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NL Central Transaction Update: 2/23/21

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MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

BREWERS

First, a transaction that slipped through my clutches in my last update:

2/11/21: Released C David Freitas

The Brewers had 6 catchers on the 40-man roster, one of whom is the starter Omar Narvaez, and three of whom were out of minor league options. Thus, it was only a matter of time before the club was going to make some trims at the position. Freitas, one of those journeyman backups that was out of options, was probably lower on the totem pole in terms of cracking the roster. As it turns out, the club released him so he could sign a 1-year, $600,000 deal to play in the KBO. In these types of situations, the major league club will get a release fee in the neighborhood of $1 million. This transaction put the Brewers’ 40-man roster at 38, and then the trade for Derek Fisher put it at 39.

Re-signed LHP Brett Anderson to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. 40-man roster full.

Anderson is the only Article XX-B free agent the club re-signed. I covered his initial 2020 signing here, and his 2020 season here. He was basically a 5-inning pitcher, but that’s basically become the baseline for a non-ace nowadays, he doesn’t walk anybody, and he posted a 57.7% groundball rate. He also ramped up his innings as the season went on. He’s a persistent injury risk, but he did what was asked of him last season. In terms of the completeness of the starting rotation, the Brewers are are arguably in the best shape of any club in the division, although they are not without concerns.

CUBS

2/17/21: Signed RHP Jake Arrieta to a 1-year, $6 million contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, placed LHP Kyle Ryan on the COVID-19 Related IL. 40-man roster still full.

Arrieta returns to the Cubs to try to restore his former glory. Originally drafted by the Orioles, he always had good stuff, but took several years to put it all together. He finally did so for a couple of years with the Cubs, when he won the Cy Young award in 2015. Since then, he’s been on the decline, but has managed to survive the decline of his strikeout rate and sinker velocity by becoming a control artist and keeping the ball on the ground. Still the drop in his peripherals is notable, and his already short season last year was stopped early due to a hamstring strain. Arrieta joins a Cubs rotation that is almost entirely built on soft-tossing command specialists, and it will be interesting to see how all of them play the Kyle Hendricks game all year. League average starters have value, but because Arrieta has been trending steadily in the wrong direction for several years now, there is no reason to suspect that the 35-year old will be any better. Arrieta will make $4 million in 2021, and there is a $10 mutual option for 2022 with a $2 million buyout. He can also earn up to an additional $1 million in performance bonuses, with $250,000 payments due on each of 150, 160, 170 and 180 innings pitched.

The COVID-19 Related IL is still in place for this season, and the use of it removes the player from the 40-man roster, without a minimum of maximum number of days that are required to be spent on the list. It has not been disclosed whether Ryan contracted COVID, or whether he was in close contact with someone who had the virus.

2/18/21: Signed RHP Brandon Workman to a 1-year, $1 million contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, designated IF Sergio Alcantara for assignment. 40-man roster still full.

The 32-year old Workman was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft by the Red Sox and spent his entire career in that organization before he was traded to the Phillies last August, 10 days before the trade deadline. He was declared the minor league pitcher of the year in the Red Sox organization in 2012, and made his major league debut in July of 2013. He was a starter in the minors, and although Boston primarily used him out of the bullpen in 2013, he pitched 15 out of his 19 games in the majors in 2014 in the rotation. But he missed the entire 2015 season with Tommy John surgery and was only able to pitch rehab assignments in the minors in 2016.

Since that time, he has pitched exclusively in relief, where he had a great season in 2019, serving as the closer for about half the year. He had some BABIP luck (.209), but he struck out over 36% of the batters he faced over 73 appearances in 71.2 IP, and allowed only 1 home run. All of those factors counteracted his walk rate of almost 16%. But he had an awful year last year, as his curveball, which he had thrown almost half the time in 2019, didn’t work. He got smoked, as he was in the bottom 3% of the league in Hard Hit % (49.2% !!) and the bottom 7% of the league in Barrel %. He won’t be asked to close in Chicago, as manager David Ross has already declared that Craig Kimbrel has that job. You don’t see too many curveball/cutter relief specialists, but that’s been what he’s become, as he only threw his fastball about a quarter of the time last season, a pitch which tops out at about 92 mph. Workman can double his money with various performance incentives based on games pitched. Together with the roster bonuses called for by his contract, he can make up to a total of $2.5 million.

