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NL Central Transaction Sunday Night: 9/13

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

BREWERS

9/6/20: Released 1B Justin Smoak.

No 40-man roster change here, as Smoak had already been DFAd on September 3rd. The Brewers are responsible for the rest of his prorated $4 million salary, plus a $1 million buyout for his 2021 option.

9/8/20: Optioned UT Mark Mathias to the ATS. Activated RHP Corey Knebel from the 10-day IL.

Knebel was placed on the IL on August 20th with a hamstring strain after allowing four homers over 6.2 IP in 9 games. This move puts the Brewers back at the 15 pitchers/13 position players mix that they probably prefer. It was interesting that the club optioned Mathias instead of Tyrone Taylor. Although Mathias had never played outfield at all in the minors, the Brewers stuck him out there for parts of 11 games, including 5 starts in RF and 3 starts in LF. In 36 PA, Mathias does have 10 hits, including 3 doubles, but no walks against 7 strikeouts. Taylor had a bit of prior MLB experience last year with the Brewers and is a more highly-trained outfielder, but he could have been brought up when Mathias was and stuck as long as had. Maybe the club just wanted to give him more of a fair shake.

CUBS

9/5/20: Claimed IF Ildemaro Vargas on outright assignment waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Added RHP Adbert Alzolay as the 29th man for today’s doubleheader and returned him to the ATS after the 2nd game. Released RHP Jharel Cotton. Noted the loss of RHP Casey Sadler to the Seattle Mariners on an outright assignment waiver claim. Between games of the doubleheader, designated OF Steven Souza, Jr. for assignment. Recalled RHP Tyson Miller from the ATS. 40-man roster at 39. CPP at 59.

Vargas was originally a Cardinals farmhand, signing with that club as an undrafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2008 when he was a few weeks shy of his 17th birthday. After 7 years in the organization, where he topped out at AA Springfield for a handful of games, the Cards released him during Spring Training in 2015. After spending 30 games with the Bridgeport Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed him to a minor league deal on May 26th, 2015. After strong minor league seasons in 2015 and 2016, the D’Backs added him to the 40-man roster after the 2016 season. Vargas made his major league debut on June 29th, 2017 and before last season, had only made 2 brief cameos in the majors with only 2 games started. Last season, he made 35 starts and hit in 92 games. After 4 games started (2 at 1B, 1 at 2B and 1 at 3B) and 21 plate appearances (3 singles, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts), so far this season, the Diamondbacks traded Vargas to the Twins for cash considerations on August 11th. The Twins gave him 6 starts at 2B and 24 PA, where he slashed .227/.250/.364 and designated him for assignment on September 2nd.

Frankly, this is a surprising waiver claim. The Cubs are fairly set in the middle infield with Javy Baez, Jason Kipnis, Nico Hoerner and David Bote. Vargas does provide positional flexibility and experience all across the diamond, but he’s 29 years old, out of minor league options and thus far he has not demonstrated so far that he can hit major league pitching. The club will have to trim someone off of the active roster to accommodate Vargas whenever he reports to the club. I didn’t think the club would go down to 13 pitchers, and I didn’t know what the club’s plan was other than to option Nico Hoerner to the minors and platoon the switch-hitting Vargas with Kipnis at 2nd base.

That was until the club designated OF Steven Souza, Jr. for assignment between games of the doubleheader to make room for Tyson Miller to pitch out of the bullpen in the 2nd game. Originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 3rd round of the 2007 draft out of high school, Souza took a long time to reach the higher levels of the minors, not cracking AA ball until he was 25, where he busted out with a .953 OPS. He was drafted as a third baseman, but converted to the outfield full time in 2012. Souza made his major league debut with the Nationals in 2014, but after only 21 games played was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays after the season as part of a huge 3-club deal with the Padres that netted the Nationals Trea Turner and Joe Ross. He was the primary right fielder for the Rays for the next 3 years, but missed a lot of time with various hand injuries and had to have hip surgery after one season.

