New Cubs Righty Jharel Cotton Leaves You Plenty to Dream On, But Also a Reality to Discuss

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New Cubs Righty Jharel Cotton Leaves You Plenty to Dream On, But Also a Reality to Discuss

Chicago Cubs

A reclamation project is, by its very nature, a small odds proposition. Whatever the thing is you’re trying to do wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t at some low point, from which you are attempting to “reclaim” former value. That’s why the term is used so often for a particular type of baseball acquisition.

Hopeful fans frequently allow themselves to get excited by reclamation projects because they focus primarily on only two of the three elements of such an endeavor (it me, guilty). The two that get most of our time and attention: virtually no cost to take these swings, and really nice upside potential if the move hits. The one we probably don’t remind ourselves of enough: the chances are extremely remote that it actually all works out for the best.

So let me start with that third one when it comes to the Cubs’ latest reclamation acquisition, righty Jharel Cotton, whom the Cubs acquired for cash this weekend. The chances we see him pitching WELL in meaningful innings for the Cubs this or any future year are very slim. Consider that, the reason he was available at all is because the Oakland A’s had other guys they’d rather have on the 40-man roster at this point. They weren’t looking to trade him to capitalize on value – they were letting him go because they had determined the likelihood he would contribute as an Athletic had plummeted to near zero, and they weren’t going to tender him a contract on December 2.

Cotton, who turns 28 in January, has not pitched in the big leagues in two years, and has just 27.2 TOTAL innings pitched in the minors over those two years. Moreover, he’s thrown just 158.1 big league innings in his career … with a 4.95 ERA and even worse peripherals. He is arbitration-eligible this offseason, and, while he wouldn’t get much (projected for just a couple hundred thousand over the minimum), if the A’s were going to non-tender him anyway, might as well dump him on November 20 to open a roster spot.

(Note: It’s possible the Cubs acquired Cotton specifically in the hopes of signing him to a 2020 deal before the tender deadline, and, like what happened with Ronald Torreyes last year, if they don’t get a favorable deal done, they’ll non-tender him. Given the small projected salary and the non-guaranteed nature of arb-level contracts, I tend to think they intend to tender him. But I wanted to pop this into the discussion just to keep it on your radar.)

Cotton underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2018, and then had a hamstring issue early in 2019 that ultimately required surgery in June. He was able to return to the AAA mound late in the year, but he got knocked around. The fact that the A’s were ready and willing to move on at that point, giving his 40-man spot to another player, is completely understandable, and underscores just how unlikely it is that he becomes “a guy” with the Cubs.

Of course, to the positive side, you are reminded of something we do actually see time and again in baseball: where a guy can no longer succeed in one organization, sometimes a new organization – a new set of eyes, a new series of communications, a new routine, a new pitch, etc. – can help him get there.

And that’s why, I admit, I do still get stuck on the hopeful side when it comes to talented players that the Cubs get a chance to work with at virtually no cost. Because, for all his lost years in 2017, 2018, and 2019, Cotton’s arm talent is unquestioned. Why not see what can happen with a new organization?

To that end, the background on Cotton goes something like this: a heavily-scouted arm who was drafted twice, Cotton eventually signed with the Dodgers and reached AA in his first full professional season in 2013. From there, he had a pretty steady ascent up the prospecting ladder, and he was generally considered a back-end top 100 prospect by the end of 2016, the year he was traded to the A’s as a key part of the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick deadline package.

You wouldn’t really be too dissuaded by his rough 2017 season with the A’s – he was a rookie, given a job in the rotation right out of the gate, and he had some really nice starts that year interspersed with utter disasters. Kinda what you might expect for a talented rookie. Hopes were still very high for him heading into 2018 when his elbow popped. A hamstring setback later, and suddenly he was out of the big leagues for two straight years and that was that.

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

When he’s healthy and right, Cotton can pair a good mid-90s fastball with an elite changeup, hence his gaudy strikeout rates in the minor leagues. Finding that good and consistently usable third pitch was the hump he didn’t quite clear before the injuries – he also throws a cutter and a curveball. He also had lost some of the minor league velocity in 2017 (he was sitting 93 mph), which makes you wonder about when the elbow issues actually started.

If he gets healthy and even if the third pitch never comes along, you could plausibly dream on a nice fastball/change reliever, especially if the velocity plays back up in relief. But, your reminder is that it’s unlikely. Reasonable to be excited about the possibility? Sure. But the context remains: unlikely.

Some more on Cotton from Bryan, who checked out what video was available from late in the year at AAA:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.