A Strange Day Indeed – Russell, Torreyes, and Hamilton Highlight a Lot of Roster Weirdness

Yesterday was a strange day. 

The weirdness began when the Cubs issued two joint statements from Theo Epstein and Addison Russell .

I haven’t decided if the Cubs are trying to win the public relations front or actually trying to help everyone involved or both. On the surface, the latter appears to be their intent in words.

I would prefer the Cubs just move on from him. However, I may not get my wish for a while.

By offering Russell a contract, the Cubs control his fate once he comes off suspension. Until then, they can trade him, release him, or keep him. The Cubs still think they might be able to get something for him before he comes off suspension. Sadly, Friday’s memos were more about that than anything else.

The Cubs also tendered contracts to Carl Edwards, Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber. Unless the players and Cubs agree on terms, they will all go through the arbitration process later this winter. 

The Cubs did not offer contracts to Justin Hancock, Allen Webster, and the newly acquired Ronald Torreyes. Almost immediately after the announcement, news got out from 670 the Score’s Julie DiCaro that the Cubs are working to sign Torreyes to a deal.

The roster stands currently stands at 36.

However….

The free agent market changed greatly yesterday. Almost 100 new players joined the fray and at a markedly reduced price. The Cubs are going to be looking for a middle infielder, some relievers, and maybe a backup catcher. 

One player whose non-tender caught my eye was OF Billy Hamilton of the Reds. His defense capabilities and immense speed are intriguing and he could be a potent hitter.

When the Winter Meetings begin on the 10th, the off season should be in high gear.

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The Weekly: Transactions, a Hall of Fame Ballot, and Upcoming News

By Todd Johnson

The only Cub news this week came on Tuesday when the Cubs traded for pitcher Rowan Wick from San Diego in exchange for 3B Jason Vosler. That same day, the Cubs claimed pitcher Ian Clarkin off of waivers and selected pitcher Justin Steele for the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule V Draft on December 13.

The draft takes place on the last day of the GM meetings and that week is probably when things will start cooking in free agency. I don’t see the Cubs making a major move until then. Most deals before then will be a minor-league transaction such as what happened this week when Alberto Baldonado re-signed with the Cubs on a minor-league contract.

H.O.F.
I filled out my fake Hall of Fame ballot this week. If I could have voted for 15 guys, I would have. I think I am over the steroids thing and enough time has passed to move on as a fan. It was, and always will be, a popularity contest of memories. These type of things are not my forte, I vote too personally.

Website News and Upcoming Series
This will also be the last “Weekly” until the minor league season starts in April. Until then, I will be having regular posts on Sundays on one topic until “Spring Training News and Notes” begins in February and lasts through March. 

The “Position Breakdown Series” kicked off on Friday the 23rd with my look at catchers in the system. Next week, the first baseman will be on Friday the 30th.

In addition, this year’s off season prospect series begins on Tuesday the 27th. It is called “The 5 Series.” What I like about the premise is that I am only going to write about five things about a prospect. They can be questions, statistics, concerns, or maybe even things to work on for 2019. 

Card of the Week
When it came to making baseball cards in the off-season, I didn’t think I would be making a lot every month. I got that wrong. I have made almost 100 cards since October 1. I think I’m going to go ahead and do a top cards of the off-season post at some point next month. 

See you Tuesday for the debut of the 5 Series. 

A Wild Day Ends with Justin Steele on the 40 Man

By Todd Johnson

As I mentioned in parts 1 and 2 tonight, it has been a surprising day of moves by the Cubs. For now, the moves ended when Justin Steele was placed on the Cubs’ 40 man roster to avoid losing him in the Rule V Draft on December 13.

Steele can sit with his fastball at 95 and has a plus curve to mix and match. 2019 should be an exciting year for him. Steele, now 23, probably begins next year at AA Tennessee. His future for now is as a starter. Although, I definitely could him coming out of the bullpen, too.

Heading into today, Steele seemed to be the consensus choice to make the 40 man.

Jason Vosler and Trevor Clifton were thought to be in play as well to also make the squad. Vosler was traded to San Diego while Clifton, surprisingly, was left off.

I wrote more about Steele and the day over on Cubs Insider.

40 Man Roster Update… A Lot Is Going On!

By Todd Johnson

4:30 P.M.

OK, this is getting strange.

Teaching history all day doesn’t allow me to sit at a computer all day and refresh Twitter and work messages. So, when I got breaks today to see what was happening, I was left shaking my head.

When the day began, the Cubs’ 40 man roster was at 39. I thought this is going to be a normal 40 man roster period where the Cubs waive a few guys and add a few guys. No biggie.

Yeah, that looks like the old way of doing things is not happening.