After Souza overcame a disappointing 2016 season with a career year offensively in 2017, where he hit 30 homers with a career-high walk rate, the Rays traded him to the Diamondbacks in another large 3-club deal, but he missed most of the first month and a half of the 2018 season with a pectoral strain. He ended up that season with only an 85 wRC+ and a negative fWAR. Souza then signed a $4.125 million dollar deal for the 2019 season to avoid arbitration. Right before the season was about to start, he slipped on home plate in a spring training game and tore 4 ligaments in his knee, requiring season-ending surgery. The D’Backs were unwilling to gamble that he would return to form and non-tendered him, resulting in Souza signing a 1-year, $1 million heavily incentive-laden deal with the Cubs for 2020. The Cubs were hoping that Souza could provide some power and complement the lefty-heavy outfield from the right side. But he had a hamstring problem, only made 7 starts in the outfield, slashed .148/.258/.333 and had 4 hits in 31 plate appearances with 15 strikeouts. Souza in his current form was expendable once the club got Cameron Maybin and Jose Martinez.

The deal with Pedro Strop I announced as part of my last NL Central Transaction piece was conditioned on Strop passing a physical, but all expect that to go through. With that being the case, after claiming Vargas, the club had not necessarily expected to DFA Souza and thought they had to release someone on the CPP to make room for Strop whenever he was officially added. They chose Cotton, whom the club had outrighted off the 40-man roster earlier this season. I still, however, don’t understand how the switch-hitting Vargas helps this club.

9/6/20: Optioned RHP Tyson Miller to the ATS. Purchased the contract of LHP Matt Dermody from the ATS. 40-man roster full.

I noted the Cubs’ signing of Dermody, whom the club plucked out of independent ball, here. Dermody had not thrown a pitch in the majors since 2017. Miller was only expected to come in for bullpen depth for the doubleheader, and since he pitched 3 innings in the 2nd game of that doubleheader and won’t be available for a few days, the Cubs wanted a fresh arm.

9/7/20: Designated LHP Matt Dermody for assignment. Activated IF Ildemaro Vargas onto the active roster. Claimed OF Billy Hamilton on outright assignment waivers from the New York Mets. Added RHP Duncan Robinson to the CPP and assigned him to the ATS. Released C Jose Lobaton from his minor league deal. 40-man roster still full, CPP at 59.

Dermody only had a one-night stand in Chicago. He came into the game against the Cardinals last night in the top of the 9th with the club down 7-3 and retired the side in order on 9 pitches with one strikeout. Despite needing some more left-handed bullpen depth, the club DFAd him, which, in one fell swoop, allowed them to activate Vargas onto the active roster and make room on the 40-man roster for Hamilton. While Dermody pitched fine last night, they must not only have assumed he would clear waivers, but were also less certain of his long-term abilities as opposed to their other pitchers on the roster.

Originally drafted as a shortstop out of high school by the Reds in 2009, Hamilton was switched to the outfield and became an elite defensive center fielder and one of the best and fastest base runners in the game. The problem is, he’s never been able to hit even a little bit. He has a career DRC+ of 70, and he’s only posted a .300 OBP or better once in any season in which he received regular playing time. He made his major league debut in 2013, but the Reds non-tendered him after the 2018 season. He signed a 1-year incentive-laden deal with the Royals for 2019 with a 1-year mutual option for 2020, but they DFAd him in August after giving him 80 starts, where he slashed .211/.275/.269. He was claimed by the Braves on waivers, where he finished out the 2019 season, made the postseason roster and had his mutual option declined.

Hamilton could only find a minor league deal with the Giants for 2020, but they couldn’t find a place for him on the opening day 30-man roster and he was flipped to the Mets for a minor league pitcher on August 2nd. In 5 starts and 25 plate appearances, Hamilton only got 1 single and 1 walk. He stole 3 bases and was caught once. Hamilton will turn 30 in a couple of days. Perhaps the Cubs feel that they could use a pinch runner and defensive replacement in center field in the late innings for the playoff run, essentially taking the job formerly held by Albert Almora. Hamilton has enough service time that he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without his consent, so he will have to join the active roster whenever he reports to the club. He will be a free agent after the season. It would be highly unlikely that the Cubs would go to down to only 13 pitchers, so recently-acquired Jose Martinez is in danger of either being optioned or DFAd.

