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.
The Cubs have minor-league deals lined up with southpaws Danny Hultzen and Rex Brothers as well as outfielder Noel Cuevas, per the latest minor-league deal log from Baseball America’s Chris Hilburn-Trenkle. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic had previously reported the Cuevas signing, via Twitter.
Hultzen had been dropped from the Chicago 40-man roster in December after making his long-awaited big-league debut late in 2019. The former second overall draft pick saw his career with the Mariners derailed by a series of debilitating arm injuries, but he reemerged with the Cubs organization.
Though Hultzen didn’t throw many innings in 2019, he did turn in some interesting numbers. In 18 total frames (3 1/3 in the majors and the balance at Triple-A), he racked up 28 strikeouts against 11 walks and permitted just a pair of earned runs on eight hits. During his MLB action, Hultzen worked in the 93 to 94 mph range with his fastball and got swings and misses on 12.3% of the pitches he delivered.
As for the flamethrowing Brothers, he spent the ’19 campaign turning in typically high-K, high-walk outings for the Yankees’ top affiliate. In 45 2/3 innings at Triple-A, the former Rockies and Braves hurler struck out 81 opposing hitters but also doled out 36 free passes. He ended the year with a 4.93 ERA. Once a fixture in the Colorado bullpen, Brothers has seen his big-league opportunities dwindle in more recent seasons.
Cuevas has a more recent track record with the Rockies organization. He struggled in the majors during his 2018 debut and was injured in his first game up in 2019. He ended up spending most of the just-completed campaign at Triple-A, where he turned in uninspiring numbers. But Cuevas has at times produced at an above-average rate at the plate in the upper minors. The 28-year-old is capable of playing all three outfield positions.
The Yankees announced Friday that they’ve signed left-handers Danny Coulombe and Rex Brothers to minor league deals with invitations to Major League Spring Training. Coulombe is repped by Elite Sports Group, and Brother is a client of Jet Sports. Max Wildstein tweeted the former signing, while Jon Heyman of Fancred had the latter (via Twitter).
Coulombe, 29, spent the past three seasons with the A’s, pitching to a 4.10 ERA with 8.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9 and a whopping 57.6 percent ground-ball rate. In that time, he’s held opposing left-handers to a weak .233/.298/.338 batting line through a total of 243 plate appearances. Coulombe’s FIP over those three seasons aligns almost perfectly with his ERA, though other fielding-independent metrics like xFIP and SIERA are more bullish, pegging him in the mid-3.00s.
Brothers, 31, made 28 appearances with the Braves across the past two seasons, though just one in 2018, and struggld across the board. The former No. 34 overall pick (Rockies, 2009) was once touted as Colorado’s closer of the future and even saved 19 games with a 1.74 ERA for the Rox back in 2013. Injuries have slowed Brothers’ career substantially, however, and he’s now looking to reestablish himself as a viable big league option after last experiencing success in 2015 (albeit in a small sample of 10 1/3 innings).
Here are some of the day’s notable minor transactions …
- The Yankees have a minors deal in place with veteran southpaw Rex Brothers, per Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter). Brothers, who’ll turn 31 tomorrow, still has an intriguingly high-powered left arm — he pumped 97 in his lone MLB appearance in 2018 — that’s capable of racking up swings and misses. Unfortunately, Brothers has also been exceedingly prone to issuing free passes over his career. Last year, at Triple-A, he recorded a 56:44 K/BB ratio in 40 2/3 frames. It’s an extreme profile, but the Yanks will take a shot at trying to harness the upside. At a minimum, the team will add an experienced reliever to its depth mix.
- As expected, the Royals have brought back a trio of recently non-tendered (non-arb-eligible) players. The club announced minor-league pact with former top prospect Bubba Starling, righty Jason Adam, and first bagger Samir Duenez. Starling, certainly, is the most notable member of this group given his status as a former fifth overall draft pick. He’s now 26 years of age and still trying t work things out in the upper minors. The Royals are obviously still pleased with his effort level and think there may be something more in the tank. At a minimum, the organization would surely like to see what he can do if he’s at full health for a complete season.
