When the Chicago Cubs of late make a trade, one of the most enjoyable aspects is getting to know the new player or players by way of seeing how they look in a Cubs uniform. Sometimes that’s been actually watching them in big league games, and sometimes it’s simply been following their performances in the minor leagues post-trade. Either way, it’s the first chance fans get to feel like they know a player, and, naturally, can start dreaming on what the player might mean for the future of the big league club.
We still don’t know much of anything about Arodys Vizcaino. That’s because, when the Cubs acquired the hard-throwing righty in mid-2012, he was already recovering from Tommy John surgery. And then, early in 2013, he suffered a setback in that recovery, which ultimately led to additional elbow surgery. Cubs fans didn’t even get a handful of minor league stats into which to put way too much stock.
It’s been so long that Vizcaino’s been with the Cubs and unable to pitch competitively, that it’s weird to think about finally getting our first look at him soon – even if just in Spring Training. The idea that he could be pitching with the big league team in April is exceedingly hard to wrap my head around, because it’s been so easy to let him fall from your mind when thinking about the Cubs’ future arms. But it could happen:
Arodys Vizcaino says he's pain free and ready to go. Expects to be pitching in april in Chi. Bosio said Chi or Iowa but he should be ready
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 14, 2014
That is all fantastic. I can’t wait to see what he looks like this Spring.
When it comes to what level at which he’ll start the regular season, however, he’s got a few things working against him if he’s to be on the big league roster in the first half of the season: (1) the lengthy time off suggests he could use some time getting back into the swing of competitive ball without the pressure of the bigs (and in a place where it’s easier to manage a guy’s appearances); (2) the extreme depth in possible bullpen options right now (Vizcaino isn’t the only quality young arm the Cubs might want to get an extended look at); and (3) the ever-present reality of service time considerations.
On that last one, Vizcaino’s an interesting case: because he’s been on the disabled list for the past two years, but was already on the 40-man roster, he’s accumulated more than two years of service time, despite pitching only a tiny bit in the bigs in 2011. (Players on the 40-man roster accumulate big league service time when on the 60-day disabled list. This prevents shenanigans.) If Vizcaino pitches in the big leagues for all of 2013, or even most of it, he’ll clear three years of service time, and will qualify for arbitration in 2015 (and free agency after 2017, at just 27).
If the Cubs want to forestall arbitration, or, more importantly, secure an extra year of control, they have an incentive to keep Vizcaino in the minors until at least the second half of the year. That said, because of the projected bullpen depth in the first half of the season, at least, and because of the possible desire to ease Vizcaino back into competitive ball, there are perfectly reasonable excuses to keep Vizcaino down for a half season that have nothing to do with service time. It all kind of coalesces into a gelatin of reasons to start Vizcaino down in Iowa’s bullpen in April (or a lower level in the minors, if desirable for weather reasons).
Of course, if Vizcaino looks lights out in Spring Training and is fully healthy, the decision might be slightly more difficult. Still, all things considered, I’m thinking that Iowa is an appropriate first step back for him.