The 26-year old Robinson was the club’s 9th round draft choice in 2016. He’s never been a high strikeout guy, but has avoided ball four, and has only allowed 17 home runs in parts of four seasons in the minors. His season was shut down last season for Tommy John surgery after 4 starts in AAA. He has probably been added to the Pool just to get some work in.

9/8/20: Optioned 1B/DH Jose Martinez to the ATS. Activated OF Billy Hamilton onto the active roster. Released OF Steven Souza, Jr. Released RHP Juan Gamez from his minor league deal. CPP at 58.

The Cubs had to trim a position player to make room for Hamilton unless the club wanted to go down to 13 pitchers. If they weren’t going to prematurely dump Cameron Maybin or option David Bote or Nico Hoerner, it had to be Martinez. Acquired in trade from the Rays on August 30th and activated on September 1st, Martinez has gone hitless in 15 trips to the plate with 1 walk and 3 strikeouts. While he did have two minor league options remaining, he hadn’t been sent to the minors since July 7th, 2017 and was only down for one week. That’s probably not what he had in mind, but he doesn’t have enough service time to refuse a minor league option. In the 3 games that Martinez started at DH, only one was against a left-hander, which contradicted the reasoning behind acquiring him.

There is no 40-man roster change for the release of Souza, with him having already been DFAd between games of the September 5th doubleheader. The club owes him the remainder of his prorated $1 million salary.

9/9/20: Outrighted LHP Matt Dermody to the ATS. CPP at 59.

9/10/20: Optioned RHP Colin Rea to the ATS. Recalled RHP Adbert Alzolay from the ATS. Released OF Ryan LaMarre from his minor league deal. Signed RHP Joe Wieland to a minor league deal, added him to the CPP and assigned him to the ATS. Sent SS Pedro Martinez to the Tampa Bay Rays as one the players to be named later in the Jose Martinez deal. CPP still at 59.

Alzolay was recalled to make the start tonight, and he will be optioned tomorrow, because the club won’t need his rotation spot for a while. If the rules would have allowed it, they might have optioned Dan Winkler, who has the worst walk rate of anyone in the bullpen aside from Craig Kimbrel. Rea’s K/BB ratio is 5. But about 10 days ago, Winkler reached 5 years of MLB service time, and thus couldn’t be sent to the minor leagues without his consent. The club was apparently unwilling to cut bait with him just yet. Rea didn’t really deserve the demotion, but just caught up in a roster crunch.

Wieland was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers out of high school in the 4th round of the 2008 draft, and threw a no-hitter for their AA affiliate in 2011. Two days later, both Wieland and Robbie Erlin were traded to the Padres for Mike Adams. He made his major league debut in April of 2012 when the Padres needed replacements for injured members of their rotation. He made 5 starts before going on the disabled list in May with a strained right elbow and had season ending Tommy John surgery in late July of that year. That cost him all of the 2013 season as well. He had to undergo arthroscopic surgery on the same elbow in 2014, which resulted in him pitching only 11 games all season, and 4 with the big club. After the 2014 season, the Padres traded Wieland to the Dodgers in a package of players for Matt Kemp. He only made 3 starts in the majors after that: 2 for the Dodgers in 2015, and 1 for the Mariners in 2016. Wieland finished the 2016 season in the Braves organization and has spent the last 3 years overseas—last year in Korea, where he started 28 games, and the two years before that in Japan.

The Martinez the Cubs traded for Martinez is a 19-year old infielder the club signed out of Venezuela in 2018. Over 2 minor league seasons, where he spent time in the Dominican Summer League, the Arizona Leauge and with Short-Season A Eugene, the youngster has a career slash line of .313/.393/.422.

9/11/20: Optioned RHP Adbert Alzolay to the ATS. Recalled LHP Rex Brothers from the ATS.

Since the club couldn’t get Rea or Tyson Miller back because they hadn’t spent enough days on option, the choice was Brothers, Dillon Maples or Justin Steele. Maples was up in the very beginning of the season, but walked 4 out of the 9 batters he faced over 2 games in 1 total IP. All 4 walks were in the second appearance and he didn’t record an out in that appearance. He hasn’t received another shot. Brothers and Steele were both optioned when the Cubs had to go from a 30-man to a 28-man roster. Steele was recalled on August 2nd and on the active roster for 3 days, but David Ross never brought him in to pitch. The difference here is that although Brothers didn’t pitch well in his first spin with the club this year, he’s 32 years old and has prior MLB experience, while Steele has never pitched above the AA level.

