As we eagerly await the rest of the big free agent signings, let’s take a look at a couple of smaller, but relevant-to-the-Cubs deals struck around the league.
The St. Louis Cardinals, for example, started what could be a huge offseason with a relatively smaller, but certainly telling move: inking catcher Brayan Pena to a two-year deal. Pena, 33, has played part-time catcher for Atlanta, Kansas City, Detroit and, most recently, Cincinnati with modest success (at least with the bat) throughout his career. He has always had very low strikeout rates (11.0%), but has never done much offensively, otherwise.
The move brings the Cardinals’ 40-man roster up to 37, but it implies a lot more than that. Indeed, this signing likely signifies that Tony Cruz, Yadier Molina’s four year back-up, will be non-tendered by the Cardinals by Wednesday (MLBs Non-Tender Deadline). Given that Molina’s age has finally appeared to catch up with him, it’s no surprise that the Cardinals want to improve their backup catcher situation heading into 2016.
After posting fWARs greater than 4.2 for three straight seasons, Molina missed time in 2014 and struggled with the bat in 2015. He still has value, but with his age, injuries and depressed performance, the Cardinals added some insurance. Pena is no stud, but make no mistake: he is a clear improvement over Cruz. I suspect the split between Molina and Pena in 2016 might be more backup heavy than we’ve come to expect from Molina and his backup.
Last season, Young slashed .252/.320/.453 with a 20.5% strikeout rate, 8.4% walk rate and a .201 ISO. He has been particularly effective against left-handed pitchers, slashing .327/.397/.575 across 175 plate appearances in 2015, so a platoon/part-time role might be most likely.
Despite seeming more like a complementary move, the Red Sox outfield is still looking a little crowded in 2016, with all of Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt, and Bryce Brentz, in addition to Young (especially when you consider that the Red Sox have been connected to other free agent outfielders, and that Hanley Ramirez is locked in at first and David Ortiz is locked in at DH, reducing the overall roster flexibility). The Cubs’ connection, then, lies with previously-possibly-available center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. – whom we know has been connected to the Cubs in the past. The Cubs front office has constantly reminded us to expect creativity, so, if Bradley Jr. is indeed made available, expect those dormant rumors to pop back up.
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