You might want to savor these ones, folks, because they could be the last Chicago Cubs transactions for a very long time.
I say “could” both because we don’t know exactly how long the Major League lockout will last, and also because technically there are SOME transactions the Cubs could engage in before the lockout is up. Strictly, the only free agent deals (or trades) that can be struck during the lockout are minor league deals with minor league players who are not on the 40-man roster and who are not in the union and who did not spend any of 2021 in the big leagues. Moreover, those deals can’t include any language about an invite to big league Spring Training.
It’s a very narrow band of deals that teams could be striking right now.
Before the expiration of the CBA, the Cubs finalized two minor league deals with free agents who otherwise would not have been eligible to sign during the lockout: catcher P.J. Higgins and righty Jonathan Holder. A h/t to RushingBaseball for the heads up, and the transactions have been announced on the team’s log.
Higgins, 28, was a long-time Cubs catching prospect before finally get a cup last year as part of the extremely large rotating cast of back-up, back-up, back-up catchers. Unfortunately, before he got much time, Higgins injured his forearm and was ultimately shut down for the year. As far as we know, it didn’t require surgery, and hopefully that means he’ll be available as catching depth at Triple-A Iowa. Even with Yan Gomes added to the mix, we don’t know what’s going to happen with Willson Contreras, and you have to have multiple catching options behind the big league duo anyway. Since Miguel Amaya is out after Tommy John surgery, the need was all the more dire. Good to see a familiar face back.
Higgins doesn’t have a lot of upper-level experience thanks to a later conversion to catcher and then the pandemic, but his limited time at Double-A and Triple-A has always seen him hit. The bat will probably play as at least back-up-caliber, if he’s healthy. The glove was more the question to my eye.
Holder, 28, was a flyer signing for the Cubs this time last offseason – he was actually their only big league signing last year for a longgggg time – but a Spring Training injury, plus I believe other issues/setbacks after that, left him mostly with a lost year. He was previously very good with the Yankees, and the Cubs have a great track record reclaiming guys who’ve shown success in the past. So, sure, bring him back on a minor league deal. He’s already familiar with the organization, they’re already familiar with him and have no doubt been working on his pitches (in addition to the rehab), so why not keep him around for another year?
Overall, the Cubs have been very light on minor league deals so far this offseason, with just these two, outfielder Narciso Crook, and lefty Locke St. John. The Cubs also signed infielder Alejandro Rivero to a minor league deal, but that’s more of a true prospect signing. I would’ve expected more reclamation arms for the Cubs by this point, but I’m not sure that I’ve seen THAT many minor league deals signed around baseball, and it seems teams were instead primarily focused on getting certain kinds of transactions finished before the CBA expired. They are probably rightly surmising that a lot of quality players are going to wind up squeezed in February and March, and might have to take minor league deals eventually. So you wait and preserve that roster space.
Still, I thought we would have seen the Cubs be a little more aggressive on specific targets who already knew they were going to be signing minor league deals. Then again, we may have been mistaken on just how aggressive the Cubs were planning to be at the big league level, and how much competitive space they can actually sell to minor league free agents. I guess we’ll see whenever this is resolved.