Based on a Bruce Levine tweet, it looks like the Cubs are bringing two old friends back into the organization.
We knew about the first five players mentioned being in on minor league deals, but this is the first mention of Dixon Machado and Ildemaro Vargas:
Cubs will bring these seven players as non roster invitee’s to major league spring training. RH Jonathan Holder,RHP Mark Leiter Jr, LHP Stephen Gonsalves,LHP Locke St John, C PJ Higgins , Inf Dixon Machado and Inf Ildemaro Vargas.
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 17, 2021
Neither Machado nor Vargas show up on the team’s transaction log yet, so stay tuned for official confirmation. (UPDATE: Other beats are now reporting it, too.)
Before you strain to attach any implications here, note that the Cubs had plenty of space at Iowa in the infield for some veteran depth. So these signings are as much about getting quality players into the organization as depth for that level as anything else. We see these moves every year, and they don’t always wind up impacting the big league roster.
If we do strain a bit, you’d probably note that the Cubs are really thin in the infield at the big league level right now, with Nico Hoerner the presumptive starting shortstop (if the season started today), Nick Madrigal the presumptive starting second baseman, Patrick Wisdom the presumptive starting third baseman, and then Sergio Alcantara tasked with backing them all up (David Bote will be out to start the season after shoulder surgery). Even in a world where the Cubs sign or trade for a starting shortstop – as they should – there’s going to be another infield bench job to win in Spring Training. Might as well get some guys in the door right now, just in case.
As for why these two guys? Well, even setting aside the familiarity with the organization, they are just about as good as these kinds of minor league deal/Spring Training invites get. Broadly speaking, they’re 29/30-year-old, experienced players who can play multiple defensive spots well, and can clearly hit at Triple-A. Those are the types you get on these no-risk deals.
Vargas has shown for years that he’s juuuuuust shy of being a big league player (if he had shown a little more already, you’re not getting a versatile switch-hitter with power on a minor league deal), so he’s perfectly solid depth. He’s had multiple stints with the Cubs over the last couple years, and I believe I’d heard he’s considered a great clubhouse guy, too.
Machado was for a years a well-regarded glove-first prospect, who could hit at Triple-A (including in 2018 with the Cubs) but never got there in the bigs. So then he went to Korea for two years to put up league-average offensive numbers while playing fantastic defense. It makes sense that he’d be trying to come back to the States now at age 29, and it makes sense that the Cubs would be a fit.
It’s unlikely that either guy makes a significant contribution to the Cubs in 2022, but this was an area of the organizational depth chart that needed filling out, especially if you don’t want to be in a situation where a guy like Chris Morel or Chase Strumpf gets rushed to the big leagues because of a string of injuries.