The Chicago Cubs have signed a pitcher to a Major League deal, but I guarantee it wasn’t already on your radar.
The pitcher, Andury Acevedo, is a 25-year-old righty who was a free agent by virtue of his service time in the minor leagues. That is to say, he was a minor league free agent – and the Cubs signed him to a big league deal and put him on the 40-man roster, per the team’s transactions and 40-man roster pages. It’s not common to see a minor leaguer with no big league experience signed to a big league deal like this in free agency, but it demonstrates how much the Cubs must like Acevedo and how much competition there figured to be for his services. Also, because of his service time, had he signed a minor league contract, Acevedo would have been eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if he were not on a 40-man roster.
Acevedo was a position player in the Pirates’ organization until 2012, when the Yankees opted to convert him to the mound, given his plus-plus velocity. He pitched at three levels in 2015 – High-A, AA, and AA – showing an incredible ability to strike batters out, but an inability to stay consistently within the zone. As this scouting report at BP indicates, Acevedo has huge upside as an elite fastball/slider reliever, but he’s got to harness the command first.
The 6’4″ righty has been on a roster in the Dominican Winter League since mid-October – where the Cubs had undoubtedly been scouting him heavily – but he’s appeared in just three games, logging 2.2 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits, no walks, and no strikeouts.
Acevedo became a free agent by virtue of his minor league service time, and the Yankees’ decision to decline to put him on the 40-man roster. In that way, this isn’t like a player who was waived and then passed on by dozens of teams before the Cubs claimed him. Instead, one team passed on him, and the Cubs deemed him interesting enough to entice with a 40-man roster spot and a big league contract.
The move, for example, stands in contrast to the Cubs’ recent waiver claim of reliever Ryan Cook, who has had a great deal of Major League experience.
From the Cubs’ perspective, the move is still relatively low risk since (1) they have plenty of space on the 40-man roster, and (2) minor league free agents are increasingly being paid better salaries if there is competition for their services (i.e. the difference between a minor league deal and a Major League deal in this particular situation, financially-speaking, was probably not significant). Because Acevedo is on the 40-man roster for the first time, the Cubs will have three minor league options on him, which further reduces any risk here. The team can stash him at AAA Iowa – or even AA Tennessee – and continue working with him on his mechanics as he gets more experience on the mound. The signing is all about projection, upside, and scouting. And, since there’s little risk, I like it. Maybe the Cubs hit a home run and get a late-inning reliever in a couple years. Or maybe they decide it’s not working and cut bait mid-season in 2016.
With Acevedo’s addition, the Cubs’ 40-man roster stands at 31.