Cubs lose pitching coach and make a flurry of moves as Rule 5 deadline passes

Justin Steele (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Justin Steele (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

It was a busy day throughout the Majors as tonight was the deadline to protect players eligible for the Rule 5 draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. Several rebuilding clubs needed to make room for large groups of prospects. But before we get into the details, the Cubs learned they will need to find a new pitching coach as well.

Jim Hickey steps down

We've heard the rumblings that a change could be coming at pitching coach, and it was finally confirmed that Jim Hickey will be stepping down from the position due to personal reasons. I haven't quite wrapped my head around what to make of his one year tenure as the pitching coach, or where the Cubs will go from here. They will begin their search after other teams have already filled their vacancies but that doesn't mean additional qualified candidates can't be unearthed. I'm going to have to do some further musing on this over the holiday.

Vosler dealt for reliever Rowan Wick

The Cubs were able to take advantage of the roster crunch in San Diego to pry 26-year old reliever Rowan Wick away from the Padres in exchange for prospect Jason Vosler. The Padres were aggressive in moving several fringe players from their 40-man roster beyond just Wick, including selling the contract of former Cubs prospect Christian Villanueva to Japan.

Wick adds even more depth to the Cubs stable of hard throwing righthanded relievers ready to compete for jobs with Chicago and Iowa next season. The front office made bullpen depth a stated goal this offseason and this move certainly falls into that category. He will join Dillon Maples, Duane Underwood, James Norwood and Justin Hancock as righties on the 40-man roster with options remaining that the team can stash in Iowa for 2019. The organization also has non-roster options such as Dakota Mekkes ready to compete for time as well.

Vosler was eligible for the Rule 5 draft, just as he was in 2017, but after a second consecutive 20+ homer season the Cubs apparently feared Vosler would not slip through again. Since he is hopelessly blocked at 3B and 1B by Bryant and Rizzo, along with a host of versatile veterans on the MLB roster (Baez, Happ, Zobrist, La Stella, even Contreras) capable of manning those positions, as well as fellow prospect David Bote (and Trent Giambrone and Zack Short...) there was little chance Vosler would be given a shot to impact the 2019 Cubs season. Therefore reserving a roster space for him was not in the cards.

We hardly knew you

Less than three weeks after the Cubs claimed utilityman Jack Reinheimer off waivers from the Mets they lost him on waivers to Rangers, who made space by outrighting former Cub Eddie Butler. The Cubs were no doubt hoping Reinheimer would clear so that he could function as a replacement for Mike Freeman as an experienced utilityman to stash in AAA. Freeman is a free agent this offseason.

The Cubs also claimed two other players on waivers around the same time as Reinheimer and the team was able to sneak both through waivers. Lefthanded reliever Jerry Vasto and outfielder Johnny Field received some MLB experience this season and will now be available in Des Moines should the need arise.

Cubs claim Ian Clarkin from White Sox

One thing this front office has been consistent about since taking over is their aggressiveness in collecting lefthanded relievers to provide depth in Iowa. Every year they seem to claim at least one or two and then try to sneak them through waivers at a later date. They've already managed it with Vasto and my guess is they will try to do the same with today's addition: Ian Clarkin.

Once a supplemental first round pick of the Yankees, he was dealt to the White Sox in 2017 as part of the David Robertson / Tommy Kahnle deal. His star has fallen a bit over the past couple of years but he did find some success after converting from starter to reliever at AA Birmingham (3-5, 5.92 as a starter | 1-0, 2.12 as a reliever).

Cubs add Steele

After all the roster churning, the Cubs added just one prospect to their 40-man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Justin Steele received a big bonus as a 2014 5th round pick out of high school in the same draft as Dylan Cease (added to 40-man by White Sox today). The lefty suffered an elbow injury during the middle of the 2017 campaign that required Tommy John, but he made a remarkable comeback, returning to the mound less that a year later and eventually finished 2018 pitching in the Arizona Fall League. He is capable of running his fastball up into the mid-90s and compliments it with a solid curve. His changeup is still a work in progress, and will likely be a determining factor in whether he remains a starter or if he will be converted into a power lefthanded bullpen piece. Either way, he is a valuable asset that the Cubs prioritized.

