Usually, when a player is removed from the 40-man roster or otherwise maneuvered procedurally, there is some other move that compels it; a trade that would overload the 40-man, an injury that requires a new player, etc.
Sometimes, however, it’s just a matter of timing.
So it is, I suspect, with today’s announcement by the Cubs that lefty C.J. Riefenhauser has cleared waivers – we didn’t know he was on waivers, as that had not previously been made public – and was outrighted to AAA Iowa. That means he is now off of the 40-man roster, but he stays in the Cubs’ organization, right where he already was.
Riefenhauser, 26, had a twisting and turning offseason, which saw him traded from the Rays to the Mariners, from the Mariners to the Orioles, to the waiver wire from the Orioles, and then ultimately claimed by the Cubs. With a 14.3% walk rate at AAA Iowa right now, it’s clear that Riefenhauser has been struggling with his control this season.
Why take him off the 40-man roster now? After all, even before the move, the Cubs had two open spots on the 40-man roster, and also had several injured players who could be transferred to the 60-day disabled list (which opens up a 40-man spot) if the need arose. My guess is that it was simply a matter of timing: the Cubs felt they had a shot, right now and in this moment, to successfully get Riefenhauser through waivers so that they could keep him, but not take up a 40-man spot. Then, you have even more flexibility going forward as midseason approaches, but you also get to keep the player.
So, as things stand, the Cubs’ 40-man roster stands at 37. I would bet dollars to donuts they remain on the lookout for depth arms and another depth catcher – someone who, unlike Tim Federowicz, has minor league options remaining and can be sent to AAA Iowa and kept there in case of emergency. With so much roster flexibility, the Cubs can be as playful on the waiver wire as a rebuilding team without actually sacrificing anything.
And, of course, if they need to trade for additional big league pieces in the run-up to the deadline, roster space will now be even less of an issue.