Whether Alonso’s Eventual Free Agency Will Matter for the Cubs, Umpiring, Roster Limits, and Other Cubs Bullets

Thirteen years ago today, The Little Girl arrived. It is obvious and cliché to say that my life changed forever on that day, but, I mean, it’s just true. I can barely remember my life before her, and in that way today is certainly as much a celebration for our whole family as it is for her birthday. I feel privileged to have had a chance to be here for these first 13 years of her life, and the best 13 of mine.

  • Not that it’s a surprise at this point, but, because of the pervasive Pete Alonso rumors early in the offseason, and the rumors that might pop up again if he hits free agency, I wanted to share:
  • Alonso, 29, is a .251/.342/.528/133 wRC+ hitter for his career, with nearly 200 homers in just four and a half seasons of work. When he hits free agency, he figures to test the recent limits on how much a pure first baseman can make. And for as much as I do like Alonso, I will HOPE, in the meantime, that Michael Busch breaks out so significantly this year that we’re all thrilled that the Cubs already have their long-term first baseman locked into place (because committing $200+ million at first base to a guy in his 30s sounds like a risk the Cubs aren’t going to be willing to take anyway).
  • Also, I should say: while the Cubs have signaled that Busch is going to get the first and most significant crack at locking down first base, I don’t want to completely ignore Matt Mervis (who is actually a year younger than Busch). We all know what happened with Mervis in his very brief look last year. He hit the ball reasonably hard overall, but a lot of his best contact was on the ground. He struck out too much. He didn’t really walk. At Triple-A Iowa, however, he continued to do his thing – good discipline, low strikeouts, tons of power, great production. There are genuine questions about whether he can succeed consistently against big league quality pitching, and those questions are why Busch was acquired and is getting the next shot at first base. But we shouldn’t just forget that Mervis exists. You never know how things might play out, or where his next chance might come.
  • Also, also: Haydn McGeary is still pretty interesting as the “next” Mervis (albeit hitting from the right-handed side), and then you have Owen Caissie starting to get looks at first base. The Cubs have a nice collection of first-base-possible starters all set to be at Triple-A or in MLB this year, and I look forward to seeing how that whole thing sorts itself out. Like I said, I’d be mildly surprised if, come next offseason, we’re obsessing about Pete Alonso, but it’s also entirely plausible that none of Busch, Mervis, McGeary, or Caissie look like the first baseman of the future come November. We’ll see.
  • The Cubs still don’t have a gaming license for the DraftKings Sportsbook at Wrigley Field (i.e., you still can’t actually bet at the sportsbook), though the team is hoping it could finally come in time for March Madness, per the Tribune. “The state moves a lot more slowly than we hoped, but there are signs that they’re moving and we’ll get the license soon,” Cubs Business President Crane Kenney said. “Their inquiries have nothing to do with our connection to a baseball stadium.” So it is just a slow process – the Cubs applied back in June of last year – rather than the state having specific concerns about a sportsbook attached to a sports stadium.
  • This full spring assignment, and then Triple-A assignment, would put Jen Pawol in a position to be called up to the Major Leagues at some point this season as the first female umpire:
  • “For any umpire, working in the pro system, this is a big, big deal,” Pawol said on a Monday afternoon Zoom, per ESPN. “This means so much. It’s the culmination of a lot of innings. I’ve probably put in about 1,000 professional games at this point.”
  • Death, taxes, and me thinking Tyler Chatwood could be an incredible reliever for the Cubs if everyone would just commit:
  • Chatwood, now 34, actually did get a pretty full run as a reliever with the Blue Jays after departing the Cubs, but while the peripherals were really good, the results were not. From there, Chatwood signed to pitch in Japan, hurt his shoulder, got surgery, and then made a handful of successful minor league appearances in 2023. So this is his comeback attempt, and given the stuff he’s always had, I expect he can probably find a minor league deal.
  • I say probably because of something we haven’t discussed enough around here: the newly-lowered stateside roster limits. Everyone knows about the 26-man roster and the 40-man roster, but organizations as a whole also have roster limits for their players in the United States (and a separate roster limit for international players who’ve yet to arrive in the U.S., primarily in the Dominican Republic). That limit got a whole lot smaller this year as part of the new minor league collective bargaining agreement, dropping from 180 stateside players last year to just 165 this year (you can have up to 175 during the offseason, and then you’ve gotta get it down to 165 by the time the regular season starts).
  • The Cubs had fewer minor league signings this offseason than usual, and all around baseball it seems like the hour is very late for a lot of guys who you’d otherwise expect to have signed a minor league deal a long time ago, with an invite to Spring Training. The roster limits could be the reason:
  • It’s very, very easy to see why the organizational roster limits would dramatically curtain veteran minor league signings, as Cooper’s article suggests. I would add that, not only is there simply less room for the signings, but a controlled youngster who is in the lower levels of the minor leagues makes a fraction of what a veteran who is signed in free agency would make on a minor league deal. So if you’re at all on the fence about signing someone like Chatwood or giving an internal guy a shot to rise from Double-A to Triple-A, you are now very likely to fall on the side of the internal guy.
  • written by

    Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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