There is just one week left in the minor-league season, at which point the Cubs have a lot of choices to make when it comes to minor league free agency. The last six to seven weeks have seen the gradual release of several minor league free agents the Cubs signed last winter, not all of whom worked out. Those who are still in the organization will have to be placed on the 40-man roster within seven days after the World Series or allowed to walk.
According to the list provided by Arizona Phil over at The Cub Reporter, the Cubs currently have 19 minor-league free agents* this winter. It’s obvious they are not all going to be rostered and I would actually be surprised if more than three of them are kept in the organization as part of the 40-man.
Let’s take a look at the most likely candidates to stick around, along with some others who’ve established themselves as possibilities.
40-man locks – Jhonny Pereda, Colin Rea and Danny Hultzen
Pereda’s defense and arm make him a certainty. He’s had a good second half at Double-A Tennessee and his ability to hit for average as a defensive guy makes him extremely valuable. He would be snapped up quickly in free agency.
Rea has had a good season at Iowa and is one of the ERA leaders in the entire Pacific Coast League. If the Cubs are in the business of collecting starting pitchers, he’s a good Plan B in the event Alec Mills — who is out of options — doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. Rea still has two left but is also 29 years old.
Had someone in the #Cubs organization tell me Colin Rea may be the "most deserving" of a September call-up. But since he's not on the 40-man roster, it may not come. He's at least in the conversation it sounds like.
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) August 25, 2019
Hultzen, also 29, has been very good in the second half for Iowa. He has a 1.64 ERA in 10 relief appearances, but he has yet to pitch on back-to-back days while also spending time on the IL twice. Still, the Cubs have to like what they have seen in his comeback and almost surely want to take a shot on him for next year.
Tough sells – Philip Evans and Dixon Machado
It’s going to be tough to bring Evans back because he’s blocked at the corner infield spots. I just don’t see him being added to the roster despite his very proficient year at Iowa and the chances of him re-signing are low due to the circumstances.
The situation is similar for Machado, who has Nico Hoerner and Zack Short coming up quickly. As such, the depth Machado provides is a little redundant and could become superfluous.
Coming on strong – Luis Lugo
Lugo got off to a rough start at Myrtle Beach this year after the Cubs picked him up last winter, but he’s been very good in the second half and has been filthy at Double-A Tennessee. In five August starts, the 6-foot-5 southpaw has a 2.92 ERA with 34 strikeouts in just 24 innings. I would love to be able to listen in on the conversation when his name is brought up.
The Cubs are going to have to do some house cleaning in the upper minors this winter, an unfortunate but necessary task as players reach the the apex of their development and are being squeezed from both above and below. Just a cursory glance at Tennessee’s roster reveals several pitching prospects headed to Iowa.
Myrtle Beach has several guys who will probably be moving up to Tennessee while South Bend’s ranks are filled with 19- and 20-year-old kids that are basically taking over the system. And that’s really the key contextual point to this whole thing. The way the system is set up with talent pushing up from below, it’s either produce or get out of the way over the next couple of summers.
Something has to give and for some of the Cubs’ long term prospects, this could be the winter it does.
*Gioskar Amaya, Corey Black, Charcer Burks, Roberto Caro, Erick Castillo, Trevor Clifton, Oscar de la Cruz, Enrique de los Rios, Phillip Evans, Johnny Field, Luke Hagerty, Danny Hultzen, Erick Leal, Luis Lugo, Dixon Machado, Jhonny Pereda, Colin Rea, Manuel Rondon, and Alex Wilson.