Five days after the World Series, the Cubs will have a slew of minor league players enter free agency. In many cases, the Cubs are working right now behind the scenes to retain them (as they already did with Luke Hagerty). But there are others who will look to see if a change of scenery is all that’s holding them back.
Here is the full list of names, grouped into how I think about them.
PLEASE BRING THEM BACK
Colin Rea. The question with Rea is not whether the Cubs want to retain him – they do – it’s whether they want to enough to spend a 40-man roster space on him. The Cascade, Iowa native was fantastic in a bounceback season for the Iowa Cubs, winning Pacific Coast League Player of the Year, and showing the ability to execute his average pitch mix at a high level. If the Cubs merely add Rea to the 40-man roster, they keep him from becoming a free agent, and would still have two minor league option seasons to stash him in Des Moines for.
Jhonny Pereda. Recently won the Minor League Baseball Gold Glove award for his work at catcher, and I can tell you that his pitchers have sung his praises to me for two years. Pereda is a big, strong guy that hasn’t even sniffed the power potential that he should have, so I think there’s some upside here. His return to the only organization he’s ever played for would be a priority for me. The Cubs might have to consider a 40-man spot to make it happen.
Luis Lugo. Snagged in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last year, armed with a similar Team Italy story as Robel Garcia, Lugo had a really fantastic year between High-A and Double-A, with a 9.4 K/9. In his final 10 outings, all at Tennessee, the big lefty had a 2.91 ERA and 53 K’s in 43.1 IP. I’m not ready to say goodbye to a lefty with Double-A success.
Philip Evans. I talked about this in my Iowa Cubs 2020 preview, but I really want Evans retained for his ability to destroy left-handed pitching. I think it’s a skill this organization should have stockpiled in Triple-A, awaiting for a Major League deployment.
Oscar de la Cruz. I’ll admit, I’m not the high man on ODLC. The move to relief this year didn’t provide the jolt to his stuff that I hoped for. It’s still too much in the low 90s, the secondary stuff is too often fringe-average. But the longtime prospect didn’t walk anyone in his final nine outings, and has that reverse platoon split (.615 OPS, 29.7 K% vs LHH) that is nice in a reliever.
Taylor Davis. I’m not ready for the guy to leave his post as The Mayor of Des Moines. Beloved organizational player that won’t be intimidated by any role, big or small, that’s needed in Iowa or Chicago. He also showed big league receiving ability in his short stints.
ON THE FENCE
I don’t know what to do about Trevor Clifton. It’s unlikely he’s one of the best 13 guys for an Iowa pitching job next year, but I actually thought that 2019 was a step forward (despite the ERA), due to an improved slider I wrote about in April. Clifton is a guy I might suggest head to Asia, where I think he could really have some success and come back and repackage himself, like a Pierce Johnson is doing.
You could say similar stuff for Erick Leal, who wasn’t able to mimic his 2018 success. He still managed to strike out 87 batters in 84.2 innings across Myrtle Beach and Tennessee, and you have to think there’s a team out there looking for some starting depth in Double-A. Here’s betting the Cubs bring back Enrique de los Rios, who hasn’t even made it to Double-A yet, but had a 2.03 ERA as a command-first reliever in 40 High-A innings.
I’m not sure that shortstop depth will pose the same concern next season that it did this last March, when Dixon Machado signed, and so the Cubs might let Machado head elsewhere, despite his career-best season coming in the organization. Sometimes that’s just the good and equitable thing to do. It might depend on what happens with Addison Russell.
On the other hand, the Cubs do have some openings in the outfield, and so you have to figure a guy or two from the Johnny Field, Charcer Burks, and Roberto Caro trio come back. The latter had the best season of the three in 2019, and also possesses the most unique skillset. Field struggled a lot after returning from injury, and Burks’ OPS has dropped for three consecutive years in Double-A. There’s some tools there, but I’m not sure what happened to those 2017 power numbers.
Last, the Cubs signed pitchers Alex Wilson and Chih-Wei Hu late in the season, and so their ties to the organization don’t run deep. If coaches made an impression, they’ll be back to compete for jobs in Iowa, but could just as easily seek out different organizations.
FUTURE CONTRIBUTORS IN OTHER BASEBALL ROLES
The remaining free agents are actually guys that really connect in the dugout, but I’m not sure how much runway their career will have left.
Jim Adduci played in the Majors this year and was an organizational All-Star, so he’ll likely stick on as a player somewhere. Gioskar Amaya actually had a really nice comeback season for Tennessee, and is probably the most likely to be retained. Erick Castillo is the catcher pitchers love to throw to. Yasiel Balaguert and Will Remillard transitioned to coaching last year already. Manuel Rondon is among the most popular players in the organization. I don’t know much about Chris Pieters, but his history transitioning from pitcher to hitter makes me wonder if the Cubs would do well to have a coach for that specific thing.