RHP Colin Rea Reportedly on Cubs Radar (Updated)

Update: As fist reported by Anderson Pickard of MLB Daily Dish, the Cubs have agreed to a minor-league deal with RHP Colin Rea that includes a spring training invite. More info on Rea below, but the nutshell version is that he hasn’t pitched in the majors since tearing his UCL in his lone Marlins start on July 31, 2016. He struggled badly this past season in the upper levels of the Padres system, but the Cubs must be hoping he can bounce back in a relief/swing role.

Righty pitcher Colin Rea, best known for his central role in a botched trade between the Padres and Marlins near the 2016 deadline, is reportedly on the Cubs’ radar as they search for bargain depth options. Rea hasn’t pitched in the majors since the day after the trade and is currently a free agent after being released by San Diego in late November.

He allowed just one hit and struck out four with no walks in his first Marlins start, but left after 3.1 innings due to an elbow injury. Claiming they’d been hoodwinked, the Marlins protested the trade and Rea was sent back to San Diego. Now, I know what you’re thinking: That’s on the Marlins for not conducting a thorough review of Rea’s medicals. And you’d be right, except that they claim the Padres supplied them with fake medical records and that they kept two files on several players in order to expedite trades.

“The Padres lied,” former Marlins president David Samson told the Miami Herald in December. “They had an entire medical file on a player and didn’t disclose it. Two sets of medical records is what they had. [Padres general manager] A.J. Preller shouldn’t be allowed in the game. It’s beyond comprehension that he’s still working. They did it to the Red Sox. There are a lot of things you mess with, but you don’t mess with that.”

Whether their “real” records disclosed anything or note, Rea was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament shortly after returning to the Padres. After initially opting for platelet-rich plasma therapy and rehab, Rea underwent Tommy Jon surgery in November 2016 and sat out all of the 2017 season. He remained in the Padres organization in 2018, but struggled mightily through 18 outings 15 starts at AA and AAA before being released.

Neither the medical history nor the results serve as great marketing tools for the 6-foot-5 righty, but he just turned 28 in July and could be a candidate for rebirth in a bullpen role. One can only assume that’s what the Cubs are thinking if they’re indeed interested, as Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register tweeted.

Rea had a relatively pedestrian 92-93 mph fastball prior to surgery, so it’s unlikely he’ll suddenly add a great deal of velocity. Then again, it’s not uncommon pitchers gain a couple ticks following a move to the pen because they’re no longer trying to conserve energy. And Rea has flashed a solid cutter and curve in the past, so perhaps trimming his arsenal would lead to better performance in short stints.

Any hope for a resurgence, however, has to be heavily tempered by Rea’s minor-league performance last season. Nearly two years removed from UCL replacement, he posted a 7.13 ERA with only a 38 percent grounder rate at AA. After being promoted, his ERA dropped to 5.08 and he walked fewer batters with a few more grounders, but the home runs skyrocketed.

All told, Rea gave up 14 dingers in 75.1 innings (1.67 HR/9) last season and struck out 70 against 36 walks (1.94 K/BB). I was hoping to find some little quirk to spark hope, like that he’d been stellar in relief, but he allowed 12 earned runs on 19 hits (four homers) in only 8.1 innings out of the bullpen. That’s, uh, not stellar.

If the Cubs indeed pursue Rea, an Iowa native who attended Indiana State University, it’ll almost certainly be with a minor-league prove-it deal that doesn’t take up a roster spot or much money. It’s hard to see such a move having any consequence, but you never know. The Cubs have told us with their words and actions that they like players who’ve faced adversity, and we know how they like shopping the clearance rack for good deals, so this is definitely a situation to monitor.

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