Spring training is about halfway over now, and the Chicago Cubs made their first cuts the other day:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 9, 2018
The cuts made sense since none of those guys were going to make the predicted roster anyway. As it has been since Yu Darvish was signed, the only real questions now (other than health and performance) are who will be the backup catcher to spell Willson Contreras, the eighth reliever in the bullpen, and whether they even want a fifth outfielder considering there are like nine guys already on the roster who can stand in the outfield if they needed to. The 40-man roster is full (with Drew Smyly on the 60-day disabled list), but if they really needed to, the Cubs could probably sneak a couple of guys through waivers after designating them for assignment, or make a quick trade to clear a spot for Chris Gimenez if they determine that Victor Caratini is better served getting everyday work in Iowa. Worst-case scenario, they could move another guy to the 60-day DL (I hope not, although Shae Simmons was recently shut down as a precaution because of a tight shoulder). The Cubs are most likely just being cautious, and it’s good to see reports like this about Javier Baez, for example:
#Cubs Baez (hamstring) is feeling good. "I'm 110 percent. That's good enough. … I'm serious"
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 11, 2018
Assuming (knock on wood) that the Cubs are super lucky and avoid major injuries that would set back an Opening Day start, I believe the major problem (if there is one) is in who will make the taxi squad. To be precise, I believe the spot comes down to which of Justin Grimm or Eddie Butler the Cubs wish to keep:
I believe the most likely candidates that will come up to replace, say, Justin Grimm, will be in this group:
I think Maples and Zastryzny will get some frequent bus miles, while Tseng will be emergency rotation depth. Eddie Butler is out of options but there’s a chance the Cubs can sneak him through waivers to keep him as an emergency starter as well. It would take some major strides for Underwood to make it to Chicago this season, but him being on the roster already makes the move a bit more plausible.
Because of the 10-day disabled list and the possibility of a 26th man whenever the Cubs are forced to play a doubleheader (for rainouts and such), the taxi squad will be valuable in giving guys a spell as well as being a “break glass in case of emergency” backup in a variety of situations. I may have miscalculated how coveted a guy like Eddie Butler can be, though, as it seems that something like 60% of MLB is tanking because the collective bargaining agreement sucks, and therefore would snag him up on waivers if the Cubs decide they don’t have room for him on the active roster once Spring Training ends. It would kind of suck to lose Butler to waivers so I wonder if he could be a late-spring trade candidate if he shows promise, although many teams at that point in the preseason will have full rosters anyway.
There was a brief reminder of the spring training termination deadlines as former Cubs free agent target (and now not-so-good pitcher) Anibal Sanchez was released by the Twins. By my count, with spring training having started for the Cubs on February 23, this is now day 17, which means they are past the first termination deadline. Apparently the deadline was on Monday:
Anibal Sanchez will receive $417,000 for his three weeks in Twins camp. Had Twins waited till tomorrow, it would have been $625,000. GM Thad Levine says Sanchez took the news very professionally, and was good mentor to young pitchers during his brief time here.
— Phil Miller (@MillerStrib) March 11, 2018
Monday also happens to be an off-day for the Cubs, when we suggested that the cuts would be made. So I guess that was a miscalculation on our part. The relevant part here is for Justin Grimm, who is on an arbitration contract (in which he notably lost his arbitration case against the Cubs) and who is slated to pitch today if I deciphered Joe Maddon‘s weird lineup correctly:
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 11, 2018
At $2.2MM this year, Grimm could potentially be let go after Sunday’s game against the A’s (I would doubt that, however) and allow the Cubs to only pay the 30 days termination pay, or approximately $367K. If they waited until the end of spring training, which is more likely, then it would be 45 days pay and closer to $550K. It’s a literal drop in the bucket for the Cubs, so I think he lasts until the end of the spring, which gives them time to figure out whether they want Grimm or Butler, and to set up a potential trade or transactional magic to determine what to do with the one they don’t keep.
The pre-arbitration guys all got new contracts for 2018, as expected, with some raises:
Cubs signed seven players: Baez (657K), Montgomery (611,250), Schwarber and Contreras (604,500), Edwards (594), Almora Jr. (584,500), Happ (renewal at 570K). 14 others agree to terms.
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 11, 2018
As you know, pre-arbitration players don’t get as much of a say in their contract amounts, which is at the discretion of the team as long as players are paid the league minimum. The Cot’s spreadsheet already took this into account for the pre-arb fellows and have calculated around $12MM of space under the 2018 luxury tax threshold of $197MM. Given how loaded the roster is right now and how difficult a decision it would be to create space for it, a one-year deal setup for a free agent in limbo does not seem likely. However, as we reported in the previous article, Lance Lynn did have to settle for a $12MM deal for the year (before incentives).
Although we didn’t hear it from the horse’s mouth, you might think that agents like Scott Boras, who miscalculated how bad this offseason would be for free agents, would want to get their clients signed and have a do-over next winter. The qualifying offer free agents that have not signed yet are Greg Holland (who could still be a useful closer to someone, and a Boras client), Alex Cobb (a rumored Cubs client), and former Cubs ace Jake Arrieta (also a Boras client).
Many folks on Cubs Twitter have lamented that the Cubs don’t use their remaining cap space, or even blow over the threshold (I would doubt they do this because they don’t want to trigger the penalties until they sign you-know-who), to get the remaining big pieces. However, I don’t see it happening even if the Cubs were considering a seven-man rotation by bringing Arrieta back on a Dexter Fowler-style pillow contract. I imagine a non-contending team like the Oakland Athletics or the Philadelphia Phillies would try this as a sign-and-flip, but the Cubs most likely want to maintain as much flexibility as possible for midseason trades or acquisitions. I’m just putting this out there, though, in case the Cubs really do surprise us, as they could fit in a creative contract without blowing over the tax threshold. It just doesn’t really make sense to me right now.
UPDATE 12:59 PM: As if on cue, assuming you can still trust Bob…
Talks are heating up with Jake Arrieta, who’s expected to sign in the next couple of days. Several teams remain involved, but the #Phillies looming as the favorite
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 11, 2018
Until something does happen, let’s just enjoy the sights and sounds of spring.