Quite a few players will hit the open market this fall, and they’ll do so by way of varying mechanisms. The end of the regular season triggered a recent wave of free agents, consisting of a certain subset of players — namely, those who were outrighted from 40-man rosters during the season and accepted minor-league assignments at that time despite having the right to elect free agency. Players in that situation are entitled instead to hit the open market at season’s end, if they were not added back to the 40-man roster in the meantime.
As conveyed by Matt Eddy of Baseball America, who also covers quite a few other minor moves, these players have now elected free agency:
Cardinals: LHP Tyler Lyons
Marlins: OF JB Shuck
Padres: OF Matt Szczur
Phillies: INF Trevor Plouffe
White Sox: RHP Tyler Danish
Here are the latest players to be outrighted off of their teams’ 40-man rosters:
- The Reds announced that righty Kevin Quackenbush has been outrighted after clearing waivers following a recent DFA. The veteran could have elected free agency but has instead decided to remain in the Cincinnati organization, MLBTR’s Steve Adams tweets. Quackenbush did not produce a very appealing stat line during his ten appearances with the Reds. He surrendered 11 earned runs, with a 7:6 K/BB ratio, in just nine innings of action. In over two hundred career innings at the game’s highest level, Quackenbush carries a 4.38 ERA.
- Outfielder Lane Adams and relievers Rex Brothers and Josh Ravin were all outrighted by the Braves, the club says. Both Adams and Ravin had recently been designated for assignment, so had already been removed from the 40-man. As for Brothers, a 30-year-old southpaw, he’ll lose his spot after a rough start to the season. He has issued eight walks in his six Triple-A frames — an area that has long been a challenge — and does not appear to be in the team’s immediate plans. The Braves will pay Brothers at a lesser rate in the minors under the split contract he agreed to last fall. Adams, who has been productive in limited action at the MLB level over the past two years, will remain on hand as an outfield depth piece. Ravin, who was claimed over the winter, will likely be among the first pitchers considered if a bullpen need arises.
The Braves have designated right-hander Akeel Morris for assignment. Morris’ 40-man spot will go to Josh Ravin, whose contract the club has purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett. Left-hander Rex Brothers has been optioned to make room for Ravin at the big-league level.
Morris, 25, made his big league debut with the Mets in 2015, but didn’t appear again in the majors until last July. He struck out nine hitters and allowed just one earned run across 7 1/3 innings for the Braves during his second stint, though he did walk four hitters. Even in Triple-A last season, the righty only managed a 32% ground ball rate and sported a 4.44 BB/9 mark.
Similarly, the right-handed Ravin walked nine hitters in just 16 2/3 innings with the Dodgers last season, and ended the campaign with a bloated 6.48. He did, however, manage to strike out 10.62 batters per nine innings. That’s where the 33-year-old’s upside lies; he had a whopping 14.01 K/9 across 35 1/3 Triple-A innings last season.
The Braves have avoided arbitration with lefty Rex Brothers, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It is a non-guaranteed deal, per the report.
MLBTR had not considered Brothers as an arb-eligible player owing to a club option, but O’Brien says the team was able to tender him a contract after declining that option. The end result will seemingly be somewhat similar, as Brothers will receive a split contract that pays him at a $1.1MM rate for time spent in the majors and a $450K rate for time spent in the minors, per ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (via Twitter). (That’s an unusually healthy payday on the minor-league side, it’s worth noting.)
Brothers is still optionable for the coming season, as Olney notes, which helps explain his appeal. He’s also still fairly youthful — he’ll turn 30 in a few weeks — and showed an average 95.8 mph fastball in the majors last year, representing a bounce back to his early-career heat after he experienced some shoulder woes. Similarly, Brothers managed a 13.3% whiff rate that hearkened back to his 2011-13 levels, when Brothers was a healthy and effective reliever for the Rockies.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Brothers will be able to stay healthy and continue to avoid the free passes that have plagued him in recent seasons. He averaged 4.6 BB/9 to go with a healthy 12.6 K/9 in 23 2/3 innings in 2017. That’s not exactly a desirable walk tally, but is at least in the same range he once worked in better years. Brothers did also cough up 7.23 earned runs per nine on the season, though that’s likely due in large part to some sequencing misfortune and a few too many run-ins with righty hitters. He mowed down southpaw swingers, though, as he has done for much of his career.
