As expected, the Chicago Cubs have added Junior Lake and Tsuyoshi Wada, with Phil Coke being designated for assignment and Brian Schlitter optioned back to Iowa.
With today’s trade of Welington Castillo, though, there was one more roster spot available for an additional player, and it is … Mike Baxter.
If you’re presently heading to your Googles to look up Baxter, let me point you generally in the direction of this post about Baxter signing a minor league deal with the Cubs before the season:
Baxter, 30, looked like he was going to emerge as a late bloomer a couple years ago for the Mets, hitting .263/.365/.413 (116 wRC+) over 211 plate appearances at the big league level in 2012. He didn’t get a shot to repeat in 2013, was put on the bench, and eventually sent back to the minors. From there he bounced to the Dodgers’ organization, and now he signs with the Cubs.
Baxter, who bats lefty, can play all over the outfield, though he’s mostly stuck to the corners in recent years. He’s a career .280/.353/.428 hitter in the minor leagues, with a walk rate routinely in the 10 to 12% range (and a strikeout rate not much higher), and has hit .286/.366/.460 over multiple AAA stops.
For the Cubs, Baxter will likely come to Spring Training before heading to AAA Iowa to compete for (and very likely win) a regular gig in the Iowa outfield. He’ll be depth in case of injury or ineffectiveness at the big league level, and, in that capacity, he appears to be one of the better gets out there. His track record suggests the kind of guy who, if he gets a shot, could prove to be a useful big league piece, at least in a reserve role facing righties.
For the I-Cubs, Baxter has hit .290/.377/.330. I’m not sure what’s happened to the power, but the 11.4% walk rate is nice (and the 19.3% strikeout rate is just fine). He’s mostly played first base this year, but also a little left field. That was mostly the product of roster composition, I suspect.
Baxter was not on the 40-man roster, so he’ll be added, bringing that total to 39. While you shouldn’t expect a ton out of Baxter (in his career, he’s been a league average hitter against righties), he could be a decent lefty bench bat, spelling an outfielder here or there for an occasional start. He provides a lot more versatility than Castillo was, though, so the upshot of the move is that, even if Baxter is a fringe big league bat, the Cubs are probably slightly better today.
Baxter might have only a short time to prove himself, with Tommy La Stella and/or Chris Denorfia and/or Mike Olt potentially coming back to the big league team at some point over the next month or so. Throw in Matt Szczur, Arismendy Alcantara, and Javier Baez, eventually, too.
The Cubs’ bench now includes Baxter, David Ross, Junior Lake, and Jonathan Herrera. Better than it was a few days ago, at least. Here’s hoping the Cubs can soon get down to seven relievers and add another bat.