First, the news of it: each of first baseman Alfonso Rivas and catcher P.J. Higgins has a new home for 2023.
Rivas has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres, and Higgins has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks. All the best to them both, who seemed like good dudes and good teammates, and who could have a future in MLB.
Now the bigger picture talk that it makes me think about.
I don’t want to be too dramatic or make pronouncements that are too grand, so I’ll try to keep this in perspective.
In 2022, P.J. Higgins and Alfonso Rivas combined to play 175 games for the Chicago Cubs. They weren’t quite “regulars,” but they probably appeared in more games than you realized. They were generally around more than they weren’t, and each is still viewed as a possible complementary big league piece.
In recent years past, if the Cubs lost a couple guys like that for nothing via the DFA dance, I think I would’ve felt more consternation about it than I do now. Instead, with the Cubs losing Higgins to a free agent election and Rivas to their own decision to release him, I feel like … maybe it says something? Like, maybe it says the Cubs of 2023 no longer have room for every single plausibly useful complementary player?
To be sure, that can be true on the 40-man rosters of even bad teams, because sometimes the timelines for prospect protection just yield some crowding. There’s a little of that going on with the Cubs, who do have a number of prospects they’ve got to protect, but who cannot reasonably contribute in the big leagues for health or age/development reasons.
But I think mostly the willing losses of guys like Rivas and Higgins – guys who were percolating up through the Cubs’ system in the new player development infrastructure – is a statement about the Cubs believing they can add and develop those types of players on the regular now.
That’s where you WANT to be as an organization. Yes, the big-time breakout stars are where you’ll get most of your player development plaudits (and big league impact!), but great player development farm systems ALSO constantly churn out “useful complementary pieces” as needs arise. The Cubs, to my mind, simply did not do that from 2012 to 2019, and it was a huge part of their accelerated declined (especially on the pitching side).
Again, the very best of luck to Rivas and Higgins, and nothing in here is intended as a slight to their abilities. I am saying only that, in recent years past, I feel like the Cubs would’ve been fighting like hell to keep these guys around no matter what. Now, perhaps they believe they’re not in that spot anymore.