12:20pm: Although the Braves announced in a morning press release that Johnson had been designated for assignment, the team now tells reporters that Johnson has not been designated and that there was some internal miscommunication (Twitter link via David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Atlanta considered designating Johnson but ultimately elected to keep him on the roster due to the fact that they already had an open 40-man spot for Sanchez.
10:11am: The Braves announced that they have designated infielder Micah Johnson for assignment as part of a series of roster moves. Johnson’s 40-man roster spot will go to catcher Tony Sanchez, who was acquired yesterday in the trade that sent Brandon Phillips to the Angels.
Johnson, 26, was once one of the White Sox’ best-regarded prospects, but his stock has fallen in recent years. He was shipped from Chicago to Los Angeles as part of the three-time Todd Frazier trade in the 2015-16 offseason, and the Dodgers flipped him to the Braves for cash this past winter. Injuries limited his playing time this season, but Johnson batted .301/.391/.390 across three levels (mostly Triple-A — 36 games) in a total of 157 plate appearances. He’s a career .282/.341/.392 hitter in Triple-A bu has struggled in his brief exposure to the Majors.
Sanchez, meanwhile, is a known name due to his status as the former No. 4 overall pick in the draft (Pirates, 2009). He hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2015, though, and has never enjoyed much success at the game’s top level. In parts of three seasons, the now-29-year-old Sanchez has totaled 155 plate appearances and batted .259/.303/.378. He’s hit for a respectable .272 average and gotten on base at a solid .355 clip through 70 Triple-A contests this season, though he’s scarcely hit for power (.374 slugging, .102 ISO, four homers in 284 PAs).
It always hurts to drop a player who’s owed a big salary — in this case, $12.5MM on the year — but his performance left the team with little alternative. Colon, 44, carries an unsightly 8.14 ERA through 63 innings with 6.0 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 and a 45.6% groundball rate.
Though a recent DL placement bought some time and afforded an opportunity for a reset, Colon struggled upon his return. He lasted only four innings against the Padres yesterday, coughing up six earned runs on eight hits and three walks.
Looking a bit deeper, things don’t get any more encouraging. While his velocity is holding steady, Colon has relied completely upon pinpoint command in his long and successful late-career run. That just hasn’t been there in 2017. A comparison of his heat maps (2016 vs. 2017) shows that the burly hurler just isn’t catching the edge as much as he needs to be useful. On the year, he has worked in the zone at a 42.9% rate — far shy of his 52.4% career mark. And when he does throw strikes, they have been knocked around for a .360 BABIP and 1.57 homers per nine.
Whether there’s another comeback attempt left in the tank remains to be seen. Other organizations may well believe there’s a chance he can again walk the fine line he’s been striding in recent years and provide some innings. (The Mets need some depth and would be seem an obvious possibility.) Regardless, there’s no chance that any will stake enough cash on that possibility to submit a claim.
No matter how things shake out, Colon’s amazing late-career run remains one of the game’s most intriguing achievements in recent memory. He sat out the 2010 season with arm issues, then returned for his age-38 campaign. Over the next six years, Colon placed 23rd in fWAR — edging James Shields, Yu Darvish, Doug Fister, and Jeff Samardzija — by running up over thousand innings of 3.63 ERA ball. Last year, Colon gave the Mets 191 2/3 innings of 3.43 ERA pitching at 43 years of age, which led to the ill-fated contract from the Braves. He also threw 14 2/3 quality postseason innings (with the 2013 A’s and 2015 Mets) in that period and left an array of memorable moments. (This one takes top honors for me.)
While the Braves are set in the rotation now without Colon — highly regarded prospect Sean Newcomb came up when he hit the DL — the disappointing performance does still tell on the organization. Most notably, Colon won’t be a trade chip, and he also won’t be available to help shoulder the load if the team moves other arms. And the club will owe the balance of his salary, less the pro-rated league-minimum for any time he spends with another team in the majors.
It’ll be interesting, though, to see the two lefties that the move makes way for. Newcomb has pitched well, with a 1.48 ERA over four starts, and figures to get a longer look and a real shot at locking up a rotation spot for 2018. And Brothers, who’s still just 29, has put up some interesting numbers in the minors. After posting huge strikeout figures at Double-A to open the year, the former Rockies reliever has thrown 4 1/3 scoreless at the highest level of the minors. Most notably, Brothers seems to have gotten a handle on the control problems that led to the end of his tenure in Colorado.