The strangeness began around 2 for me when I read that IF Jack Reinheimer was claimed off waivers by the Rangers. That was not the strange part.  Sometimes, when an organization tries to sneak a guy through waivers, the player gets claimed. What happened next was a little puzzling.

The Cubs were said to be in on trading for a couple of relievers from San Diego, according to Ken Rosenthal. One of the players, Coltin Brewer was traded quickly leaving the Cubs still on Rowan Wick. If the Cubs got wick, that would put the roster at 39 leaving the Cubs with one spot left. So far, the Wick trade has not happened.

Then, a little before 4 P.M.. the Cubs claimed pitcher Ian Clarkin off waivers from the White Sox. Clarkin pitched most recently in the Southern League at Birmingham. He’s a 23-year-old lefty pitcher. This move actually moved the roster to 39.

My head is starting to spin and I don’t think we are done yet.

The deadline to finalize the roster is 8 P.M. tonight.

I will be back later with more.

The Weekly: 40 Man Spots, Jhonny Pereda, and Upcoming News

By Todd Johnson

Monday is a big day. On the 19th, the Cubs’ 40-man roster could contain  a few new names to protect them from being taken in the Rule V Draft slated for December 13. Expect to see Trevor Clifton, Justin Steele, and Jason Vosler get added. PJ Higgins, Erick Leal, and Jhonny Pereda are longshots to be put on the roster. The Cubs will likely roll the dice by leaving the last three off. A year from now, Pereda probably will get added and the same for Leal, if 2019 goes well.

I am really starting to dig Jhonny Pereda more and more. He had a great first half at Myrtle Beach this year. Like most catchers, he slipped a little in the second half as the grind begans to wear the catcher down. However, Pereda’s season wasn’t done as he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. Pereda only played in 8 games there but hit a reasonable .278 with a .354 OBP..

While some may be focusing on his bat, Pereda handles a pitching staff fairly well. He caught some of the Cubs’ best prospects in 2018 and managed their games in an excellent fashion. He also caught an outstanding 38% of base runners stealing this year.

Pereda will be at Tennessee in 2019. It should be interesting to see how he does at AA. Considering he held his own in the AFL, the odds are in his favor. Hopefully Pereda can stay strong all year and see some more time at first to keep him a little fresher down the stretch.

Prospects Lists Getting Closer – I saw where Baseball Prospectus will be publishing their top 10 Cubs prospects on December 11, Baseball America started releasing their lists this past week, and Minor League Baseball has 4 done and more to come. I don’t have any idea about Fangraphs while MLB Pipeline is going for January 1 for their top 30, the same date as my new Top 21.

As well, Baseball America released their Draft Grades for the Cubs. I did very well in my predictions. I only whiffed on a couple, but then again, I might be right.

MiLB Transactions – The Cubs did have two transactions this week of the minor league variety. The Cubs re-signed speedy outfielder Wynton Bernard and reliever Jose Rosario, who was injured most of the past two summers.

The Mailbag – Those posts are going well. I have one I am working on about the developmental process in the system based on a question from Rikk Carlson. Then, after that, I have questions about pitching in the last draft and a Zach Hedges query. Still, I could go for more questions to write about and more posts. Those questions help beat the doldrums of winter and writer’s block. They actually make me energized! The next mailbag will be the week of the 26th. It would not bother me in the slightest to answer them all winter long!!!

Position Breakdown Series – This popular yearly series returns with its debut on Friday, the day after Turkey Day. I am read to get the catchers out there first. 

Other Stuff on the Web – I am trying to write more original content for Cubs Insider this winter. This past week, I wrote about Erick Leal and Trent Giambrone. Over at BP Wrigleyville, my last two articles were on the Arizona Fall League and the 2015 International Free Agent Class.

The 5 Series – Originally, Levi Jordan was going to be the first player profiled in this off season series. Instead, I changed my mind and decided to go with Jimmy Herron, whom I have a lot of questions about. I haven’t written one word on Herron. Then again, on Saturday (yesterday), I was watching the snow come down and all I could think of was Jose Albertos. Who knows what I will do? The 5 Series debuts on the 27th. Stay tuned!

Card of the Week

40 Man and Rule 5 Considerations – Options and Spots Are Limited

By Todd Johnson

Last year, David Bote and Adbert Alzolay were named to the Cubs’ 40 man roster. They were pretty much slamdunk choices. This year, there is no prospect who is an automatic choice. There are, however, several guys who are clear-cut favorites to be placed on the 40-man roster to either avoid losing them to free agency or the Rule 5 Draft.

