The Cubs seemed to be a lock to be the number one seed, but a last season collapse led to them losing the wildcard game. With such little financial flexibility, Chicago is going to have to be creative, but they still have holes to address in the bullpen and on offense.
Current State: World Series Contender
Cubs Sign IF Daniel Descalso
The Cubs have signed infielder Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $5 million deal. Descalso, 32, hit had a .789 OPS with the Diamondbacks last season. Like with Arizona, he’ll be a utility player for the Cubs. Chicago signed him to replace Tommy LaStella, who had just a .672 OPS and doesn’t have nearly the same positional flexibility that Descalso offers. With Addison Russell’s situation in doubt due to him violating MLB’s domestic violence policy, Javier Baez will likely have to move to short. In that case, the Cubs can play Ben Zobrist or Descalso at second, while the other serves as their utility man. This signing makes Chicago a much better team; they lacked infield depth previously. Signing him for just $5 million is a bargain considering the amount of teams in the market for infield depth and a utility player, including the rival Cardinals.
Cubs Sign SP Kendall Graveman
In a rather interesting move, the Cubs have signed SP Kendall Graveman to a one year contract with an option for 2020. Graveman will earn atleast $575,000 next season, which will bump up to $2.4 million if he pitches in one game. Meanwhile, the option is for $3 million. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Graveman is likely to miss all of next season. The whole point of this deal is to add pitching depth for 2020, and if Graveman is healthy, he’ll do just that. His career 4.38 ERA and 4.54 FIP may not be anything special, but that is still excellent value for $3 million. The main issue with Graveman in his limited action was his 2.36 HR/9. However, his xFIP, which is the same as FIP but 10.5% of fly balls are home runs, was a solid 4.40. This is essentially a $575,00 gamble that he’ll be healthy and improved for 2020, because if not, then they can just decline the 2020 option. It’s a low risk move with little impact on 2019, but one that could definitely help Chicago in 2020, even if he’s nothing more than a #5 starter or a long reliever.
Cubs Sign RP Brad Brach
To bolster their bullpen, the Cubs have signed reliever Brad Brach to a one year, $4.35 million deal with a $5.2 million club option for 2020 with a player option for the same year worth a lesser sum. Brach, 32, has been a consistently reliable reliever throughout his career, though he had a roller coaster this season. He came into the season possibly in line to receive a massive payday in free agency, but a 4.85 ERA during his time with the Orioles took his stock down. However, he was terrific once traded to the Braves, posting a 1.52 ERA in 23.2 innings with them. Overall, he finished with a 3.59 ERA, a 1.60 WHIP, and a 3.67 FIP. That’s now six straight seasons with an ERA lower than 3.60 for Brach, but this last season was definitely more concerning. Brach’s strikeout rate was down, while he allowed significantly more hard contact (35%) this season. While he induced more ground balls this season, he also allowed a career high amount of line drives (23.7%). His fastball velocity was also down from 95.3 MPH to 94.4 MPH, and this a trend worth watching for a reliever with five straight seasons. Still, Brach is still a solid option out of the bullpen with closer experience, and it’s no secret Chicago needed to upgrade their relief corps despite having little financial flexibility. Considering the other remaining options for around this price, this is a good value signing for the Cubs despite the concerns on Brach.
Cubs Sign RP Tony Barnette
In a continued effort to shore up their bullpen, the Cubs have signed reliever Tony Barnette to a one year, $740K contract with a club option for 2020. Barnette, 35, was solid for the Rangers in limited action last season. In 26.1 innings, he posted a 2.39 ERA with a 0.91 WHIP and a 2.97 FIP. Barnette’s walk rate was also cut in half, and his ground ball rate of 51.4% was also a career best. While an increased use of his fastball may have been the reason for this success, luck definitely also played a critical part. Despite his allowing hard contact at a career high rate of 40.8%, his BABIP against dropped to .246. If that jumps up to .298, as STEAMER projects, his ERA will be closer to 4.00 than it is to 3.00. There’s obviously little financial commitment in this signing, but I still don’t love that the contending Cubs are giving a major league deal to Barnette, as I don’t think there is a spot for him even in a bullpen that is definitely more of a weakness than a strength.
*Will Be Updated With Every Move The Cubs Make
Stats Courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant