This weekend, the Chicago Cubs signed Emilio Bonifacio to a minor league deal after he was released by the Royals. I guessed at the time that, because he’s quite a bit better than your typical minor league signing, Bonifacio was going to get a split deal that pays him better than the Major League minimum salary if he actually makes the team.
And, indeed, that is the kind of contract Bonifacio is getting, per Jon Heyman, who says Bonifacio gets a $2.5 million salary if he makes the big league team. He can also earn up to $425,000 in incentives, which is not a coincidental number: add it to the $574,000 he received from the Royals in the form of termination pay, and his total take for the 2014 season could now reach just shy of $3.5 million. That’s what he was scheduled to receive from the Royals when he was dropped. In other words, those of us who suggested that Bonifacio would be worth picking up on waivers for his $3.5 million salary weren’t all that crazy after all.
The Cubs did us one better, though, getting Bonifacio without giving up a roster spot (yet), and committing to pay him just $2.5 million only if he makes the big league roster. It’s really a fantastic deal for the Cubs, and it’s also a fine deal for Bonifacio (assuming he’s got an opt-out that allows him to pursue other options if he doesn’t make the big league team by a certain date – and, if that projects to happen, the Cubs might just trade him anyway).
As for whether Bonifacio can actually crack the roster, Cubs manager Rick Renteria sounds optimistic, telling Cubs.com that he likes the versatility and speed that Bonifacio brings to the table. Obviously Bonifacio’s chances of sticking will partly be dictated by how the starting mix in the infield shakes out. If Mike Olt claims the third base job, the Cubs might not have to carry both Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy, giving Bonifacio a better shot to make the team, for example. If Bonifacio looks fantastic in Spring, maybe he enters the starting conversation at second base.
But, assuming a Valbuena/Murphy tandem at third and Darwin Barney starting at second, Bonifacio will have to win a bench job. Right now, it’s fair to assume that the Cubs will carry 12 pitchers, meaning that there will be five bench spots available. One will go to George Kottaras, and one will go to Justin Ruggiano. Donnie Murphy presumptively has a spot right now, too. The other two spots will likely go to an outfielder and an infielder.
Bonifacio’s primary competition for a bench job will be other versatile types like Logan Watkins and Ryan Roberts. With an outfield mix that involves a great deal of platooning, it’s also possible that the Cubs could try to carry six outfielders, which would leave just one “infield” bench job, and Bonifacio would be competing with Valbuena/Murphy, in addition to others (Chris Valaika and Jeudy Valdez are also non-roster invitees competing for an infield job).
I tend to think, as things stand, Bonifacio is on the inside looking out when it comes to a job with the Cubs out of Spring Training. His value on the bench and on the bases – as well as the potential to generate some midseason trade value if things break right – is too great to pass on.