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NL Central Transaction Update: 2/16/21

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MLB: SEP 13 Reds at Cardinals Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

BREWERS

2/5/21: Signed 2B Kolten Wong to a 2-year, $18 million contract. 40-man roster at 39.

At this point, Wong is probably average at best on offense, although he rode a BABIP spike to produce a couple of years of above average years at the plate. He is, however, one of the best defensive 2nd basemen in the game, with the highest total Defensive Runs Saved among 2nd basemen over the last 3 combined years. This move goes a long way towards shoring up the Brewers’ defense, with Keston Hiura, a poor defender, moving to to 1st base. Without the DH, Daniel Vogelbach will be called on when the club needs some lefty power off the bench. Hiura has never played first base before, and will have about 30 days to try to learn the position. The club must hope that the position switch doesn’t mess with his batting, where he has shown promise, but struggled last season.

The most interesting thing about this transaction is the structure of Wong’s contract. It wasn’t immediately released at the time the signing was announced, but Cot’s Contracts has disclosed that $1 million of the deal is a signing bonus. Wong will make $7 million in 2021 and $8 million in 2022. There’s a $10 million club option for 2023 with a $2 million buyout. Amazingly, $7 million of Wong’s 2021 salary is deferred without interest, and will be paid to him in four $1.25 million installments payable on June 30th and December 15th of 2023 and 2024. If the club declines the option and pays the buyout, that is also deferred, with $1 million payments due on December 15th, 2023 and December 14, 2024. One wonders why the Cards couldn’t have worked something like that out, unless they’re completely sold on the ability of Tommy Edman to provide similar value at 2nd base for a fraction of the cost.

2/15/21: Traded cash and a player to be named later to the Toronto Blue Jays for OF Derek Fisher. 40-man roster full.

Fisher is another in a long line of players who were prospects, hit well in the upper minors, but whose package of skills has yet to translate to the majors. Drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2014 draft by the Astros with a Competitive Balance pick the club got as part of a 2013 trade deadline deal with the Orioles for Bud Norris, Fisher rocketed through the system, making AAA at age 22 in 2016, and getting called up to the big club in June of 2017. While he showed good power and patience in the minors and hit at every level, he just didn’t get the job done offensively in the majors when he got a chance. In 458 PA across 4 seasons, he has slashed .194/.286/.376, which is needless to say a huge drop from his .289/.379/.520 line over 4 years and 1.053 career plate appearances at the AAA level. His defense was also below average. The Astros traded Fisher to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline in 2019 for 3 players, and Fisher lost a month of playing time last season due to a left quad strain and right knee contusion.

Although Fisher has played all 3 outfield positions at times, he’s probably best suited for left field. He’s now out of options, and looking to win a backup outfield job along with prospects Corey Ray and Tyrone Taylor, along with Billy McKinney, another outfielder with no options left. Tim Lopes and Daniel Robertson could also be in the mix for time, making it even more difficult to avoid the waiver wire.

CUBS

2/5/21: Claimed IF Sergio Alcantara on outright assignment waivers from the Detroit Tigers. Signed OF Joc Pederson to a 1-year, $7 million contract. Signed RHP Trevor Williams to a 1-year, $2.5 million contract. Re-signed LHP Andrew Chafin to a 1-year, $2.75 million contract. Designated IF Max Schrock for assignment. 40-man roster now full.

Alcantara originally signed for future service as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic with the Diamondbacks on his 16th birthday in 2012. Five years later, the club flipped him to the Tigers as part of a package of players for J.D. Martinez. He was added to the 40-man roster after the 2017 season, but didn’t get any playing time until last season, and that was only 23 plate appearances and 7 starts in the infield. He’s never played in AAA and didn’t hit at all in either of two full seasons in AA in 2018 and 2019. His career minor league batting line over 7 seasons is .256/.340/.318. Although he hasn’t played shortstop in the majors yet, he manned that position almost exclusively in the minors. He’s supposed to be a fast, excellent defender and he switch hits. Alcantara is still only 24 years old, and he hung around on prospect lists for what seemed like forever. This time, he’s out of options, and like Ildemaro Vargas, will have to make the opening day roster and stay there or be exposed to waivers.

Pederson will get paid $4.5 million for 2021 and there’s a mutual option for 2022 with a $2.5 million buyout. He can also get up to $500,000 extra in performance bonuses, with $125,000 payments due for each of 500, 525, 550 and 575 plate appearances. Sometimes the idea that left-handed batters cant hit left-handed pitching may seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most lefties have a platoon split, so clubs have an attitude about allowing them to face lefty starters, and whatever chance they do get is squashed at the first sign of struggle. Pederson was a 30/30 man in the Pacific Coast League in 2014—the first one in 80 years— and handled lefties well, earning a September callup. He actually slugged 40 points higher against lefties in a decent sample in AAA. But when he came to the majors in 2015 on a full-time basis and gave up 93 points of OPS to lefties, his chances against lefties would diminish over time, along with the results. In over 2500 career MLB plate appearances, the Dodgers have only allowed him to face lefties 385 times over parts of 7 seasons, with about one-third of those coming in his 2015 rookie season. Over those 385 PA against lefties, Pederson has only slashed .191/.266/.310, a 273 point drop in OPS from his totals against righties. Now he’s basically thought of as a platoon player, but he mashes righties to the tune of a .500 slugging percentage. Pederson has been told that he has a shot to play every day, and the Cubs don’t exactly have the multi-positional studs the Dodgers have had over the years that allowed them to platoon Pederson. Phil Ervin, however, is a decent fielder who has hit better against lefties than Pederson, and right now he looks to be Pederson’s platoon partner.

Williams was drafted in the 2nd round of the Marlins in the 2013 draft. Then in an odd transaction, the club traded him to the Pirates him after the 2015 season straight up for a teenage pitcher they would end up releasing the next May. The Marlins made this trade as compensation for the club hiring Jim Benedict away from the Pirates as their new Vice President of Pitching Development. Benedict only lasted in the job for two years. Meanwhile, Williams was a September callup in 2016, and became a rotation mainstay for the Pirates from 2017-2020. For the first two of those years, Williams was a league average innings-eater, who compensated for okay stuff and low strikeout and spin rates with his control and command. Things went off the rails from there. The rocket ball didn’t do him any favors in 2019 and his home run rate went up to closer to league average, contributing to a FIP over 5.00. In 2020, he allowed 15 homers in 55.1 IP, and suffered a DRA of 6.57 and a negative WARP. The Pirates tried to outright him to AAA after the season, but he elected free agency in lieu of the assignment. This effectively functioned as an early non-tender, as Williams would have been eligible for arbitration had the club not tried to make that move. Williams is looking to compete for a job at the back end of the Cubs’ rotation. He’s got all 3 minor league options left if he doesn’t make it, but he’s getting close to getting enough service time that an option won’t be an option. If he does make it, he can earn an extra $175,000 each for 50, 75, 100, 125 and 150 IP, and another $175,000 payment if he pitches 175 innings.

Chafin is the only Article XX-B free agent the Cubs re-signed. He also has a mutual option for 2022 for $5.25 million with a $500,000 buyout, and gets an extra $125,000 for 50, 55, 60 and 65 games pitched. The Cubs acquired him last season at the August 31st trade deadline from the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later, which ended up being a teenage Dominican infielder named Ronny Simon. I wrote about that transaction and Chafin’s background here. Chafin was injured when the trade was made, and was only able to pitch 4 regular season games for the Cubs. Nonetheless, he was a strong reliever for the Diamondbacks, and the Cubs hope he will stabilize their bullpen from the left side. He’s the only other lefty on the 40-man besides Brad Wieck who has any kind of significant time pitching in the majors.

These moves forced the Cubs to trim a player from their 40-man roster, and they chose to DFA Max Schrock. As an infielder without power, notable on-base ability or the ability to play short, Schrock will have a hard time sticking on a modern roster as a bench bat.

There have been reports that the Cubs have signed RHP Jake Arrieta and OF Jake Marisnick. The club has not officially announced either signing, presumably because the deals are pending physicals. Assuming both of those deals go through, the Cubs will have to make two 40-man roster trims, because their roster is currently full. The Arrieta signing will heavily impact the rotation competition, and the Marisnick signing puts Phil Ervin at risk.

REDS

2/8/21: Signed LHP Sean Doolittle to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. 40-man roster at 39.

Having pitched the last two seasons on $6 million and $6.5 million club options with the Nationals, Doolittle takes a massive pay cut here to try to make a comeback with the Reds. He was actually drafted as a first baseman in 2007 in the supplemental first round by the Athletics with a compensation pick the club got for losing Barry Zito to the Giants. After multiple knee surgeries knocked out two years of his career, and he struggled to meet the offensive requirements of the the position, the Athletics tried him on the pitching mound. After only 26 innings pitched, the A’s called him up to the majors in 2012, where he dominated. He became the A’s closer after a couple of years in 2014, then shoulder issues prevented him from maintaining a full workload for the next two seasons. Traded to the Nationals two weeks before the trade deadline in 2017, he became the closer for that club, and in 2018 he posted his best peripherals since 2014.

Doolittle started the 2019 season for the World Champion Nationals as the closer, but the bullpen had serious issues all year, the club leaned on him heavily. By the time August rolled around, things went off the rails, Doolittle hit the IL with knee tendonitis, and Daniel Hudson was closing games in the playoffs. He had his worst peripherals since 2015, his worst ever ERA and FIP, and his swinging strike rate dropped dramatically. Then, Doolittle’s 2020 was mostly lost due to knee and oblique injuries and he only pitched 7.2 innings over 11 games to the tune of an ugly 8.43 DRA.

Doolittle has historically relied basically on a high mid 90s fastball that he threw almost all the time and batters couldn’t hit it even though they knew it was coming, with a slider just to keep batters honest. Now he has supposedly developed a new curveball. Doolittle has had multiple injuries over the years, and he has to be considered a serious risk, but this time the price is right. The Reds hope that he can return to his pre-2019 form. If he can, the Reds will have a nasty lefty combo with Doolittle and Garrett. If he can’t, the only other lefty on the Reds’ entire 40-man roster is Cionel Perez, who has less than 30 career MLB innings pitched.

2/10/21: Claimed IF Max Schrock on outright assignment waivers from the Chicago Cubs. 40-man roster full.

Schrock is now on his 3rd National League Central club in about 3 months. I’m not sure he’ll stick on this roster either, because he can’t play short, and while the Reds still don’t have an established starter at the position, they’ve got four other guys on the 40-man who can play there. I suppose it’s possible Schrock squeaks out a backup job over the likes of Alex Blandino, but he’s more likely just a depth piece with options that can come up as either injuries or ineffectiveness arise.