As for those left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, the main targets among the Cubs prospects figure to be righthander Trevor Clifton, and catchers Jhonny Pereda, Ian Rice and P.J. Higgins. Pereda is the guy I am most concerned with losing, as I believe he is just beginning to come into his own and in the near future could carve out a solid role in the majors as a backup or potentially even as a low end starter.

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  • fb_avatar

    This and that from Theo. From what I can see, Field is a hustle player with below average speed but can hit some. I'm more interested in Jerry Vasto. He was a power hitting outfielder with an 80 arm and then converted to a pitcher. Maybe he can harness it and improve his slider and have an impact next year.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    With help from the Cubs new, soon-to-be-named pitching coach, Vasto is a can't miss prospect!

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    Of course--you took the words right out of my laptop.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Cliff1969:

    :b!

  • Yuck! I am so tired of the Cubs picking up meatball players who are released or put on waivers by low ranked teams. If they did a better job of drafting they shouldn't even have an interest in some of these guys they sign.

  • In reply to veteran:

    You do realize they're picking up fringe players who may not even make the team, right? There is always a possibility that something will "click" with one of them and we'll be talking for years about how smart the Cubs were to pick up that "meatball," but for the most part those players are just depth.

  • In reply to veteran:

    I don't understand this at all. I love that the Cubs are constantly scraping the waiver wire, particularly for arms. That's how they are always able to field a solid bullpen with depth in Iowa. It has nothing to do with drafting. If they pick up a hundred of these guys and just one clicks it was worth it.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Right. And every team does this. Been this way for a long time. They can only hold on to their own draftees for so long w/out protecting them from all phases of rule 5 & minor/major league free agency. There’s always a rotating wheel with depth roles w/in every organization.

  • In reply to veteran:

    Preach

  • In reply to veteran:

    These are moves that every big league club makes. Very rarely do they have an impact on the MLB team. They are more to help with AA or AAA roster. Who is the last player the cubs got in a situation like this that actually mattered?????

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    In reply to veteran:

    This has been my pet peeve for the last three years, our inability to use our first draft picks on high end pitchers, we essentially have enough position players and no front line prospects, our best would probably be considered 3 or 4 starters, except for fans with rose colored glasses.
    Fans keep telling me how much risk there is taking pitchers with top picks, but that is how you get them, you take chances, it is no different than taking chances on Schwarber or Happ, how has that panned out?

  • In reply to tater:

    It planned out very well. Schwarber is a 3 WAR player on a $600K contract. That is a $24 million value. Pretty fair return.

    If you expect any “high-end” pitchers the last 3 drafts to be big league starters, then your expectations are off.

    Dodgers, Brewers, Nats, Phillies, Red Sox, Yanks, Astros, and Indians were not built on drafting high-end pitching. Young productive hitters and great trades with some FA’s sprinkled in is how those teams were built.

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    Schwarber is on the trading block, hopefully to get a pitching prospect, and if you notice pitching in trades always cost more than position players.
    Dodgers drafted Kershaw and Buehler in first rounds, Nats drafted Strassberg and Max was a first round pick of D-backs,Red Sox had Price ,a first round pick and Sale,another top pick, Stros had Verlander and Cole, all first round pitchers teams took chances on in top of draft.

  • In reply to tater:

    You are moving the goal posts here, Tater. The guys you pointed out were traded for or FA acquisitions. The pitchers selected at the top of the first round when the Cubs were actually in a top drafting spot were NOT a Verlander, Cole, Price, Strasburg, etc. I hope you are not suggesting the Cubs should have drafted Appel or Gray over Bryant if given the chance.

    The real point is there is not one team built through draft picks for BOTH hitters and pitchers. To complain about a path that has proven wildly successful is head-scratching.

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    I think I made my point in that all these pitchers who are legit aces were drafted as HS pitchers who might end up being injured on their journey to the big league, you can't get them if you don't draft them, or you pay an exorbitant amount of prospects to get them or money as free agents.
    You seem to think this process of buying pitching will continue to work, well only if the players you count on to produce, or some of your prospects you counted on don't improve. (Scwarbs, Happ, Contrares, Russell,Caratini).
    The only player who Theo drafted was Bryant, he has met expectations, otherwise the rest have underperformed, the best player seems to be Baez and that was not forseen by this front office.