Spots

Currently there are 42 players on the 40-man roster with 2 of them on on the 60 day disabled list. Once they come off that list, they can either be released or they have to be placed on the 40 man roster. Which means, someone has to go. Drew Smyly is one of the two players on the 60 Day DL and he will start throwing outings this month. Hopefully, he can be back in time for the playoffs in a relief role. Justin Hancock, the other player on the 60 Day DL, lools like he is not coming back this year at all.

Who Is Leaving for Sure?

The Cubs only have three players, Justin Wilson, Jesse Chavez, and Anthony Bass, whose contracts expire at the end of the 2018 season. Wilson will not return, but Chavez and Bass both could come back to Chicago. That means, at most, one spot would be available.

Option Years

There are another four pitchers who have option years for 2019. Pedro Strop, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, and Brandon Kintzler can all have their contracts picked up by the Cubs. Strop and Quintana are the most likely to return. It’s just one start, but I really dig what Cole Hamels was able to do in his debut. Hamels could pitch his way onto the roster for 2019, but his $20 million salary stands in his way. I really doubt it if Kintzler will return. His option could only be $5 million. Let’s say that puts the total at 2 spots.

Could Be Released and Resigned to MiLB deals

There are another five spots that could be made by trying to get players through waivers and assign them to Iowa. Luke Farrell, Cory Mazzoni, Rob Zastryzny, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Alec Mills could all be waived to make more room. Of those five, Farrell and Mills arguably hold the most value. The other three are some tough choices. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they keep Mills and Ferrell and try to get Jen-Ho and Rob Z through waivers while releasing Mazzoni.

That creates three more spots which puts us at five spots. The Cubs are not going to try and fill all five spots with their own prospects. At best, they would probably only pick three and take a risk in losing several others.

The whole purpose of adding the prospects to the 40-man is to avoid losing them in the Rule 5 Draft. It was made so teams could not horde players in the minors. If unprotected, they could be picked up by another team in early December. Here is the full list of Cubs eligible for the Rule 5 Draft per Arizona Phil:

Tyler Alamo, C-1B;  Luis Ayala, OF; Casey Bloomquist, RHP; Andres Bonalde, LHP;Craig Brooks, RHP; Charcer Burks, OF; Trevor Clifton, RHP; Alfredo Colorado, RHP; Enrique de los Rios, RHP’ Scott Effross, RHP; Wander Feliz, RHP; Riger Fernandez, LHP; Emilio Ferrebus, RHP; Wladimir Galindo, INF; Hector Alonso Garcia, RHP; David Garner, RHP; Yapson Gomez, LHP; Eric Gonzalez, C; Jose A. Gonzalez, OF; Jacob Hannemann, OF; Zach Hedges, RHP; PJ Higgins, C; Jesse Hodges, INF; Ryan Kellogg, LHP; Vimael Machin, INF; Brad Markey, RHP; Junior Marte, RHP; Marcus Mastrobuoni, C; Ivan Medina, RHP; M. T. Minacci, RHP; Jordan Minch, LHP; Kevonte Mitchell, OF; Erling Moreno, RHP; Preston Morrison, RHP; Rafael Narea, INF; Richard Nunez, C; Pablo Ochoa, LHP; Eugenio Palma, LHP; Tyler Payne, C; Tyler Pearson, C; Henrry Pedra, INF; Yeiler Peguero, INF; Jhonny Pereda, C; Eury Ramos, RHP; Will Remillard, C; Ruben Reyes, OF; Ian Rice, C; Andry Rondon, RHP; Manuel Rondon, LHP; Aneuris Rosario, RHP; Justin Steele, LHP; Jake Stinnett, RHP; Franklin Tineo, INF; Sucre Valdez, RHP; Jason Vosler, INF; Ryan Williams, RHP; Chesny Young, INF

That’s a lot of names, many of which are familiar to minor-league fans the past five years.  The Cubs cannot keep all of them. 

Best Chance to Be Placed on the 40 Man

Trevor Clifton – In a system that still has not produced a viable starting pitcher, Clifton looks to be close to being ready this year. He shown a mental maturity and has erased the second half of the 2017 season from his mind. The only thing he needs to work on is being more efficient in getting into the 6th and 7th innovation innings on a regular basis. For me, he is as close to a sure thing to make the list as the Cubs have this year.

Justin Steele – he has yet to pitch above high A Myrtle Beach. Tommy John surgery in August 2017 set his development back a year. But now, he is back on track and throwing 95 miles an hour out of the pen  with a tight breaking ball and a great mental makeup. The Cubs don’t want to take a chance on losing that kind of left-handed talent.

