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NL Central Transaction Update 2/3/21

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Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

BREWERS

1/15/21: Agreed to 1-year deals with LHP Josh Hader ($6.675 million) and RHP Brandon Woodruff ($3.275 million), avoiding arbitration.

Hader: $2,575,000 raise

Woodruff: $2,641,900 raise

No arbitration cases remaining.

1/21/21: Signed UT Daniel Robertson to a 1-year, $900,000 major league contract. 40-man roster at 38.

Robertson was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics out of high school with a supplemental first round pick (#34 overall) in the 2012 draft that the club received as compensation for losing Josh Willingham to the Minnesota Twins in free agency. He never has lived up to his first-round billing. After a 2014 season in High-A ball that saw him lead the California League in hits, plate appearances and doubles, and finishing 4th in on base percentage, the A’s traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of a package of players for Ben Zobrist.

Robertson’s power plummeted after that, and the Rays seemed to have concluded that his glove was passable, but not ideal at short. That put him in a tweener super-utility profile and saw him get time at all the infield positions over the years, including a smattering of innings in the outfield. He had a very solid season in a backup role in 2018, highlighting his patient approach at the plate with a .262/.382/.415 slash line and 112 DRC+ while playing 5 positions.

Thumb surgery cut his 2018 season short in early August, and a knee injury interrupted the middle of his 2019 season. Both circumstances could have contributed to his disaster 2019 campaign, where he slashed .213/.312/.295 in 237 plate appearances. After the Rays signed him a to a $1.025 million deal to avoid arbitration for 2020, the club optioned him 3 times without getting him into a game, and traded him to the Giants for cash on August 23rd of last year. The Giants gave him just a handful of starts in the field and 24 plate appearances and non-tendered him in December. Robertson is still only 26-years old, and figures to at least compete with Luis Urias for the 3rd base job. This deal gives him a possible extra $400,000 in unknown performance incentives, but he is out of minor league options, and will have to be placed on waivers if he doesn’t crack the roster.

CUBS

1/4/21: Released RHP Colin Rea. 40-man roster at 35.

This release was designed to give Rea an opportunity to play in Japan, and he would sign with Fukuoka 3 days later. Rea will make more than he was scheduled to make with the Cubs, and the Cubs will get a traditional fee from the Japanese club for letting him out of his deal. That fee will more than offset the termination pay of a little over $113,000 the Cubs will owe Rea.

1/15/21: Agreed to 1-year deals with SS Javier Baez ($11.65 million), 3B Kris Bryant ($19.5 million), C Willson Contreras ($6.65 million) and RHP Zach Davies ($8.63 million), avoiding arbitration.

Baez: $1,650,000 raise

Bryant: $900,000 raise

Contreras: $2,150,000 raise

Davies: $3,380,000 raise

Ian Happ is now the only arbitration case for the Cubs, and the only arbitration case in the NL Central division besides Jack Flaherty. Happ is seeking $4.1 million ($3.476 million raise), while the Cubs are offering $3.25 million ($2.626 million raise).

1/23/21: Signed C Austin Romine to a 1-year, $1.5 million major league contract. 40-man at 36.

The Cubs needed a backup catcher after trading Victor Caratini to the Padres in the Darvish deal. The only other 40-man roster catcher besides Willson Contreras is prospect Miguel Amaya, and he’s not figured to be big-league ready. Romine is 32 and was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft by the Yankees out of high school. He emerged as a backup catcher, with above average framing and blocking skills, but a poor bat and poor throwing arm. Hitting free agency before the 2020 season, he signed with the Tigers and started 37 of the club’s 58 games behind the dish, the largest percentage of games he’s ever had as a starter in the majors. It was basically more of the same. Baseball Prospectus rated him 66th out of 99 qualified catchers in CDA (Catcher Defensive Adjustment), their all-encompassing metric to evaluate catcher defense. He now takes a $2.65 million pay cut to serve as the backup to Contreras.

1/28/21: Signed RHP Kohl Stewart to a 1-year, $700,000 split contract ($150,000 in the minors). 40-man at 37.

