Even with just two weeks left in the season, the Chicago Cubs are still picking up players for their South Bend site. Reinforcements just in case? Or getting a look before the offseason with an eye on economical moves for 2021?
After bringing in lefty Matt Dermody from independent ball (where he had been pitching, it turns out, at the Cubs’ suggestion so they could get more looks at him), the Cubs are going back to the well, signing righty Joe Wieland to a minor league deal and bringing him to the South Bend alternate site as part of their 60-man player pool.
If Wieland’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because there was a time in the early days of the Cubs’ current regime where he was a top prospect with the Padres. That, in turn, meant that there was a good bit of familiarity there between the new Cubs front office (a big chunk of which had come from the Padres) and Wieland. Indeed, it was then-Padres GM Jed Hoyer who acquired Wieland in a sell deal at the 2011 Trade Deadline. Wieland wound up getting traded three more times over the next five years, never quite establishing himself in the big leagues.
After the 2016 season, he headed overseas to make some money and establish himself there, as do so many of those guys who are too good for AAA but can’t quite stick in MLB. In Japan in 2017-18, he was quite good, moving on to the KBO in 2019, where the results were only so-so. For 2020, Wieland came back to the States to play indy ball with the Sugar Land Lightning Sloths (a team created by the better-known Sugar Land Skeeters for the purposes of having a little four-team league in which to play games during the pandemic).
With the Lightning Sloths, Wieland was their ace and dominated: 2.41 ERA over 9 starts and 37.1 innings, with a whopping 56 strikeouts and just 13 walks. No, the numbers from a made up indy league in a small sample in 2020 can’t tell you anything in an absolute sense, but they can give you context for how well the 30-year-old Wieland was performing this year against High-A to AAA-level competition. Good enough to get a look from the Cubs.
That look, again, comes in the form of a minor league deal and a stop at South Bend. With just two weeks in the season, I reckon the only way Wieland would join the Cubs is if there were a serious rash of injuries, or an emergency need for a spot start (there’s not really anywhere else to get a guy, just in case). That said, I wonder if the signing is as much or more about getting Wieland in the door, seeing how he looks after his time overseas, and evaluating him for a 2020 minor league deal before other clubs have a chance.