While it’s not necessarily a great outcome for Drake Britton, today the Chicago Cubs announced that Britton, a lefty reliever, had cleared waivers and was sent outright to AAA Iowa (Mooney, Gonzales, Wittenmyer). That’s good news for the Cubs.
The 25-year-old lefty has a fair bit of upside, especially as a lefty specialist, so the ability to retain him without taking up a 25 or 40-man roster spot is a pretty clear win. Britton was without any remaining minor league options, so this was the only way to get him to Iowa.* The 40-man stands at 39 now, which could help in the coming weeks, or could help as soon as this weekend if the Cubs opt to add infielder Jonathan Herrera to the roster.
Britton will head to Iowa with Zac Rosscup and Joe Ortiz, battling to be among the Cubs’ first call-ups when the need in the bullpen arises. Then again, now that the Cubs have Britton free-and-clear for 2015, they may opt to see what he can do if he returns to the rotation. There’s legit talent there.
Either way, he’s a great player to have picked up for free, and then stashed at AAA.
As for the 25-man roster, this means the Cubs will be going with only one lefty in the bullpen (Phil Coke) to start the season, unless Travis Wood is moved to the pen (not likely). So, it looks like your Opening Day bullpen will be Coke, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Jason Motte, Justin Grimm, and Edwin Jackson.
*(Short version of the rule there, for those wondering: players who are on the 40-man roster and have fewer than three years of big league service time can be taken off of that roster if they clear waivers (i.e., offered to every other team). They are then sent “outright” to the minor leagues. If they’re added to the 40-man roster from there on, they can’t be outrighted again without their consent. Further, if they’re not added to the 40-man roster by the end of the year, they become a free agent. So, basically the Cubs get a year of Britton in the minors before he becomes a free agent. They can bring him back up anytime they want, but they must clear a 40-man spot to do it, and then, from there, he cannot be freely optioned to the minors – he’d have to clear waivers and accept the assignment.)