Stewart is a former 1st round draft choice, having been taken by the Twins #4 overall in 2013. He gave up a commitment to play quarterback for Texas A&M for a signing bonus of over $4.5 million. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. Although Stewart consistently kept the ball on the ground, he didn’t strike enough batters out for the club to trust him in the major league rotation (career 17% rate in the minors). After 17 games and 6 starts across the 2018-2019 seasons, the Twins outrighted Stewart and he became a Rule 55 minor league free agent. He signed a split major league contract with the Orioles for 2020, but after missing a scheduled start due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Marlins clubhouse, he elected to opt out of the season because of his Type-1 diabetes. He then elected free agency in lieu of an outright assignment this past October, a right he had because he had been outrighted previously in his career. Stewart is still just 26, and it’s unclear if he will get a shot at a rotation job with the Cubs. He still has 2 minor league options left if he can’t crack the roster.

REDS

1/6/21: Traded cash considerations to the Texas Rangers for RHP Art Warren. 40-man roster at 35.

Warren was originally a 25th round draft choice by the Seattle Mariners in 2015. After a disastrous season 2018 season in AA that was cut short by injury and saw him walk 14 batters in just 15.2 IP, he rebounded when he repeated the level in 2019. The Mariners called him up in September of 2019, let him bypass AAA and put him on the mound in 6 games. He didn’t get into any games last year, and the Texas Rangers claimed him on outright assignment waivers this past October, only to conclude that they didn’t have any room for him on their 40-man. At 28 years old, Warren is too old to be considered a relief prospect. But he had strikeout chops at AA, has an upper 90s fastball and upper 80s slider, has two minor league options left, and will likely serve as necessary relief depth in AAA.

1/15/21: Agreed to 1-year deals with RHP Luis Castillo ($4.2 million), LHP Amir Garrett ($1.5 million), RHP Michael Lorenzen ($4.4375 million), RHP Tyler Mahle ($2.2 million), RHP Noe Ramirez ($1.175 million) and OF Jesse Winker ($3.15 million), avoiding arbitration.

Castillo: $3,536,500 raise

Garrett: $905,000 raise

Lorenzen: $712,500 raise

Mahle: $1,590,207 raise

Ramirez: $275,000 raise

Winker: $2,450,000 raise

No arbitration cases remaining.

1/22/21: Traded a Player to be Named Later or cash to the Toronto Blue Jays for RHP Hector Perez. 40-man at 36.

Perez initially signed with the Houston Astros as an 18-year old international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2014. After several years with the Astros, the club traded him to the Blue Jays at the 2018 trade deadline as part of a package of players for Roberto Osuna. He’s another in a long line of pitchers who throws hard, has a nice slider, but hasn’t developed the control to start (13.6% career minor league walk rate). In his last significant time pitching, he threw in Toronto’s AA rotation in 2019 with middling peripherals. The Blue Jays brought him up this past September to pitch 1 game out of the pen. He wont turn 25 until early June, but he doesn’t have much time to get his control figured out before he’ll be on the minor league deal only circuit. He’s only got 1 minor league option left, and is almost certainly slated for the bullpen.

1/23/21: Traded minor league C Luke Berryhill to the Houston Astros for LHP Cionel Perez. 40-man at 37.

The Astros signed this Perez out of Cuba as a 20-year old coming off a stellar teenage career with the Cuban team. Although the club initially signed him for $5.15 million in September of 2016, the contract was voided because the club concluded that his physical showed an issue with his left elbow, and he re-signed 3 months later for $2 million. Because he re-signed with the club that voided his contract, the Astros were forced to put him on the 40-man roster after the 2017 season. He signed his new deal on the day after the 2016 Rule 5 draft, and if he had signed at any time before that, he would have been exposed in the 2016 draft. The Astros did indeed add him after a 2017 season that saw him rocket through 3 minor league levels.

