Cubs kickstart the offseason with some intriguing roster moves
LAS VEGAS — Let the offseason begin.
The Cubs kickstarted the winter making a series of moves to clear spots on their 40-man roster.
The team announced Thursday afternoon that infielder David Bote, left-handed pitcher Steven Brault, outfielder Narciso Crook, right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza and designated hitter Franmil Reyes had cleared waivers and were outrighted to Triple-A. Right-handed pitcher Alec Mills and left-handed pitcher Brad Wieck were activated off the 60-day IL, cleared waivers and outrighted to Triple-A.
Additionally, Kyle Hendricks, relievers Codi Heuer and Ethan Roberts and outfielders Jason Heyward and Rafael Ortega were activated off the 60-day IL. With the moves, the Cubs’ 40-man roster sits at 36 players.
“It was very different in the last few years in the sense of we have a lot of hard decisions to make [on the 40-man roster], but that’s a good thing,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said this week at the GM Meetings.
The seven players on the 60-day IL had to come off the list 5 days after the end of the World Series. During the season, players on the 60-day IL don’t count towards the 40-man roster, so that pushed the Cubs over the 40-man limit.
It wasn’t just as simple as trimming down the roster to 40, either. Several top prospects for the Cubs are Rule-5 Draft eligible this year, including Brennen Davis, Kevin Alcántara and Ben Brown (acquired in August for David Robertson). The Cubs needed the roster space to add those prospects to the 40-man roster before November 15 or risk losing them in the Rule-5 Draft.
Bote and Reyes were the two noteworthy players the Cubs decided to outright.
Bote was in the midst of a 5-year deal that runs through 2023 with team options for the 2025 and 2026 season. Bote has struggled the last three seasons, slashing .212/.291/.370 with an OPS+ of 79, 21 points below league average.
Reyes was claimed off waivers from Cleveland in August and started off well with the Cubs, posting an .822 OPS with 4 home runs and 11 extra-base hits in the month of August. He finished his 2022 season as a Cub slashing .234/.301/.389 with an OPS+ of 93 after some struggles in September and October.
Still, through that, the Cubs thought Reyes could fit into the picture as the team’s DH in 2023.
“I think he’s got some real focused things that we’ve identified that he wants to work on in the offseason that he knows he wants to do and things he’s learned about this year going into the offseason that he’ll implement for next year,” manager David Ross said at the end of September. “But I think he will be a part of our fit next year and really help us out.”
Reyes now possibly becomes a non-tender candidate later this month, which would end his time as a Cub.
Another move that is expected to happen in the coming days is the team releasing Jason Heyward with one year left on his deal. The team announced earlier in the year that they would be moving on from Heyward, who signed an 8-year, $184 million deal ahead of the 2016 season. With his departure, Hendricks and manager David Ross remain the only two members of the World Series-winning team.
Hendricks, who missed much of the season with a right capsular tear in his shoulder, was expected to begin throwing in November, but has not begun the process yet. He was using the offseason to work on his athleticism and strengthening program. It’s unclear what his status will be come Spring Training.
Heuer and Roberts both underwent Tommy John surgery this year and their recovery time is expected to last around 14 months — that puts Heuer’s return around June if everything goes according to plan and Roberts around September.
Ortega remains on the Cubs’ 40-man roster and becomes an interesting case. Hoyer mentioned Wednesday that he thought “it was always most likely that we go outside” to fill out the center field position. But the free agent class for the position is fairly thin — Brandon Nimmo is the biggest name available, but that could mean a bidding war between several teams. It’s not a formality the Cubs could just pick up the left-handed hitter. Kevin Kiermaier is an interesting option. He’s a defensive-first center fielder, but is coming off hip surgery that cut his season short.
Keeping Ortega on the roster gives the Cubs some flexibility with the position, especially if he can return to his 2021 form where he hit .291 with an .823 OPS.
Mills and Wieck were likely to be 40-man casualties after their injury-riddled seasons. The 30-year-old Mills appeared in just 7 games in 2022 after dealing with a low back strain and a right quad strain.
Wieck dealt with an irregular heartbeat in 2021, then underwent Tommy John surgery at the start of spring. The lefty could be brought back on a minor league deal to continue his rehab process with the team.
The Cubs added Crook as a minor league free agent last November and he made his major league debut in 2022. He was an interesting depth option for the Cubs that had some pop and speed. He slashed .260/.345/.492 with 19 home runs in 101 games for Triple-A Iowa.
Brault was signed to a minor-league deal in March and dealt with shoulder injuries for most of the season. When he was healthy, he was an interesting left-handed reliever for the Cubs who posted a 3.00 ERA in 9 appearances. He had gone 8 appearances without allowing an earned run before allowing 3 in his final appearance of the year on August 23. He was placed on the injured list the day after that with a left shoulder strain.
Espinoza was acquired last year for Jake Marisnick and was an intriguing acquisition. He was a former top prospect for the Padres but underwent Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer. Espinoza struggled in his time in the big leagues, posting a 5.40 ERA and 1.636 WHIP in 7 appearances, all in relief.