PIRATES

9/5/20: Noted the loss of RHP Carson Fulmer to the Baltimore Orioles on an outright assignment waiver claim. Signed RHP Jandel Gustave to a minor league deal, added him to the CPP and assigned him to the ATS. CPP at 59.

Gustave originally signed with the Astros as an undrafted 17-year old free agent out of the Dominican Republic. The Red Sox claimed him in the major league portion of the December 2014 Rule 5 draft, and traded him to the Royals, who then lost him to the Padres on an outright assignment waiver claim. The Royals then returned him to the Astros before 2015 spring training was finished. He was converted to closing at the AA level in 2015, and made his major league debut in the Astros pen on August 11th, 2016. After 14 games pitched that season, he cracked the 2017 opening day roster, but his season was shut down in late April with forearm tightness. Gustave then had Tommy John surgery that June and missed not only the rest of the 2017 season, but the entire 2018 season.

Since his return to his original organization after being selected in the Rule 5 draft was considered an outright assignment, he had the right to elect free agency in lieu of all subsequent outright assignments, and he did that when the Astros tried to outright him following the 2018 season. He signed a minor league deal with the Giants last season, and was added to both the 40-man and active rosters on July 18th. He got into 23 games last season, but was optioned to start this season, and outrighted on August 9th. It seems like the Giants’ organization released him, because I have seen nothing that indicates that he elected free agency. His peripherals have been much worse than they were before his surgery, but he does have MLB experience and the Pirates must have wanted some emergency depth.

9/6/20: Placed OF Anthony Alford on the 45-day IL (fractured right elbow). Recalled OF Jason Martin from the ATS. 40-man roster at 38, CPP at 58.

The Pirates seriously can’t catch a break. The club was excited to get Alford on waivers because the manager and general manager had experience with him during their tenure with the Blue Jays, believing that they could unlock Alford’s potential. In last night’s game against the Reds, Tucker Barnhart hit a home run over the center field wall, which is 10 feet high, to lead off the top of the 3rd inning. Alford had absolutely no chance to catch the ball, and he didn’t even settle under it and leap as high as he could for the grab. Instead, completely unaware of his surroundings, Alford just crashed full force into the wall for no good reason and broke his elbow. His season with the Pirates is over after 4 outfield starts, 13 plate appearances, 3 hits (including a triple and a homer), 1 walk and 1 strikeout.

9/11/20: Placed RHP Tyler Bashlor on the 10-day IL (lower back inflammation). Activated LHP Austin Davis from the COVID-19 Related IL. 40-man roster at 39, CPP at 59.

The injuries with the Pirates are just a meme at this point. Bashlor gave up 4 walks and 2 homers in 8.1 IP over 8 games before going on the shelf. The transactions involving Davis have been unnecessarily cryptic and misunderstood by various sources. The Pirates acquired him from the Phillies for a player to be named later and cash considerations on August 26th. He was on the Phillies’ 40-man roster at the time of the trade, which meant that he had to be added to the Pirates’ 40-man. But the Pirates never made a corresponding roster move to make room for him. Then we were told that Davis was placed on the “injured list” without a reason, which in this environment could only mean that he was placed on the COVID-19 Related IL. This was also the only thing that made sense because the Pirates never did clear 40-man roster space for Davis. The Pirates’ manager later said that Davis was going through the COVID-19 protocol. There have been other trades and waiver claims by the Pirates and other clubs, and no player took that long to get cleared upon switching clubs. It would make sense, however, for Davis to be on the COVID-19 Related IL if he was taking an unusually long time to clear the COVID protocol, longer than is expected for a player to report to a club. If it wasn’t that, why wouldn’t he have just been added to the 40-man roster and optioned?

There still seems to be a lot of confusion. The Pirates’ twitter account says that Davis has been recalled. The MLB.com transaction page says that the Pirates purchased his contract. I think both sources are wrong. What I think happened is that he was on the major league COVID-19 Related IL the entire time, and has been activated from that list. That adds him to both the Pirates’ 40-man and active rosters, and there was room on the 40-man roster because of the DFA of Carson Fulmer and the placement of Anthony Alford on the 45-day IL. We were never told at any time that Davis was ever optioned to the minor leagues or that he was ever activated from the COVID-19 Related IL before now.

