It’s sign-a-lower-tier-pitcher Friday!
Not content to agree to terms with Jason Hammel (reportedly), today the Chicago Cubs also agreed to a deal with righty James McDonald, formerly of the Pirates. That report comes via Bruce Levine, who says it’s a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.
Assuming Levine is correct, McDonald is a decent add on a minor league deal, and I expect he’s got an MLB split salary put in place if he actually makes the big league roster at some point.
McDonald, 29, came to the Pirates in 2010 trade with the Dodgers. From there, McDonald had fits and spurts as a successful starter with the Pirates (who can forget his Cy Young first half in 2012 (2.37 ERA … and then a 7.52 ERA in the second half)), but fell way off in 2013 while dealing with persistent shoulder discomfort. The Pirates outrighted him in September, and he’s been a free agent ever since. Not finding a big league deal, he evidently settled for a minor league gig with the Cubs.
If the shoulder is well enough, McDonald is a fine option to slot into that 6/7/8/9 range in the rotational depth pool. In his last healthy year with the Pirates in 2012, McDonald posted an ERA of 4.21 over 171 innings. His FIP was also 4.21. Hey, his xFIP was also 4.21. This is a guy who knows how to pair his output to his performance!
For his career, McDonald has struck out 7.8 per 9, while walking 4.1 per 9. He had some bullpen experience earlier in his career, and may have to settle into a swing role going forward if he’s going to make another big league team. Whether it’ll be the Cubs depends on a number of factors external to his performance – injuries, trades, etc. – as well as how he looks in the Spring. If he doesn’t make the team, he could head to Iowa and hang around as depth, or it’s possible he’ll be turned loose to seek another opportunity.