With the flurry of roster moves going down all at once last night, I wanted to take some time to digest before I offered my thoughts on the specific moves. Here are those thoughts …
- I feel like I wasn’t as surprised by Bryan LaHair’s DFA as some other folks were. I suppose I just never saw him actually breaking 2013 with the Cubs, and departing this way, as opposed to a trade, was one of the most likely outcomes. LaHair’s story is a great one, and I’ll always remember his first two months in 2012 (who’s a better hitter: Matt Kemp or Bryan LaHair?). But he didn’t suddenly “get bad” in the second half because he wasn’t being played – he wasn’t being played because pitchers had adjusted, and he couldn’t adjust back. As was always the case with LaHair: there tends to be a reason that players don’t suddenly break through in the bigs at age 29.
- As for why the Cubs DFA’d LaHair rather than keep him as a bench bat, I can only conclude that the Cubs are doing LaHair a solid. They’ve said they’re working to get him an opportunity in Japan. Because he would have been an adequate (cheap) bench bat in 2013 for the Cubs, or a handful of other teams, I believe the move is about getting LaHair PAAAAID while he’s still sort of in his prime. If the Cubs didn’t hook him up with an opportunity in Japan right now, he could languish on a big league bench for a couple more years, making the minimum, before being released when he was set to make some real money in arbitration. This way, he makes 10 times that amount in a few years in Japan, where he’ll probably rake. Go get yours, Bryan. Good luck to you, and thanks for the fun.
- The Cubs, since they still control LaHair’s rights (remember, a DFA means only that the Cubs have 10 days to waive, release, or trade LaHair), they might even get some cash out of the deal. (And, as I type this, podcast-made Sahadev Sharma reports that he hears LaHair is going to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, and the Cubs are getting almost $1 million in the deal.)
- That the Cubs chose not to protect Nick Struck tells us something, but we probably won’t know exactly what. Does it tell us that the front office does not value Struck as a future big leaguer? Does it tell us that the front office does not believe Struck will be selected in the Rule 5 Draft? Does it tell us that the front office does not think Struck can last a season in the bigs right now? Does it tell us that the front office simply values everyone else currently on the 40-man more than Struck? Or is it some combination of those things? (It usually is.)
- Sure, it’s curious that guys like Casey Coleman, Steve Clevenger, and Ian Stewart stuck on the roster yesterday while Struck goes unprotected. But Coleman could still prove a viable reliever in the bigs (and he does have “swing” ability, even if he hasn’t been great at it yet). And Clevenger could just be a later developing bat, as is the case with many catchers. And, given the dearth on the third base market, Stewart may yet prove the Cubs’ best third base option for 2013.
- On that latter one, I’d like to pause for another point: *clearly* the Cubs are considering tendering Stewart a contract at this point. I never would have believed it two months ago, but why else would the Cubs keep him on the roster at this point unless they are seriously considering the possibility of tendering him a contract (which could net him $2.5 million for 2013), rather than DFA’ing him and trying to sign him for a lesser deal? That tells me they tentatively like the early returns from his rehab, and believe he has a chance at being a valuable asset at that $2.5 million price tag. I’m not necessarily optimistic, but I’ll say this: Stewart is a good defensive third baseman with huge power potential and talent at the dish that may have simply been obscured for several years by a latent wrist injury that was only just fixed this year. May have been. Is it worth $2.5 million and a roster spot to find out? Maybe it is.
- That the Cubs chose to protect Rob Whitenack is a really nice sign for his recovery from Tommy John surgery in mid-2011. His numbers in 2012 weren’t great (which is frequently the case in a pitcher’s first year back from the surgery (Scott Baker and Arodys Vizcaino warning)), but obviously he must have looked good. Good enough, that is, that the Cubs felt another team might take a chance on stashing him, AND good enough that the Cubs felt like it was worth keeping him on the 40-man at a time when he probably won’t be ready to contribute at the big league level for another year. It was just a brief flash (11 starts and 60.2 innings), but if he’s really the guy he was in early 2011, he could really be something special. I remember that year scouts were saying his elevated game was the legit product of a few MPH added to his fastball, and a sharper breaking ball – sometimes players do develop like that from one year to the next. Let’s hope the TJS didn’t take all of that away.
- Christian Villanueva being protected may have been the closest call, since he hasn’t yet played above High-A. But the Cubs think highly of him, and clearly believe he’ll be ready to contribute in the bigs by 2014. He could even be starting at third base that year for the Cubs, depending on how his 2013 season goes, which will start at AA.
- Logan Watkins and Trey McNutt were obvious protects, as I’d said all week. McNutt would have been very easy for a team to stash in the bullpen, and Watkins’ upside is, at worst, a nice, versatile bench player. Each could contribute in 2013, if things break right.
- Carlos Gutierrez was waived just a month after the Cubs picked him up off of waivers from the Twins. I still like him as a possible future bullpen contributor, and, if you’re going to waive him to clear up a 40-man spot, this week was the time to do it (as other teams scramble to try and open up spots of their own).
- Remember: yesterday’s deadline was *only* about clearing enough room for, and then adding, prospects in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. With the 40-man now at 40, the Cubs will have to make additional moves if they want to sign a free agent or take a player in the Rule 5 Draft. In other words, expect some additional movement, and don’t assume that, just because a guy is still on the 40-man today, he’ll be on there tomorrow.
- Here’s the official press release on the moves, if you’d like to see each move in the kindest possible light.