REDS

9/7/20: Released RHP Alex Powers and OF Boog Powell from their minor league deals. CPP at 55.

The Reds’ announcement of these moves on Twitter claims that their CPP is now at 57, but I have followed their moves all year, and only count 55 in the Pool. If you remove Powers and Powell, count up all the players on the active roster, the 10-day IL and all the people that have been announced as players in the Pool from various sources (for example on the Reds’ non-roster invitee page on their website), you get 55. Either it’s a typo, or the club is counting RHP Matt Bowman (45-day IL) and Nick Senzel (COVID-19 Related IL) as part of the total when they are not supposed to be counted or they have made some stealth additions or signings that they haven’t announced. I’m sticking with 55 for now.

9/8/20: Placed RHP Nate Jones on the paternity leave list. Designated 1B/DH Matt Davidson for assignment. Recalled C Tyler Stephenson and RHP Jose De Leon from the ATS. 40-man roster at 39, CPP at 54.

Although Davidson did as advertised against left-handed pitching (.571 SLG and 6 hits with 3 homers in 31 PA), he was in a 1 for 13 slump, managed a total .163/.264/.395 slash line and was out of options. He wasn’t really a candidate to play defense, although he did come in to pitch in 3 different games this season. The club must feel like Stephenson can be a more valuable bat off the bench and help with the catching duties as the Reds close out the season with 19 games in the final 20 days. De Leon had not yet spent 10 days on option, but Jones’s placement on the paternity leave list allowed him to be recalled before the traditional 10-day period.

9/10/20: Optioned RHP Jose De Leon to the ATS. Activated RHP Nate Jones from the paternity leave list. Added RHP Lyon Richardson, IF Tyler Callihan and OF Michael Siani to the CPP and assigned them to the ATS. CPP at 57.

Richardson, Callihan and Siani are all prospects, 2018 or 2019 draft choices the club wants to get a bit of work in before the season is over. None are candidates to join the big club this year.

9/11/20: Placed RHP Tyler Thornburg on the 10-day IL (right elbow sprain). Recalled RHP Jose De Leon from the ATS. Outrighted 1B/DH Matt Davidson to the ATS. CPP at 58.

The 31-year old Thornburg has been snakebitten by injuries throughout his career, and walked 5 batters in 7 innings before going on the shelf. Davidson came into the season with 2 years and 145 days of service time, but due to the prorated nature of the service time this season, he now had accrued 3 years, which would give him the right to elect free agency in lieu of an outright assignment. He must have had a sense that there was no interest from other clubs, and if he had elected free agency, he would have forfeited the rest of his prorated major league salary and would have received no termination pay. Davidson did not have enough service time to force the Reds to release him. He still has the right to defer his choice about free agency until after the season is over.

9/13/20: Placed RHP Sonny Gray on the 10-day IL, retroactive to September 11th (right mid-back strain). Purchased the contract of RHP Sal Romano from the ATS. 40-man roster full.

Romano is a Reds’ organizational soldier and was drafted by that club in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft. The 6’5” 270 pounder made his major league debut in the Reds rotation on April 16th, 2017. Although Romano featured a mid 90s sinker that generated ground balls, after two seasons and 41 starts, the club concluded that he didn’t have a good enough third pitch and had too many troubles with lefties to remain in the rotation. But in only 12 appearances out of the bullpen last season, he walked over 10% of batters, allowed 4 homers in in 16.1 IP, and found himself outrighted off the 40-man roster just as spring training 1.0 started. But he was still in the Reds organization and was invited to summer camp when action resumed. The club has kept an eye on him, and at least at this point, they must have trusted him more than Ryan Hendrix, Joel Kuhnel and Tony Santillan, the only other healthy choices on the 40-man roster. Neither Hendrix nor Santillan have pitched above the AA level and Kuhnel gave up 2 homers in 3 games in an earlier stint with the club this season. Romano is out of options, so this could be a short tour of duty.

Losing Gray is a big blow to the Reds’ rotation, and the club will try to stay afloat with both Tejay Antone and Tyler Mahle.