Overnight, the Chicago Cubs made another subtraction move, though this one may prove to have been a courtesy.
The Cubs released righty Colin Rea, whom they’d last month re-signed to a modest $700,000 deal for the 2021 season. Given that virtually nothing of note has transpired between then and now, and given his age/production/etc., my best guess is that he had an opportunity to go pitch in the NPB or KBO for more money, and the Cubs granted him the release to pursue that opportunity overseas. That is just a guess, but again, when a release happens this time of year to a useful pitcher like Rea around age 30, it’s a pretty good bet that he’s off to go make some more money elsewhere. If so, I hope he gets it, and then I hope he kicks ass.
Rea, a former top prospect with the Padres, signed a minor league deal with the Cubs before the 2019 season, and wound up the Pacific Coast League’s pitcher of the year. It was his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, and there was hope that he could emerge this past season as an option for the Cubs, either in the rotation or the bullpen. We liked him best in the bullpen, where his velocity and stuff seemed to play up, but Bryan worried that his versatility might wind up hurting him a bit in terms of carving out a specific role and going full bore on it.
That said, maybe there was a factor there in this decision. For the Cubs, if Rea was viewed more as a possible bullpen arm, then he was going to be competing with an enormous swath of “yeah, maybe that guy” types again this spring. I like his upside potential in that role, but then again, that’s true for upwards of 20 guys the Cubs could plausibly be trying to slot into 8 or 9 bullpen spots in March. Rea had a minor league option left, so he could have been a useful up and down guy in the bullpen, but maybe that wasn’t his preference.
Of course, Rea was also starting depth for the Cubs, who have a decent bit, but not nearly as much as in the bullpen. In the rotation, there are Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies locked in, and then there are Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills more or less locked in (albeit possibly covering fewer innings). The fifth starter job is wide open at the moment, and given the Cubs’ tight budget, it isn’t that hard to imagine Rea could’ve been competing with guys like Tyson Miller, Cory Abbott, and Keegan Thompson for that job. So, by letting him go, the Cubs are taking on a little risk (which is another reason I’m assuming it’s because he’s about to get more money elsewhere).
The Cubs’ hunt for additional starting pitchers, then, will continue apace. They have a lot of “opportunity” available to offer bounce-back types like Corey Kluber or James Paxton or Garrett Richards, and/or they have space available to reunite with a guy like Jon Lester or Jose Quintana or Tyler Chatwood.
UPDATE: Jordan Bastian confirms our speculation about Rea heading overseas:
Cubs’ transactions page reveals that RHP Colin Rea was released Monday. That’s a blow to the team’s rotation depth. Cubs wanted to keep the pitcher, but he was released in order to pursue an opportunity in Japan. pic.twitter.com/Qwarad3DIu
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) January 5, 2021