Emilio Bonifacio is not a game-changer. He’s probably not even a starter on a bad team. But he is two things: (1) Worthy of a roster spot on just about any team, at least as a bench piece; and (2) Free.
On number two, the caveat is that he’s free to claim off of waivers from the Royals, who today (per Chris Cotillo) requested unconditional release waivers on the utility player after failing to trade him over the past week (he was DFA’d last week). Bonifacio is under contract for 2014 at $3.5 million, and any team can have him right now if they just pick up his contract.
If it so happens that Bonifacio, 28, would have multiple suitors at his current price (which admittedly yields the question: then why couldn’t the Royals trade him? I guess they just ran out of time, and didn’t want to risk having to release Bonifacio and be on the hook for most of his salary), then maybe the Cubs should be interested for little other reason than asset gathering. Waiver priority right now goes by the reverse standings from 2013, so the Cubs would lose out on a waiver claim only if the Astros, Marlins, or White Sox also placed a claim (which they might). The Cubs have priority with respect to every other team in baseball, including several would-be contenders that might really like to have Bonifacio on their bench. Maybe the Cubs are able to pull something similar to the David DeJesus trick the Nationals pulled last year – use waiver priority to grab a guy for free, trade him for a tiny something a couple days later to a team up the priority chain.
And, for the record, Bonifacio could theoretically help the Cubs, too. Let’s imagine that Mike Olt does not win the third base job, and Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy are set to platoon there. That would leave an open infield gig on the bench, which could be filled by a minor league deal/non-roster invitee type, by Logan Watkins, or by someone like Bonifacio. Just two years ago, Bonifacio was a 2.8 win player for the Marlins, and put up a .296/.360/.393 line (albeit with a BABIP about 40 points higher than his career average). He was fairly meh in 2012 and 2013 (though he did tick up after a trade to the Royals halfway through 2013).
But little of Bonifacio’s value is going to come from his bat. Bonifacio is a true utility player, who can literally play anywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher (though he hasn’t had occasion to play first base, he certainly could). That kind of versatility deepens a bench, which could be a further bonus on a team like the Cubs, which is looking to carry as many fringy, try-them-out-and-see-what-happens type players (particularly in the outfield) as possible. Bonifacio also runs the bases particularly well.
Add it all up, and I could see an argument that the Cubs should be claiming Bonifacio, despite the otherwise crowded roster picture in a non-competitive year. I’m not sure they’ll want to commit $3.5 million to a flyer at this point, but, all things considered, that’s a pretty small, short-term commitment for a guy who could generate some value in the first half of 2014.
(h/t to BN’er Kyle for the in-comments nudge to take on the subject)