3/27/21: Re-signed RHP Jordan Zimmerman to a minor league deal and assigned him to minor league camp.
3/28/21: Re-signed RHP Brad Boxberger to a minor league deal and assigned him to minor league camp.
3/30/21: Outrighted RHP Ray Black to the Alternate Training Site. 40-man roster at 39.
The 30-year old Black has had many injuries, including Tommy John surgery while in high school, a torn labrum, and another elbow injury that cost him several years of minor league development time. He made his major league debut in 2018, and was traded to the Brewers from the Giants in 2019. He throws 100 miles an hour, but hasn’t been able to control the ball the past couple of years, and missed almost all of last season with a rotator cuff strain. Black was also sidelined for a significant amount of time in spring training with elbow inflammation. He’s out of options, and he could not have been placed on outright assignment waivers unless the club certified that he was healthy enough to play. If his arm doesn’t fall off, he might get another look because of his strikeout stuff, but he’s running out of both time and health.
4/1/21: Re-assigned RHP Zack Godley, LHP Blaine Hardy, LHP Hoby Milner and IF Jace Peterson to minor league camp. Placed C Jacob Nottingham (recovery from left thumb surgery) on the 10-day IL, retroactive to March 31st. Placed RHP Justin Topa (right flexor tendon strain), RHP Bobby Wahl (right oblique strain) and OF Derek Fisher (left hamstring strain) on the 10-day IL, retroactive to March 29th.
Justin Topa is a hard luck case that I initially covered here. He’s already had two Tommy John surgeries and a stint in independent ball, and made his major league debut last season at age-29 after never advancing above the AA level. He struck out 12 out of the 30 batters he faced and walked none in 7.2 IP over 6 games last season. He made the Brewers’ postseason roster and pitched in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series. He looked like a sure bet to make the 2021 roster, but had to exit a sim game after only 3 pitches on March 27th with elbow pain. It’s been diagnosed for now as a flexor tendon strain and he’ll miss half the season.
With him out, the Brewers just capped their roster at 7 relievers instead of recalling an additional player. This was probably the most interesting roster decision in the division, as I fully expected the Brewers to stick with their tradition to roster as many pitchers as possible. Instead, they’re going to roll with only 12 pitchers for the time being. Part of this is driven by the fact that the club has three off days in the first 15 days of the April calendar, but also a factor is not wanting to DFA lefty slugger Daniel Vogelbach, whose best position is DH. The club signed him to a deal to avoid arbitration in the hopes that the DH would be in play this year. For the time being, they’re going to try to keep him limited to pinch-hitting in high leverage situations, but I wouldn’t expect this 12-pitcher setup to last, and when they need another pitcher, they’re going to have a difficult decision to make.
The Brewers appear to have no set starters anywhere other than first base, second base and a platoon at catcher. I’ve already described their outfield situation. They have announced that Luis Urias will play some shortstop, Orlando Arcia will play some short and third, Travis Shaw will play some third, and David Robertson will back up the entire infield. I don’t expect they’ll let Shaw hit left-handed pitching.
OPENING DAY ROSTER
Starters (5): Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson (L), Freddy Peralta
Relievers (7): J.P. Feyereisen, Josh Hader (L), Josh Lindblom, Drew Rasmussen, Brent Suter (L), Devin Williams, Eric Yardley
POSITION PLAYERS (14)
Catchers (2): Omar Narvaez (L), Manny Pina
Infielders (7): Orlando Arcia, Keston Hiura, Daniel Robertson, Travis Shaw (L), Luis Urias, Daniel Vogelbach (L), Kolten Wong (L)
Outfielders (5): Jackie Bradley, Jr. (L), Lorenzo Cain, Avisail Garcia, Billy McKinney (L), Christian Yelich (L)
10-DAY IL (2)
RHP Justin Topa, RHP Bobby Wahl, C Jacob Nottingham, OF Derek Fisher
60-DAY IL (2)
IF Tim Lopes, IF Mark Mathias
3/24/21: Placed RHP Tyson Miller on the COVID-19 Related IL. 40-man roster at 38.