To make room for Workman, the club designated Alcantara for assignment. He’s not the most attractive of waiver claims, considering that he’s out of options and has never even played in AAA. The Cubs likely claimed him, gambling that they could sneak him through waivers and use him as middle infield depth in the minors.

2/20/21: Signed OF Jake Marisnick to a 1-year, $2 million contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, designated OF Phillip Ervin for assignment. Outrighted IF Sergio Alcantara to AAA Iowa.

Marisnick, drafted initially by the Blue Jays in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft and flipped to the Marlins after the 2012 season as part of a huge package of players in the Mark Buehrle deal, used to be high on prospect lists. When it became clear that Marisnick was not going to crack the Marlins’ outfield, that club traded him to the Astros at the 2014 trade deadline. While scouts were high on his package of tools, his offense never translated to the majors and he basically became a defensive replacement, with top-notch defense in any outfield position. The Astros flipped him to the Mets before last season, but he only got 34 trips to the plate, as he lost over a month to injuries in both hamstrings. Because of his terrible bat (career 73 DRC+), he’s only been able to generate at least 1 WARP one time in his career.

The club must not have been joking when it said it was going to give Joc Pederson a shot to play every day, because to make room for Marisnick, the club jettisoned Phillip Ervin, who was supposed to be Pederson’s platoon partner. Ervin doesn’t have Marisnick’s defensive chops, but hits lefties well, while Marisnick doesn’t hit anything. As it stands now, the Cubs look to have basically no sock off the bench. There’s a $4 million mutual option for 2022 with a $500,000 buyout, and Marisnick can earn an additional $500,000 in unknown performance incentives. The Cubs seem to have gone crazy with the mutual options this offseason, with this being the fourth such deal.

2/22/21: Noted the loss of OF Phillip Ervin to the Atlanta Braves on an outright assignment waiver claim.

PIRATES

2/17/21: Signed LHP Tyler Anderson to a 1-year, $2.5 million contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, placed RHP Jose Soriano on the 60-day IL (recovery from Tommy John surgery). 40-man roster still full.

Anderson was drafted out of Oregon by the Rockies with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2011 draft. He didn’t play until 2012 because he didn’t sign until mid-August. His career has been marred by injuries. Anderson had a shoulder injury and suffered a stress fracture in his right elbow that not only caused him to miss time in 2013, but forced him to miss the entire 2015 season. He missed the last 3 months of the 2017 season with left knee inflammation that required arthroscopic surgery. He then had issues with the same knee in 2019. After Anderson started 5 games and getting crushed for 8 homers in 20.2 IP, the Rockies optioned Anderson in May, only to have him undergo season-ending surgery to correct what was deemed to be a chondral defect in that knee. The Giants claimed Anderson on outright assignment waivers in late October of 2019, then non-tendered him and re-signed him to a 2020 contract at an $850,000 pay cut from the previous season, but included roster and performance bonuses that could get him back to his previous level. After 13 games pitched and 11 starts last season, the Giants non-tendered Anderson again after a basic league-average season.

Anderson is 31-year old soft-tossing lefty command specialist with a 4-seamer, cutter and change pitch mix, who tops out in the high 80s most of the time. He’s only been healthy enough to pitch a full season in the majors once, and that was in 2018. When he is available, his strikeout rate is very low, but paired with a low walk rate. He’s lost a tick off his fastball, and last year his strikeout rate was only 15.8%. Because he’s got more career starts than any of the Pirates’ other candidates, he will make the club’s rotation and likely push Cody Ponce to the bullpen.

The Pirates selected Soriano with the first pick in the major league portion of the most recent Rule 5 draft out of the Angels’ organization. He had Tommy John surgery in February of 2020, but apparently is not ready for prime time. This was the first day that clubs were authorized to utilize the 60-day IL, but no time spent on the IL before the regular season counts towards the 60 days. Thus, the first day that the club may activate Soriano is June 1st. Clubs may place Rule 5 picks on the injured list, but if the player does not come off of the list in time to get at least 90 days of time on the active roster, his Rule 5 restrictions will carry forward next season until he gets the required 90 days.