Today is the latest offseason deadline – well, there are a couple deadlines today, actually, but here’s the one I’m talking about: the final day for teams to negotiate exclusively with their prospective minor league free agents.
At 4 p.m. central, minor league free agents are available to the open market. While this is an unceremonious blip on the calendar to all but the most crazy of baseball fans, Major League front offices certainly take it seriously. I probably don’t have to tell you how impactful last year’s minor league free agent class was on the 2021 Cubs.
Brett touched on this in a post last week, naming Shed Long an early favorite of his among likely free agents. Today I’m going to focus on who the Cubs are potentially losing, and specifically who I’m hoping they’re working the hardest on behind the scenes to return. Thanks to Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter, we have the list of players eligible for free agency later today:
Pitchers: Jose Almonte, Joe Biagini, James Bourque, Dakota Chalmers, Mike Hauschild, Ben Holmes, Bryan Hudson, Ryan Lawlor, Luis Lugo, Dillon Maples, Nick Padilla, CD Pelham, Eury Ramos, Aneuris Rosario, Marcus Walden, Joe Wieland.
Hitters: Abiatal Avelino, Erick Castillo, Yovanny Cuevas, Donnie Dewees, Jonny Fargas, Taylor Gushue, PJ Higgins, Tyler Ladendorf, Ian Miller, Tyler Payne, Raymond Pena, Andrew Romine.
(Two notes: It’s possible some of these players have already agreed to minor league successor contracts to return in 2022. We’ll know those names soon enough. It’s also possible the free agent list includes a few other players, which Phil has here listed as “Second Contract” players, as the details of the previous contracts they signed with the Cubs cannot be known. Baseball America usually releases an official minor league free agent list sometime in the middle of this month – that’s when we’ll know for sure on both these matters.)
The biggest name, in terms of pedigree within the organization, is 2015 third-round pick Bryan Hudson. He signed a $1 million bonus back then, though he didn’t show signs of turning projectability into potential until this spring. The 6-foot-8 southpaw was reportedly deep into the mid 90s in Spring Training after a move to the bullpen, while still maintaining the groundball tendencies that made him an intriguing starter. He was one of the Double-A Tennessee Smokies most successful relievers all season, particularly against left-handed hitters, who managed a .132/.220/.151 line with a crazy 38.1% strikeout rate.
But then, the Triple-A cup of coffee happened in mid-September, and it was ugly. Hudson was down to about 91-92 mph in the games I watched, with a get-me-over breaking ball, and the results were really rough: 4 IP, 9 H, 12 ER, 8 BB, 4 K, 3 HR-A. You want to blame fatigue and trust the larger body of work in Double-A, and you want to believe if mid-to-upper 90s has been there before, it can be again. So while those four end-of-season games likely eliminated any talk of giving Hudson a 40-man roster spot, I still hope the ceiling he showed in 2021 convinces the Cubs to bring him back for 2022. With that body type, he’s just a nightmare assignment for a left-handed hitter.
Three Ks for Bryan Hudson tonight, all swinging. pic.twitter.com/uu1sdSkA3T
— Brad (@ballskwok) July 16, 2021
Other notes that occur to me:
⇒ My top priority would be Dakota Chalmers, who the Cubs claimed, waived and stashed in June. The numbers he posted after that, mostly as a starter at Double-A Tennessee, weren’t particularly compelling: 59 IP, 49 H, 5.34 ERA, 36 BB, 65 K, 9 HR-A. But the video revealed a lot more than that. Chalmers has a top-three curveball in the organization and a fastball that easily reaches the mid 90s. I have my doubts about Chalmers as a starting pitcher, but if you could convince him to take a reliever role in Triple-A next year, I’d probably place a bet that his season would end in Wrigley.
⇒ Five of these guys missed the entirety of 2021 with injury: Holmes, Padilla, Pelham, Wieland, Dewees. I would bet we see some returns from those in that group that are continuing in baseball, especially considering the lack of game experience any of them have in the Cubs organization. You’ll often see players reward the organizations that helped them rehab injuries with successor contracts, and I’m guessing Padilla’s presence at Instructs last month was a sign he’ll be back.
⇒ Given the difficulties of the maintaining a Major League roster in 2020 and 2021, I still can’t quite believe Ian Miller never logged an at-bat for the Chicago Cubs during his stint in the organization. The lack of power will always hold Miller back from being an impact big leaguer, but I wanted to note him because he was such a stabilizing presence in the volatile Iowa Cubs lineup this season. During the three summer months, Miller hit .299/.360/.397 with a 12.6% strikeout rate. This isn’t an argument necessarily to bring him back – there will be a little less playing time available – as much as an acknowledgment for the consistent professionalism he brought to the Cubs organization.
⇒ Let’s pour one out for Dillon Maples. His breakout from almost-released to Major Leaguer was a really amazing story, but the breakout had a ceiling with this organization, despite everyone’s best efforts. His incredible slider is going to get him plenty of other opportunities, and it won’t be that surprising if the right organization turns him into a valuable Major League reliever. Best of luck, Dillon.
⇒ Bring back P.J. Higgins, as this system needs lots and lots of upper-level catching depth. If he figures to be healthy, he’s worth retaining.