I had to put my detective hat on to figure this out. The Cubs announced on March 24th that a player in minor league camp tested positive for COVID. At this point, the Cubs’ 40-man roster was at 39 players. As you’ll see below on March 28, the Cubs made one more 40-man roster trim, then announced three 40-man roster additions. That could not have been possible without a second trim, because it would have put their 40-man roster at 41 players, and the 40-man roster is never allowed to exceed 40 players.
In examining the Cubs’ 40-man roster page on their website, I noticed an entry next to Tyson Miller that said “10-day IL.” The Cubs had never announced that Miller was even placed on the injured list, much less the reason. Injury list placements without a reason have always meant placement on the COVID-19 Related IL in the past, and Miller’s placement on that list is the only possible way to explain the series of transactions that followed. Based on the entry on Miller’s place on the website, the Cubs’ announcement of a positive test in minor league camp, the fact that Miller was in minor league camp at the time, and the club’s declaration that no other player had to be isolated, I have concluded that Miller was the one that tested positive. I’m not sure of the exact date of his placement on the COVID-19 Related IL. There has been a precedent of not reporting COVID-19 Related IL placements for players who have already been optioned to the minor leagues. But I am confident it was done, and it had to have been done no later than March 28th. The date of the announcement of the positive test is just as likely a date as any. The interesting thing is that clubs in this situation have been allowed to keep the player on the COVID-19 Related IL and off of the 40-man roster even after the player has been cleared to rejoin the team and resume club activities.
3/27/21: Optioned IF Nico Hoerner and LHP Brad Wieck to AAA Iowa. Re-assigned RHP Trevor Megill, RHP Shelby Miller, RHP Pedro Strop and OF Rafael Ortega to minor league camp. Released OF Cameron Maybin from his minor league deal. 31 players left in camp (26 40-man roster players + 5 NRIs).
The move with Hoerner means that David Bote has won the second base job, and it created an immediate firestorm of controversy. Both Bote and Hoerner had great offensive springs, with Hoerner making more contact and having a better on-base percentage. An immediate accusation of service time manipulation was lodged. Hoerner has 1 year and 21 days of MLB service time. He would need 151 days of time on the active roster to reach 2 full years of service, because 172 days equals one year of service. The season lasts for 186 days, so the upshot is that the club could keep him in the minor leagues for 36 days ((186 - (172-21)) = 35), and thus keep him under club control for another year. To be fair, it was a balanced discussion on Bleed Cubbie Blue.
Hoerner was a first round draft choice in 2018. On September 9th, 2019, his minor league season was over, and he was sitting at home on his couch. He had 375 total professional plate appearances by that date, with 294 of those occurring at the AA level that season. He had skipped the Class-A Advanced level entirely, and his other 81 career plate appearances broke down to 36 in the Rookie level Arizona League (21 of which were on a rehab assignment), 28 in Short-Season A ball, and 17 in A ball. That assignment to AA was very aggressive, and he lost two months of that season to a broken wrist. On September 9th, 2019 the Cubs basically had no shortstop because Javier Baez had a hairline thumb fracture and Addison Russell had been hit in the head with a pitch and was being evaluated for a concussion. Rather than turn to David Bote, Ben Zobrist or Daniel Descalso, they called up Hoerner, who by this point had skipped both Class A and Class AAA.
Hoerner held his own over 82 PA and started 17 games at short, 1 at second and 1 in center field. Baez was back in 2020, and the club had Jason Kipnis play the majority of the second base. Hoerner still got 22 starts at second, and a few spins at third base because Kris Bryant was injured. It was a small sample, but Hoerner looked overmatched at the plate and his contact-heavy approach didn’t work out. He upped his walk rate, but increased his strikeout rate by the same amount. Hoerner’s batting average of .212 and OBP of .312 were actually better than Bote’s, but Hoerner only slugged .259. Bote got very unlucky with BABIP in 2020 and actually showed greater power and patience and hits the ball harder. Hoerner has yet to demonstrate either power or patience, and relies heavily on hitting for average for his hit tool to work. Hoerner is the stronger defensive talent, and FRAA did not like Bote’s defense last season, but the organization has found him to be competent at several positions. It was probably a tough call, but having made the choice to start Bote at second base, one can understand why the Cubs thought it was preferable to start Hoerner in the minors instead of having him be a bench bat.
