Time to tie up a few loose ends as we head into the weekend...
- Dontrelle Willis is back with the Cubs. He signed a minor league deal, no spring training invite, but the Cubs will give him a chance to make his way to MLB spring training if he pitches well at the minor league complex. Willis last pitched in 2011 when he had a 5.00 ERA. He was originally drafted by the Cubs in the 8th round of the 2000 draft. He was later traded in the deal that brought Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca. The deal ended up helping both teams as the Cubs made a run in 2003, coming within 5 outs of the World Series. I'm still unsure to this day why Dusty Baker left Mark Prior out there when he was no longer throwing hard enough to break eggs while the red-hot Clement sat idly in the bullpen. (Yes, I'm not quite over it yet). As far as Willis is concerned, it's a no-risk gamble. He no longer pitches in the 90s but he can miss bats and has had average control over his career. It's hard not to root for Willis, who has an affable personality and has always been well-liked by teammates and fans.
- According to Baseball America, the Cubs have re-signed previously DFA'd pitcher Zach Putnam. The Cubs also re-signed Jaye Chapman. Both will provide experienced bullpen depth at Iowa with each having an outside shot at making the team. It's likely we'll see one or both sometime during the season at the very least.
- The Cubs released three minor league arms in Bryce Schafer, Peter Levitt, and lefty Willengton Cruz. None were anywhere near the top 30, but Cruz was the best prospect of the three heading into the season, but didn't have good enough stuff to get away with poor command. Schafer and Levitt were big bodied pitchers but didn't have the fastballs to match their build.
- The Cubs lost out on another lefty arm, reliever JP Howell, who signed with the Dodgers for $2.85M with a chance to make $1.2M more in incentives. Howell is a decent lefty reliever who can miss some bats, but possesses average control at best. He did have a 3.04 ERA but it came with a 4.72 FIP, which is more in line with his career 4.42 ERA. It was something of a fluky season and he found the right team to cash in with in the Dodgers. That a middle reliever may make $4M is astonishing to me. The signing of Hishanori Takahashi to a minor league deal by the Cubs is a much more sensible deal, in my opinion. My guess is their production will be pretty similar and it wouldn't surprise me if Takahashi (3.79 xFIP) turned out to have the better year. In fact, Bill James projects a 3.38 ERA for Takahashi and 4.00 for Howell.
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