Today, the Chicago Cubs announced that the Trey Mancini signing is officially official, and designated pitcher Anthony Kay for assignment to make room for Mancini on the 40-man roster.
Mancini, 30, is roundly considered an exceptional clubhouse guy, and he likely comes with a whole lot of veteran perspective, having survived colon cancer just a couple years ago. That stuff is not necessarily the primary reason the Cubs signed him to a reported two-year, $14 million deal (opt out after the first year if he reaches 350 plate appearances). But I think it does probably matter at the margins, and the Cubs’ front office has been very explicit about their desire to bring in guys who will be very positive presences in the clubhouse.
On the baseball side, Mancini brings a lot of power to a lineup that doesn’t have enough of it, an above-average overall bat, and a split-neutral bat. The Cubs announced the signing as a first base, slash outfield, slash DH move, so the tentative expectation is that he will indeed move around. I think for now, you could probably slot Mancini into starting at least 70% of the games, with half of that time coming at DH, a little less than half coming at first base, and then the remainder in the corner outfield spots when Ian Happ or Seiya Suzuki need a day off.
The Cubs are betting that Mancini is not only a steady offensive presence, but also that what he was showing in the first half with the Orioles (.268/.347/.404/116 wRC+) before a surprising trade to the Astros was where he is, physically, after getting fully back from his unique health challenge. Even after the deal to the Astros, Mancini’s underlying quality of contact was still really good. And I also think being a right-handed bat who doesn’t have to contend with that new wall in Baltimore is going to help the power numbers (even as his results foundered in Houston, his power numbers jumped).
Long story short? Mancini is not Jose Abreu, and wouldn’t necessarily have been the Cubs’ first target for this “righty bat who can play first base” job, but he’s a really good get at this point in the offseason. He makes the Cubs better.
On the other side of the transaction, lefty Anthony Kay gets designated for assignment just about a month after the Cubs initially picked him up on waivers from the Blue Jays. The Cubs will have seven days to trade, waive, or release Kay.
Kay is a desirable guy to have in your organization, but the Blue Jays were trying to sneak him through waivers so they could outright him to Triple-A. I speculated at the time that eventually the Cubs might try to do the same, and I think that’s where we’re at. It’s a LITTLE easier to get a guy through waivers in late January than late December, so the Cubs might be able to make it happen. Kay, unlike what we’ve discussed with guys like Mark Leiter Jr. and P.J. Higgins, has not been outrighted before in his career. So if he clears waivers and is outrighted to Triple-A Iowa by the Cubs, he cannot decline the assignment. He would remain with the Cubs on a pricey minor league deal.
I won’t read too much into the fact that Kay was one of just two lefty relievers on the 40-man roster (Brandon Hughes), but I will comment on it. Kay was unlikely to make the Opening Day bullpen in any case, regardless of handedness, but I would say that *IF THE CUBS* knew they were getting close to landing a sure-thing big league lefty reliever (Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore, Brad Hand, and Zack Britton are among those available), they might have slightly more comfort in risking losing Kay at this moment.
In other words, do I think the choice of Kay as the DFA today means a lefty reliever signing is definitely coming soon? No. Do I think the choice of Kay as the DFA today is consistent with a lefty reliever signing coming soon? Sure. It feels slightly more possible today than it did yesterday. But then again, I always thought the Cubs were eventually going to sign a lefty reliever.