Sometimes you can kinda see these waiver claims coming from a reasonable distance. So it is with new Cubs outfielder Phillip Ervin, whom the team just claimed off of waivers from the Mariners.
Ervin, 28, is a former top Reds prospect who was a near-league-average bat for the Reds in parts of three seasons from 2017-19, though not much was working for him in the shortened 2020 season. He was DFA’d by the Mariners last week, and now the Cubs have picked him up.
We wrote about him at the time of the DFA as a pretty obvious option for the Cubs as a reserve outfielder:
But with their budget, in this market, during this offseason, imperfect is going to have to work. So allow me to offer another imperfect fit: Phillip Ervin.
The Mariners designated Ervin, 28, for assignment earlier today, which gives them seven days to trade, waive, or release the youthful, right-handed, former first-round (No. 27 overall in 2013) outfielder. Given his history, pre-arb status, ability to play all three outfield positions, and lengthy team control (through 2024), Ervin would actually be a pretty good bet for a waiver claim in a normal offseason, though we’ll have to see what his market looks like this winter.
The Good News: Ervin can not only play all three outfield positions, he also has a career 113 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and is pre-arbitration in 2021. He’s not an everyday starter, but he fits the Cubs needs quite well *and* would cost very little.
The Bad News: Ervin is not a starter and would probably leave the Cubs still desperate for an everyday center (or left) fielder. His career 24.2% strikeout rate, while not obscene, does not pain the picture of a “contact” bat. His career 85.4 MPH exit velocity is horrendous, and his career 8.5% walk rate is merely fine. Throw in the fact that he is currently out of minor league options (i.e. the Cubs couldn’t freely send him down to the minors) and the picture gets a little muddy.
With that said, if the Cubs *are* able to land a starting-caliber center fielder and if roster sizes are once again 26-men (or larger), I think a 28-year-old, three-position, lefty-hitting outfielder like Ervin could complement this Cubs team quite nicely off the bench.
As things stand now, Ervin would probably slot in as a near-everyday starter for the Cubs in the outfield, which says more about the dire situation in the outfield than an anticipation that Ervin could finally break out. Like we’ve said before, the Cubs kinda need to find a “win” like that somewhere – a talented player who just hasn’t put it all together – but Ervin profiles more as a nice 4th/5th outfielder who primarily plays against lefties.
Like the Matt Duffy signing yesterday or the Michael Hermosillo signing earlier in the offseason – both minor league deals – I like the Cubs adding Ervin if he’s part of the bigger picture. These are all good guys to have in the organization, and who could contributing to a competitive team in the right roles. But, since the Cubs have starting-level needs in the outfield and at second base – to say nothing of what happens if and when a guy like Kris Bryant is traded – I’m reticent to go too over-the-top in praising a waiver claim like this. I’ll like it a lot more if it eventually looks like what it should be, and not a hedge against not making any other impactful additions.
Let me say this, if you want to be optimistic: having Ervin in the fold makes it all the more easy to justify bringing in a lefty bat like Jackie Bradley, Jr., since you now have another outfielder in the fold who can play capable defense and spell Bradley’s bat against lefties.
Since he’s a waiver claim, Ervin goes right on the 40-man roster. It’s possible the Cubs would try to sneak him through waivers at some point later this offseason so that they could outright him to Iowa without carrying him on the 40-man roster. He made it pretty far up the waiver chain before the Cubs claimed him, so it could work. That said, as the roster is presently-constructed, he’d be making the team, so …