3/28/21: Purchased the contracts of LHP Rex Brothers, IF Matt Duffy and IF Eric Sogard from AAA Iowa. Designated Ildemaro Vargas for assignment. 40-man roster full. Re-signed OF Cameron Maybin to a minor league deal and assigned him to minor league camp.
Once Sogard signed with the Cubs on a minor league deal after the Brewers declined his club option, I figured the club would prefer him to Vargas for a backup infield job. Vargas showed very high contact skills in the upper minors, at times walked more than he struck out and switch hits, but those skills didn’t translate, and he never has succeeded in the majors in the trials that he has had. Sogard hits left-handed, can pick it at second and third base and has the range and arm to cover short on occasion. He’s not a world-beater with the bat by any stretch, but has the positional flexibility and experience to handle a bench job. I had thought the final bench job might go to Cameron Maybin, but the Cubs figure they’re covered with speed and extra defense with Jake Marisnick in the outfield, and Kris Bryant can even play left field in a pinch.
Matt Duffy, now 30 years old, was the surprise addition. He was an 18th round draft choice by the Giants in 2012, and made his major league debut in August of 2014. The Giants traded him to the Rays in August of 2016 after he lost over a month to a strained achilles. He only lasted another month before landing on the injured list again, and ended up losing the whole 2017 season after having surgery on the tendon. He spent the next two seasons with Tampa Bay, who released him after the 2019 season. Duffy then signed a minor league deal with the Rangers for 2020, then signed on with the Yankees on a minor league deal after the Rangers released him in late June. He did not see major league action last year.
Duffy had a breakout season in 2015 with the Giants when they moved him to third base after he had never really played the position, and he rode a power spike to roughly a 3-win season. The Rays had intended him to play short when they made the trade, but ended up using him at third base in 2018, where he flashed an excellent glove and a .361 OBP. But because of injuries, Duffy didn’t even appear in 200 games for the Rays in the 3.5 years the club had him, and he didn’t even debut in 2019 until after the All-Star break due to an assortment of maladies. Like Sogard, he can cover all the infield positions, like Sogard, he’s going to earn a $1 million major league salary, and like Sogard, he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without his consent. Duffy also apparently can get an additional $500,000 in undisclosed performance bonuses. Manager David Ross said he preferred Duffy to Vargas because of the contact skills and on-base ability Duffy has shown in the majors.
Brothers is back after spending last season with the Cubs, and I wrote about his addition last year in this piece. He only pitched in 3 games for the club last season, and was basically a three true outcomes pitcher in his short 3.1 IP stint. He struck out 8 of the 15 batters he faced, but also walked 3 and gave up 2 homers. The Cubs burned Brothers’ final option last season, and he was outrighted to AAA Iowa after the season. Despite the fact that he would have been declared an automatic Rule 55 minor league free agent, he agreed to sign a successor minor league deal for 2021, and the decision has paid off. According to Arizona Phil (his website is down right now), who covers the Cubs and attends spring training, he clearly earned the #2 left-handed job in the bullpen over Brad Wieck.
3/31/21: Signed C Tony Wolters to a 1-year, $800,000 contract. Designated RHP James Norwood for assignment. Outrighted IF Ildemaro Vargas to the Alternate Training Site. 40-man roster still full.
