This has been described as a low drama spring for the Cubs. The roster has been virtually set since the Yu Darvish signing in mid February. The only real questions were who would be the back up catcher, and who would be given the prestigous role of 13th pitcher in Joe Maddon's staff. The decisions made at the end of March are rarely the final calls for the pitching staff, but the Cubs face a dilemma with Justin Grimm and Eddie Butler both out of options.
The assumption has been that Justin Grimm has the inside track. In fact, there is no discussion of the roster spot being in jeopardy according to Carrie Muskat's predictions for the 25 man roster. Grimm is simply listed as being on the list with lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing rounding out the rotation. The reliever has flashed periods of brilliance, but those moments have come farther and farther in between. Grimm's ability to be a high leverage reliever meant that Grimm would be given every chance to succeed in the role.
Grimm has shown up in spring and done nothing to make it an easy conclusion. The Cubs were hoping that a return of Grimm Reaper form would be there and making the conversation moot. Instead Grimm has shown the same inconsistencies that have plagued him the past couple of seasons. It is just spring training, and it is only four appearances. But Grimm has given up 4 runs in 4 innings walking 4 and given up 2 home runs.
Eddie Butler entered the year in a similar position as Grimm without the track record. Butler has been more anticipation than above average pitcher. His mid nineties fastball always has teams interested, but he has struggled to develop an above average secondary offering to put away hitters. He has worked as a reliever, but the results were as mixed in the bullpen. His walk rate dropped substantial in the 21.1 innings of work from 10.4% to 6.9%. The strike out rate jumped slightly from 12.1% to 17.7%. The home run rate rose slightly as well from 1.31 to 1.69.
The assumption was that Eddie Butler and the dream of Eddie Butler would be shipped off. Butler would have to clear through waivers to make, and guys that can throw 95 making the league minimum are something most teams are eager to grab. It may start a round of DFA roulette to try to get him into AAA, but the end result would be Eddie Butler moving on.
The Cubs built up a small supply of arms in AAA. Dario Alvarez was signed to be a left handed option. Dillon Maples has stuff that some have described as other worldly. Neither has given a reason to not stash in AAA to start the season. Shae Simmons just officially agreed to his split contract today which means that he is unlikely to be a real threat to break camp with the big league roster. The dynamics of the MLB payroll rules it might mean Justin Grimm might be the easier of the two to option.
Grimm is on a non-guaranteed arbitration contract. There was some explanation given that the Cubs unusal desire to haggle over a couple hundred grand was about preserving the non-guaranteed nature of the deal. However, that isn't the case as even settlements are non-guaranteed or else Corey Dickerson's DFA made even less sense by the Rays.
Still it remains that the Cubs have a variety of options when it comes to Justin Grimm. Players cut a player on a non-guaranteed contract the amount of termination pay received depends on when he is cut. 15 days before the start of the season is the point, and that has been passed at this point in time. The amount of difference is a matter of six figures or pennies for a baseball organization. The contract becomes guaranteed if he starts on the 25 man roster.
The Cubs could also try to option Grimm. The odds of another team claiming a struggling reliever go down with any salary. Grimm's $2.2 million price tag is likely to keep teams from claiming him. Now Grimm has enough service time to refuse the assignment and elect free agency. If he did that he would forfeit what the Cubs owed him. Instead he can collect his $2.2 million by reporting to Iowa. Sending Grimm down presents the highest odds of having both Grimm and Butler in the organization on March 28.
This is a decision that will be based on performance and how players look. Justin Grimm still probably has the inside track despite the shaky outings. There is still a couple of weeks for Grimm to grab a hold of that spot, but if the trends of the spring continue the question has to be raised if the Cubs might not be better served by gambling that Eddie Butler figured something out.