Perez has pitched 20 games out of the bullpen for the Astros across the 2018-2020 seasons, with serious control problems, and his innings were limited in 2019 due to a forearm injury. Because he has not yet played 5 professional seasons and has been optioned 3 times already, he has a fourth minor league option available for 2021. He has a chance to crack the Reds’ opening day roster, if for no other reason than the only other left-handed reliever on the club’s 40-man roster is Amir Garrett. Still just 24 years old, Perez will have to harness the control of his 95 mph fastball and potential plus breaking pitches to stay there all year.

Berryhill was the club’s 13th round draft choice in 2019 and only has 8 games and 32 trips to the plate under his belt.

1/30/21: Traded cash considerations to the Philadelphia Phillies for IF Kyle Holder. 40-man at 38.

Holder was initially drafted by the Yankees with a compensation pick after the 1st round the club received when it lost David Robertson to the Chicago White Sox in free agency. The book on him so far is that he’s a plus defender with the glove, but he doesn’t hit well and the glove isn’t so good that it could carry him. The Yankees had him repeat the AA level at age 25 in 2019, and he did manage a .265/.336/.405 slash line with Trenton, which, according to Baseball Prospectus, gave him a park and league adjusted 111 DRC+. Holder was part of the Yankees’ Alternate Training Site in 2020, but was shut down in July with some sort of injury.

The Phillies selected Holder from the Yankees in the major league portion of the 2020 Rule 5 draft, perhaps to compete for the shortstop job. Carrying him on the active roster all year became unnecessary once the club decided to bring Didi Gregorius back. The Reds now carry Holder’s Rule 5 restrictions, and Holder, who has never played in AAA, will compete with Jose Garcia, who has never played in AA, for the shortstop job. All of which means that the Reds really don’t have a shortstop.

PIRATES

1/12/21: Designated LHP Nik Turley for assignment. Claimed OF Troy Stokes, Jr. on outright assignment waivers from the Detroit Tigers. 40-man roster still full.

Turley, a 31-year old journeyman lefty pitched a career-high 25 games out of the bullpen last year for the Bucs and was second on the club in appearances, but his 12% walk rate wasn’t so hot, and he was out of minor league options.

Stokes was a fourth round draft choice by the Brewers and spent 6 years in that organization. Thought to be defensively limited to left field due to a poor throwing arm, Stokes, who showed a decent amount of power, speed and on-base ability, was added to the Brewers’ 40-man roster before the 2019 season and promptly bottomed out in AAA, with his power and average completely vanishing in the Pacific Coast League. The Tigers claimed him on outright assignment waivers in September of 2019. He ended up missing the entire 2020 season after having surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his right hand. The 60-day IL prevented him from burning his 2nd minor league option.

1/14/21: Traded LHP Nik Turley to the Oakland Athletics for cash considerations.

1/15/21: Agreed to 1-year deals with LHP Steven Brault ($2.05 million), RHP Kyle Crick ($800,000), 2B Adam Frazier ($4.3 million), RHP Chad Kuhl ($2.13 million), IF Colin Moran ($2.8 million), RHP Joe Musgrove ($4.45 million), RHP Richard Rodriguez ($1.7 million), C Jacob Stallings ($1.3 million) and RHP Chris Stratton ($1.1 million), avoiding arbitration.

Brault: $1,459,500 raise

Crick: $210,000 raise

Frazier: $1,500,000 raise

Kuhl: $1,290,000 raise

Moran: $2,206,500 raise

Musgrove: $1,650,000 raise

Rodriguez: $1,066,500 raise

Stallings: $713,500 raise

Stratton: $511,500 raise

No arbitration cases remaining.

1/19/21: Traded RHP Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres as part of a 3-club deal, in which the Pirates received RHP David Bednar, OF Hudson Head, LHP Omar Cruz and RHP Drake Fellows from the Padres and received C Endy Rodriguez from the New York Mets. The Mets also received LHP Joey Lucchesi from the Padres. 40-man roster still full.