Austin Romine, whom the club signed to be the backup catcher, will open the season on the injured list with a knee injury. The club had Jose Lobaton on a minor league deal and organizational soldier P.J. Higgins in camp. Lobaton had been re-assigned to minor league camp, and it looked like Higgins, the club’s 27-year old 12th round draft choice in 2015, was the next man up. But the club did not want to give the job to Higgins, instead looking to major league veterans. They settled on Tony Wolters, who opted out of his minor league deal with the Pirates after he lost that backup catching job to Michael Perez.
Drafted by the Indians as a middle infielder in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft out of high school, Wolters switched to catching in 2013. The Rockies claimed Wolters on waivers from the Indians in February of 2016 after he had already burned an option year. In ever season from 2016 through 2020, he either caught the most or the second-most games for the Rockies, maxing out at 102 games caught in 2019. Wolters is an awful hitter, with a career 78 DRC+ in over 1100 trips to the plate and a career .238/.323/.319 slash line with Coors Field as his home park. According to the advanced metrics of Baseball Prospectus, Wolters’s defense was superb in his early minor league career, in 2016 and in 2018, but regressed to the point where he was negative in 2019 in both overall and in framing. He was one of the worst catchers in 2020, according to the BP metric Catcher Defensive Adjustment. Although the pitchers that Wolters caught in Colorado swore by him, the club non-tendered him after last season.
Wolters’s contract calls for an $800,000 salary with performance bonuses. The interesting thing about him is that although he has a minor league option left, all he has to do is spend 11 days on the active roster and he will reach 5 years of major league service, at which point he can’t be sent to the minors without his consent. When Romine comes back he’ll probably be waiver bait, which means the Cubs must really not have wanted Higgins to have the backup job.
Needing to clear a 40-man roster spot, the club chose to DFA Norwood, who was the club’s 7th round draft choice in 2014, even though he had an option left. He’s had serious control issues since making his major league debut in 2018, and missed most of last season with shoulder inflammation.
4/1/21: Re-assigned LHP Adam Morgan and C P.J. Higgins to minor league camp. Placed RHP Jonathan Holder (right shoulder strain), RHP Rowan Wick (left oblique strain) and C Austin Romine (right knee sprain) on the 10-day IL, retroactive to March 29th.
Morgan pitched parts of 6 seasons with the Phillies from 2015 through 2020. He was expected to be behind the other pitchers in camp because he had flexor tendon surgery on his left elbow this past October. I don’t know if he actually ever arrived in camp, but he never got any action in the spring games. He’s got 6 years of experience in the majors with the Phillies but was outrighted in the offseason.
It was a mild surprise that Adbert Alzolay, whom it was ruled had a fourth option available, not only made the roster, but was awarded the 5th starter’s job over Alec Mills. He actually throws hard and offers a different look than the rest of the Cubs’ rotation. NRI Shelby Miller impressed in camp, and I’d expect you’d see him with the Cubs at some point soon.
OPENING DAY ROSTER
Starters (5): Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, Trevor Williams, Adbert Alzolay
Relievers (9): Jason Adam, Rex Brothers (L), Andrew Chafin (L), Craig Kimbrel, Dillon Maples, Alec Mills, Ryan Tepera, Dan Winkler, Brandon Workman
POSITION PLAYERS (12)
Catchers (2): Willson Contreras, Tony Wolters (L)
Infielders (6): Javier Baez, David Bote, Kris Bryant, Matt Duffy, Anthony Rizzo (L), Eric Sogard (L)
Outfielders (4): Ian Happ (S), Jason Heyward (L), Jake Marisnick, Joc Pederson (L)
10-DAY IL (2)
RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Rowan Wick, C Austin Romine
3/29/21 (additional moves): Re-assigned RHP Chase De Jong and LHP Chasen Shreve to minor league camp. C Tony Wolters opted out of his minor league deal, receiving his unconditional release.
Shreve had a good camp with the Pirates, and I suspect you’ll see him with the big club at some point this year, especially if the club ends up returning Rule 5 pick Luis Oviedo.
3/30/21: Re-signed IF Todd Frazier to a minor league deal and assigned him to the Alternate Training Site.
