According to multiple reports, the Chicago Cubs have signed utility man Emilio Bonifacio to a minor league deal. I know I frequently fawn over minor league deals (because of their no-risk nature, not because I think they’ll all pan out into something useful), but this is just fantastic, if true. We’ll wait for the Cubs to confirm, however. (UPDATE: They’ve confirmed. Neat.)
Bonifacio, 28, was recently a surprise DFA and release by the Royals after agreeing to a $3.5 million deal for 2014, his final year of arbitration. When he became available for any team to grab, I endorsed the Cubs going after him, which would have meant the Cubs picking up the full contract. The Cubs were able to get him on a minor league deal, which I guess that makes me one part smart and one part dopey.
On a minor league deal, though, you can be assured of a couple things: (1) it’ll almost certainly be a split deal where he makes a minor league salary when in the minors, and a big league salary (higher than the Major League minimum) when he’s at the big league level (I’m assuming, by the way, that when he was released by the Royals, he received termination pay, rather than his full contract because he was an arb guy); and (2) he’ll probably have an opt-out date if he hasn’t been called up, and it could be pretty early in the year. In other words, my guess is that the Cubs got Bonifacio on a deal that allows them to not have to give up a 40-man spot just yet, pays Bonifacio reasonably well if he makes the team, and allows him to easily go elsewhere if he doesn’t make the team.
A little background on Bonifacio and his potential value to the Cubs:
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.
Bonifacio, a switch-hitter, is a borderline starting-caliber second baseman, who was a fantastic starting second baseman for a year and a half out of the last three years. (To be quite fair, though, for his career, he’s hit just .262/.322/.340, so he’s not a world-beater.)
Bringing in Bonifacio accomplishes many things:
1.) Provides a quality bench option with excellent versatility and speed;
2.) Provides big league-caliber depth behind Darwin Barney, besides Logan Watkins and Ryan Roberts (or Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy when they aren’t starting);
3.) Provides legitimate competition for the starting second base job, though Barney remains the presumptive starter;
4.) Provides cover if the Cubs should try to move Barney in the near-term;
5.) Provides a buffer if there are injuries in the infield and the Cubs don’t want to be forced to rush someone like Javier Baez or Arismendy Alcantara; and
6.) Provides the Cubs with another piece that could accumulate trade value by the Trade Deadline.
On that last one, Bonifacio is definitely better than your typical minor league signing, and, with some past success in the big leagues and a quality first half, he really could be of value to teams in contention looking for infield depth or looking for an emergency injury replacement.
This is about as good as minor league signings get. (UPDATE: And Jon Heyman drives the point home – Bonifacio took the Cubs’ minor league deal over Major League deals elsewhere.)