Jason Vosler – As the most proficient power bat in the upper half of the system, Vosler, more than likely, could be placed on the 40-man based on need. If he is not, someone is going to snag up a power hitting lefty who can drive and runs. The issue is that he has no place to go with Bote, Bryant, and Rizzo ahead of him. Will the Cubs keep him as insurance or take the risk to see if someone else snags him. He is only signed for one more year. He looks to be a good bet to make the 40-man.

Long Shots: Kyle Ryan, PJ Higgins, Ian Rice, and Johnny Pereda

Ryan is a MiLB free agent after the season ends and putting him on the 40 man might be the only way the Cubs can keep him. He has had a mixed year but has a 2.54 ERA in mixed roles in the second half for Iowa. As for Pereda, Rice, and Higgins, catchers tend to get picked up to be backups at the MLB level. They don’t get exposed every day and you can work them in slowly at the MLB level, if selected. Pereda, the youngest of three catchers listed, is the most likely to get a call, but he has yet to play above high A. The Cubs are likely to lose one or two of them.

When the Arizona Fall League ends, will we get the answer. It is an interesting subject to think about the next three months.

Who Might Represent the Cubs in the Arizona Fall League This Year?

By Todd Johnson

It is getting to be that time of year. In the next couple of weeks, the Cubs will announce 7 to 8 prospects who they will place in the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox. The Cubs can pick players for a variety of reasons. Some might be picked to play regarding their inclusion onto the 40 man roster in December. There could also be a player they might want a deeper look at in order to keep away from the Rule 5 Draft. They might want to even advance development of a young prospect. The Cubs could even showcase a prospect as trade bait. The most common reason for selecting a prospect to participate in the fall league, though, is to make up for lost time during the year.

Lost Time

This year, the obvious choice that fits that reason is none other than Justin Steele. Steele underwent Tommy John surgery almost exactly a year ago and began pitching in Mesa in Arizona League games at the beginning of this month. He put up a 1.47 ERA for the division champion rookie league team and he also struck out 27 in just 18.1 innings. I thought he might throw just an inning or two here and there coming off of Tommy John surgery, but he was already throwing six months after surgery rather than the usual 9-12 month wait. He should be making his next rehab in Myrtle Beach.

Erick Leal also had Tommy John surgery but missed all of 2017. He has been dominant in his return to Myrtle Beach. He began pitching for the Pelicans in late May and getting him some more reps, even as a reliever would also expose him to playing against a little bit better competition then the Carolina League.

DJ Wilson definitely should find a way to Arizona. He is one of the most athletic prospects in the system and seems to be bogged down by minor nagging injuries the past two years. In July, he was just beginning to heat up before an injury pushed him back on the DL. He just came off of the 7-day DL on the 27th.

Bailey Clark of Myrtle Beach has not pitched for the better part of two months. He came out blazing this year throwing between 95-97 in long relief for South Bend. He cut through the Midwest League quickly and was doing the same for Myrtle Beach before he went on the shelf. In 42 combined innings, he struck out 51 batters. If he can get healthy, Bailey is definite candidate to send to Arizona.

Rule 5 Consideration

The Cubs have over 60 players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in December. The Cubs know what they have in most of those prospects. Using the Arizona Fall League to determine whether or not to place them on the 40 man roster is a common theme. Most teams that makes a Rule 5 selection pick someone that will stay on their 25 man roster. Rarely will a player below AA get picked and make it, but it does happen. Just this year former Cub Pedro Araujo made the leap to stick with the Orioles.

When it comes to the Cubs, I would be looking to see how reliever John Romero does stepping up a level. Most people don’t know much about Romero’s fastball/curve combo and just how dominant he’s been over the last year in the lower minors (109 Ks in 83.1 IP). If another team took him, they would be taking a ginormous risk, but it would behoove the Cubs to see how he stacks up against elite competition.

Experience

In that same vein, part of me wants to see Trent Trent Giambrone and Zack Short get the experience of the fall league. The two 2016 draft picks rose quickly through the organization and this could help propel or give Short and Giambrone a head start towards AAA Iowa next year. Then again, the Cubs pretty much know what they have in those two. This would just be a bonus for their development. I could live with them not attending.

The same could be true of Aramis Ademan, who is currently at high A Myrtle Beach. While he has struggled a bit this year, he is still only 19 while most of his of international free agent class is in Eugene or Mesa. He’s playing way above his age group and learning as he goes. The fall league might just be another step to help prepare him for AA as I doubt the Cubs would have him repeat Myrtle Beach.

When the announcement of who the Cubs will send comes out, I will interested to see who they place in Mesa. Steele, Leal, and Wilson are pretty much givens. I am not really emotionally invested in who actually goes. However, it will be fun to sit down and figure why the other four or five prospects are going.  I am more interested in seeing who the Cubs themselves might value. be interested in seeing more of, or even showcase for a trade.