It looks like Frazier couldn’t find another job. The announcement that Frazier was not going to make the opening day roster was a surprise, as he was one of the club’s best hitters in camp.
4/1/21: Placed LHP Steven Brault on the 60-day IL (left lat strain). Placed RHP Kyle Crick on the COVID-19 Related IL. Purchased the contract of RHP Clay Holmes from AAA Indianapolis. 40-man roster at 39. Placed RHP Cody Ponce on the 10-day IL (right forearm tightness), retroactive to March 29th.
There are a couple of surprises here. The big one is Crick, who was put on the COVID-19 Related IL not because he was sick or exposed to the virus, but because he was away from the club due to the birth of his child, and has still not cleared the COVID testing protocols upon his return. His IL placement meant that both lefty Sam Howard and Rule 5 pick Luis Oviedo made the opening day bullpen, but also left the club with a reliever short if they wanted to go with 14 pitchers. To fill the last slot, the Pirates added Clay Holmes back to the 40-man roster. The Pirates drafted Holmes in 2011, and he’s played in the organization since 2012. He made his major league debut in 2018, but played in only one game in 2020 before missing the rest of the season with a forearm strain and then being outrighted in the offseason. He’s out of options and has had massive control problems in both the majors and AAA since 2018. Although he didn’t allow a run in 9.2 spring innings, he could be a DFA candidate when Crick comes back.
OPENING DAY ROSTER
Starters (5): Chad Kuhl, Tyler Anderson (L), Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker, Trevor Cahill
Relievers (9): David Bednar, Wil Crowe, Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes, Sam Howard (L), Luis Oviedo, Richard Rodriguez, Chris Stratton, Duane Underwood, Jr.
POSITION PLAYERS (12)
Catchers (2): Jacob Stallings, Michael Perez (L)
Infielders (6): Phillip Evans, Adam Frazier (L), Erik Gonzalez, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Colin Moran (L), Kevin Newman
Outfielders (4): Anthony Alford, Dustin Fowler (L), Gregory Polanco (L), Bryan Reynolds (S)
10-DAY IL (1)
RHP Cody Ponce
COVID-19 RELATED IL (1)
RHP Kyle Crick
60-DAY IL (4)
LHP Steven Brault, RHP Blake Cederlind, LHP Austin Davis, RHP Jose Soriano
RESTRICTED LIST (1)
LHP Felipe Vazquez
3/29/21: Purchased the contracts of RHP Cam Bedrosian and OF Tyler Naquin from AAA Louisville. Placed RHP Brandon Bailey on the 60-day IL (recovery from Tommy John surgery). 40-man roster full. Re-assigned RHP Heath Hembree, RHP Braden Shipley and IF Mike Freeman to minor league camp.
Bedrosian was drafted #29 overall in 2010 by the Angels with a pick the club got from the Red Sox for losing John Lackey, who was a Type A free agent under the old system. He debuted with the club in 2014, and has spent part of every season since in the majors as a main ingredient of the bullpen. He lost a tick or two off of his fastball over the years, and after his strikeout rate plummeted by over 5% last season, the Angels tried to outright him to the minor leagues, but he elected free agency in lieu of the assignment. Bedrosian allowed 3 homers this spring in 8 outings, but struck out 16 batters to only 3 walks in 8.2 IP. His best pitch is what he calls a slider, which has a sharp, almost 12-6 break. He’s out of options and has enough service time to refuse any assignment to the minor leagues.