This is the first of two trades where the Pirates decided to get rid of their top 2 starters, and in this one, the club decided to get in on the Padres’ prospect giving spree. Musgrove has been the club’s best starter by far for the last couple of years, but he’ll probably be the #4 starter in San Diego. Of the 5 players netted in this transaction, Bednar had to be added to the 40-man. He was a 35th round draft choice by the Padres in 2016, and was a September callup in 2019. He pitched 17 games out of the bullpen for the Padres across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and was a strikeout machine in the minors with his fastball/curveball/splitter mix. Bednar has two minor league options left, but figures to have a good chance to stick in the Pirates’ pen.

The guy the Pirates seemed to really want in this deal was Head, a 3rd round draft choice in 2019, and a toolsy center fielder who will turn 20 in April. Cruz, a 22-year old lefty starter, was an international free agent signee in July of 2017 who topped out in A ball in 2019, and had a 4.00 K/BB ratio across two minor league levels. Fellows, who will turn 23 next month, was a 6th round draft choice out of Vanderbilt in 2019, and has yet to throw a professional pitch. Rodriguez, 20, signed as an international free agent with the Mets out of the Dominican Republic in 2018. He’s a switch-hitting catcher, who has also seen time at 1st base and the outfield. He only has 265 career professional plate appearances, and none of them stateside, but he has shown above average defense and strong on-base skills.

1/24/21: Traded RHP Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees for RHP Roansy Contreras, RHP Miguel Yajure, IF Maikol Escotto and OF Canaan Smith-Njigba. Designated OF Troy Stokes, Jr. for assignment. 40-man roster still full.

Taillon has had hard luck with injuries since being drafted #2 overall by the Pirates in 2010. He missed both the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to a Tommy John surgery and a sports hernia, not making his major league debut until 2016. He then lost time in 2017 with surgery for testicular cancer in 2017, remarkably returning to the rotation in 3 weeks. Taillon could only make 7 starts in 2019 due to a forearm injury and a subsequent shutdown to repair a flexor tendon and a second Tommy John surgery that also cost him all of 2020. When he could pitch, he showed top of the rotation stuff with an upper 90s fastball, two seamer, curve and change.

Both Contreras and Yajure had to be added to the 40-man roster. Contreras signed with the Yankees for future service as a 16-year old international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2016. He was part of the club’s A ball rotation in 2019 with a middling strikeout rate, but lowered his walk rate and kept the ball in the yard. The Yankees had to add him to the 40-man roster this past November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Yajure had been in the Yankees organization since 2015, when he signed as a 16-year old international free agent out of Venezuela. His peripherals continued to improve over time as he advanced through Class-A Advanced. Although he only topped out with 2 games in AA ball in 2019 and had pitched mostly as a starter, the Yankees added him to the 40-man roster after that season and let him pitch 3 games in the major league bullpen in 2020. He didn’t pitch particularly well in that short stint, but he’s still only 22, and has a multi-pitch arsenal. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was optioned to be made part of the AAA rotation, since he has never pitched at that level.

Escotto is an 18-year old Dominican middle infielder whose only professional experience was in the Domincan Summer League in 2019 as a 17-year old, where he slashed .315/.429/.552 over 215 trips to the plate. Smith-Njigba, who will turn 22 in April, was a 4th round draft choice in 2017 out of high school. The corner outfield prospect has shown a good batting eye so far in the minors with a career 14.8% walk rate. He had 46 extra base hits as a 20-year old for Class A Charleston in 2019.

Because the Pirates’ 40-man roster was full and 2 Yankee players had to be added, the club had to trim one guy, and chose to designate Stokes, whom they had claimed on waivers just 12 days before.

The Pirates now have a cavalcade of decent prospects, but their 2021 pitching rotation, which at present projects to be Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker and Cody Ponce, doesn’t look so good.

1/29/31: Outrighted OF Troy Stokes, Jr. to AAA Indianapolis.

CONCLUSION

There have been a few more trades that have been reported, but I left them out of this piece because the respective clubs have not officially announced them. I’ll include those in the next one, and in the next week or so will have spring training previews for each club once they all announce their non-roster invitees.