11.07) and K/BB ratio (5.13), and 14th in ERA (3.15). Those numbers may help price Corbin out of Arizona, and based on his comments Friday, the 29-year-old “seems to believe his time with the Diamondbacks likely is over,” Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes “I think when the season is over, I’ll look into it more,” Corbin said. “I think I’ll just look back on my time here. The seven years have gone by really quick. A lot of friendships that I’ve had here. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. But the Diamondbacks organization will always have a special part of my heart.”
Here’s more from Piecoro:
- Another member of the Diamondbacks’ staff, righty Shelby Miller, will “probably” reach free agency, Piecoro tweets. Miller’s controllable through 2019, which is scheduled to be his fourth and final arbitration year, but the club could non-tender him after another disappointing season. Miller, who’s on a $4.9MM salary this year, has barely pitched since 2017 on account of arm injuries. He logged just 22 frames before undergoing Tommy John surgery last season, and after returning this past June to throw 15 innings over four subpar starts, went back to the shelf with elbow inflammation. Miller did come back to throw a scoreless inning Saturday, but that’s of little consolation to the D-backs amid another lost season for him. If Arizona does say goodbye to the soon-to-be 28-year-old Miller, it’ll mark the end of a disastrous union which began with his much-maligned acquisition from Atlanta in December 2015.
- Diamondbacks pending free-agent infielder Daniel Descalso spoke about his future Friday, telling Piecoro he “would hate to see” the club embark on a rebuild after a disappointing season. While Descalso “sounds interested” in staying in Arizona, per Piecoro, the team’s direction may determine whether that happens. Descalso revealed that team success will be among his key considerations as he maps out his future. Age (32 next month) won’t be on Descalso’s side when he hits free agency, but he’s hopeful his recent output will help him reel in a richer payday than he received last time he reached the market. Arizona signed Descalso to a one-year, $1.35MM guarantee in 2017 and then kept him this season with a $2MM club option. He has been well worth that investment in ’18, having batted .239/.354/.437 (112 wRC+) with a career-best 13 home runs in 422 plate appearances.
- When the Diamondbacks acquired outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Rays last February, their hope was that he’d help fill the void of superstar slugger J.D. Martinez, who departed in free agency. Instead, as Piecoro explains, Souza struggled through an injury-shortened 2018. Souza batted an ugly .217/.306/.354 (80 wRC+) with four homers in 271 PA this year, during which he endured multiple DL stints for a strained right pectoral. The 29-year-old discussed his tough season with Piecoro, saying: “Not great. It’s just been a really trying year. To the point of injury, re-injury, the trade, coming back and not playing well. All of it has just been a trying year, one I’m going to use for motivation next year.” Souza went on to suggest that he’s still not 100 percent from that injury, which he suffered in late March, but he and the team expect a return to form in 2019. “We believe in this guy strongly,” general manager Mike Hazen said. “We believe he’s going to come back next year and have a great year.” Souza’s only a season removed from a career year in Tampa Bay, where he hit .239/.351/.459 (120 wRC+) with 30 homers, 16 steals and 3.7 fWAR in 617 PA. That performance helped him secure a $3.5MM salary for this year, his third-to-last arbitration-eligible season.