Naquin was drafted #12 overall by the Indians in 2012 (four picks before his Texas A&M teammate Michael Wacha), made the opening day roster in 2016, and has spent part of every season up till now in the majors. He’s missed significant time the last 4 years with various injuries, including issues with his back, hamstring, calf, hip and a broken toe. The Indians non-tendered him this past December. His best season was his age-25 rookie season, where he rode a .411 BABIP spike and outsized HR/FB ratio to a .372 OBP, 14 homers and a 2-win season as a center fielder. He hasn’t produced much offensively since. Although he had above average speed and a cannon for an arm, his defense never was adequate for center, and he was moved to a corner, where his bat didn’t play. His best role is fourth outfielder/corner defensive replacement, and he has two minor league options left. It’s amazing that the Reds had to add an outfielder NRI to the roster this year when they were swimming in outfielders just a year ago. In 2020, the Reds gave 9 different outfielders trips to the plate in a 60-game season.
3/30/21: Returned Rule 5 pick IF Kyle Holder to the New York Yankees. 40-man roster at 39.
Once it was decided that Eugenio Suarez would move to short, that was pretty much the end of Holder. This was the roster move the club made to be able to add India to the roster the next day.
4/1/21: Activated 1B Joey Votto from the COVID-19 Related IL. Purchased the contract of Jonathan India from AA Chattanooga. Designated RHP Edgar Garcia for assignment. 40-man roster still full. Optioned IF Max Schrock and OF Mark Payton to the Alternate Training Site. Placed RHP Sonny Gray (back spasms), RHP Michael Lorenzen (right shoulder strain) and OF Shogo Akiyama (left hamstring strain) on the 10-day IL, retroactive to March 29th.
Votto had been away from camp for a good while after testing positive for the virus, but did come back and play a couple of games at the end of camp, and he pushed hard to come back for opening day.
India has been anointed the club’s new 2nd baseman for the time being, the culmination of a chain of events set in motion by the club’s decision to let Suarez play short and move Moustakas to his natural 3rd base position. The thing now is that the Reds basically have an infield full of 3rd baseman, as India’s total experience at the 2nd base position since high school is 13 games in college and 5 games in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. Like Moustakas and Suarez, India is primarily a 3rd baseman. Drafted #5 overall in 2018, his highest level is a little over half of a season in AA in 2019, and he’s now 24 years old. In just two years of minor league ball, his slash line in 696 PA is .254/.369/.410. India started out in the minor league side of camp, but was one of the top offensive performers after being promoted to major league camp.
While it’s always exciting to see a young prospect get promoted, the Reds are facing a similar situation they were in when they promoted Jose Garcia last year, as there is a paucity of minor league appearances on which to base a judgment. At least with Garcia, he was playing his best natural position. Now, they’re throwing a kid out there who has barely played the position, with only 145 plate appearances above the Class A-Advance level (Garcia skipped AA entirely), and simultaneously putting Suarez out of position. The Reds hope they get more offense out of their lineup, this way, but it is unknown whether it will work defensively.
Votto’s reinstatement from the COVID-19 Related IL required a 40-man roster trim, and decided to dump Garcia. I covered Garcia’s signing here. He was non-tendered by the Rays this past offseason after pitching just 4 games with the club. Garcia pitched well in AAA in 2019, but his major league debut with the Phillies in 2019 was a disaster with 11 homers and 26 walks in 39.1 IP. He had one minor league option remaining, and pitched fine in camp, but the Reds must not see enough in him to keep him on the roster.
OPENING DAY ROSTER
Starters (5): Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Jeff Hoffman, Jose De Leon, Wade Miley (L)
Relievers (8): Tejay Antone, Cam Bedrosian, Sean Doolittle (L), Carson Fulmer, Amir Garrett (L), Cionel Perez (L), Sal Romano, Lucas Sims
POSITION PLAYERS (13)
Catchers (2): Tucker Barnhart (L), Tyler Stephenson
Infielders (6): Alex Blandino, Kyle Farmer, Jonathan India, Mike Moustakas (L), Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto (L)
Outfielders (5): Aristides Aquino, Nick Castellanos, Tyler Naquin (L), Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker (L)
10-DAY IL (3)
RHP Sonny Gray, RHP Michael Lorenzen, OF Shogo Akiyama
60-DAY IL (1)
RHP Brandon Bailey
RESTRICTED LIST (1)
RHP Vladimir Gutierrez