Gather ’round, kids, it’s turd-polishin’ time! With all due apologies to the non-tendered collective I just referred to as feces, I once saw an episode of Myth Busters that proved how you really could turn dung into something pretty. So the general idea here is that one team’s detritus could well end up being another’s lock-down middle reliever.
That’s particularly true now that a flood of non-tendered players has hit the open market, sending front offices scouring through the wreckage for salvageable parts. In many cases, the players in question are actually really good and are simply being cut loose to save money or to improve their old team’s chances of tanking (Looking at you, Baltimore). Maybe the player was hurt or didn’t develop and there’s a more promising player in need of a roster spot.
Whatever the reason for their availability, a budget-conscious team like the Cubs — so we’re clear, I’m using that as a pejorative — can find some free-agent bargains out there. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian listed five potential targets, highlighted by Blake Treinen and his turbo sinker, but I wanted to poke around for some guys who are a little further out toward the periphery. Because, you know, fans love to hear about the Cubs picking up more reclamation projects.
In the interest of full disclosure, this began as a post about lefty Josh Osich, who’d been non-tendered by the Red Sox a little over a month after they’d claimed him off waivers from the White Sox. The southpaw had lost a tick on his fastball and had mostly abandoned it as it devolved into a pitch that allowed a 1.418 OPS, but he was still averaging 95 mph with it. And even though he allowed a bunch of homers last season, he was at a mere 2.0 BB/9 and profiled as a guy who could benefit from a few Pitch Lab tutorials.
But no sooner had I gotten halfway through the second sentence of my third paragraph than news broke that the Red Sox had agreed to re-sign Osich to a different contract than the arbitration process would have allowed. After initially trashing the post, I restored it and chose to move in a slightly different direction. Since Bastian listed Kevin Gausman, Aaron Sanchez, Junior Guerra, and Jason Adam in addition to Treinen, I wanted to look at three more possibilities
We’ll call this one the Bleacher Nation pick, since that’s from whence the idea came. In the interest of saving myself some time, I’ll just embed a pair of tweets and follow up with a little more on the other side.
No idea what his market will look like, or whether he's committed to returning to the Brewers, or whether he's committed to trying to keep starting.
But if he's wide open to the idea, he might be an interesting relief target for a team like the Cubs that needs to take swings.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) December 4, 2019
Nelson’s 24.8% strikeout rate ranked fourth among non-tendered pitchers, and his 10.64 K/9 was at the top of the list. However, that was offset by a really high walk rate and the inability to avoid homers. Some of that can perhaps be chalked up to a change in role and the inconsistency of playing so little due to injuries, but how much?
You may recall that Nelson missed the end of the 2017 season and all of 2018 after tearing his rotator cuff sliding back to first base against the Cubs in September of ’17. He got a late start this season due to lingering issues, then missed all of July and August and made only 10 appearances due to elbow problems. That sounds like the perfect Cubs target, though a projected $3.7 million arbitration figure might have him looking for more than a clearance-rack deal.
Missing most of 2016 and all of 2017 due to elbow reconstruction automatically puts Garcia on the Cubs’ radar. He’s only 29, though, so he’s a little below their preferred age range when it comes to retread pitchers. In all seriousness, the righty checks a few boxes for a Cubs bullpen that has long needed hard-throwing guys who miss bats without walking too many batters.
Garcia’s fastball averaged 94.2 mph over 64 appearances in 2019, putting him fourth among non-tendered pitchers in terms of velocity. His 26.7% strikeout rate ranked first and his 5.7% walk rate was second, pretty much a perfect combination. Well, until you see that he’s surrendered 22 homers in 84.2 innings since he came back in 2018.
The real culprits there seem to be the changeup and curve, which combined to allow a wRC+ in the 200 neighborhood. I can’t say for certain that it’s just a matter of sequencing or mechanics, but it seems like tweaking or scrapping one of those secondaries could help Garcia’s other stuff play up. At a projected $1.1 million, he might be a risk worth taking.
This one is a fit because the Cubs have had him in their organization twice before, first from 2008-11 and again briefly in 2015. Buchter is a lefty, so that helps, and his 25.3% strikeout rate ranks third among the larger talent pool from which I have seemingly selected names at random. Of course, he also walks too many guys and has a groundball rate that is actually a tenth of a point lower than his K-rate. Woof.
Buchter’s numbers are better against lefties, particularly that 2.20 BB/9, and he might be serviceable in more of a targeted role. He’s got an excellent curveball, but his subpar fastball and pedestrian cutter simply aren’t enough to let the hook really play. Even if the Cubs believe there’s something that can be reworked there, however, the new three-batter minimum probably means a sketchy LOOGY isn’t in the cards.
Keep in mind that this isn’t an attempt to predict who the Cubs will sign, nor is it an opinion of who they should sign. More than anything, I’m just trying to add a little more to the conversation about which low-cost options could potentially be able to play a role given what we know about the Cubs’ needs and wants.
Got any other guys who may be even further off the radar? Have at it.