  • In reply to tater:

    Only three of the eight pitchers you listed were were drafted by the teams they currently play on. 5 of them, 62.5 percent, were acquired by other means. And, if you're going to mention players who underperformed, you can't ignore all the first-round pitchers who were drafted in the same time frame and didn't make it to MLB.

  • In reply to tater:

    Tatar, only Keyshawn was a high school pitcher when drafted. All the other guys were college pitchers.

    I think the process of buying pitchers is a great move. I prefer to have arms who are proven to take on a MLB full workload versus “hoping” a guy can. Let someone else pay for the development and absorb the injury risk. We can pay for them as a FA or trade for a guy.

    So far it has been wildly successful.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Kershaw—funny auto correct

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    In reply to tater:

    Trading Schwarber for SP'ing is the dumbest thing nowadays. Unless the SP is a top 15 over the past few seasons it makes no sense. Our problem was offense(and somewhat fielding) last season. We had a great rotation and BP but since the offense only scored 1 run each in 40 games, then you're pitching goes to crap the last 2 months.
    One of the only players I would trade Schwarber for is Simmons or a GG SS with the same offensive stats that can be a legit lead off bat. And that's only if they know 100% they get Harper(LH powerbat).
    Otherwise, Kyle stays a Cub. And if they don't get the SS they want, Russell will be a Cub too. I've been saying since day 1, they need a GG quality SS. 1st priority. Unless someone blows them away with a deal they can't refuse.

  • In reply to tater:

    Then your "pet peeve" is the Cubs winning the World Series, which they wouldn't have done if they had followed your drafting plan. The Cubs certainly have some issues to address, but I'm amazed that with the most wins in baseball over the last 4 years and entering 2019 with a rotation most GMs would love to have, people keep criticizing the FO for not drafting pitchers with the highest draft picks.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    You just can't please some people. The FO is dong a fantastic job. They need to continue doing their job and just ignore all fan requests.

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    In reply to John57:

    Rose colored glasses I was talking about!!!

  • In reply to tater:

    One of the people you just can't please. They always think they are right. LOL I trust the FO over them every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    Not criticizing the first couple drafts, when drafting as high as Theo was you take the best fit, I'm speaking the last two drafts where we were drafting lower and should have been taking a shot at some high end pitching that was available.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    They won the World Series with great trades and free agent signings. These moves contributed more than the draft picks.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    Really, Mr. Contrarian? You want to argue which contributed more? The point is, the STRATEGY followed by Theo & Jed worked. I just don't understand all the angst from the armchair GMs who think they should have done it differently. The team starts 2019 with one of the best rotations in MLB and has help at AAA ready to step in, yet we see something every day from someone complaining about the FO and pitching.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Has major league pitching been watered down. I think our rotation is average at best. We have majority of middle rotation guy. You can’t count on Darvish because it is a huge unknown. Q, and Hendricks are a ok number 3. Lester is a fringe #2. And with Yu out I am not sure who the 5th becomes??? I don’t have the same confidence and love for the starting rotation that you do.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I agree that you can't count on Darvish, but you can't count him out, either, as a bunch of folks already have. Given that they found problems that were, hopefully, fixed by surgery, I think he'll be a decent pitcher this year, if not better. The rotation can always be better - I just don't see the need for all the crying about not having enough pitching in the system. It's been fine so far.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I agree with that. Time will tell on Darvish. I just would rather not count on him then have him instead of the other way. I just wonder if MLB pitching is in a down cycle????

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Compare to other rotations and it is much better than average. You also left out Hamels and Montgomery out of your evaluation.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    Hamels yes. Monty he is a fringe 6th starter.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I'm not disagreeing with the draft strategy. You brought up winning the WS. I just pointed out the draft wasn't the biggest factor.

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    In reply to tater:

    There is a HUGE difference in the "chances taken" in picking someone like Schwarber or Happ. The truth is that as much as people like to say some 17-18 year old kid is a "can't miss" pitching prospect there is an equally common rebuttal: TINSTAAPP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect). Even college pitchers usually have some questions about them.

    Hitters are much more predictable and suffer career threatening injuries with far lower frequency.

    Take Ian Clarkin from this article as Exhibit A. He was the #18 prospect according to MLB going into the 2013 draft. 6 years later he is picked up for NOTHING (literally).

    I am not opposed to drafting pitchers. If there is one that the FO is excited enough about to draft in the first round I will wait-and-see. But if you want to take high-end pitching talent early in the draft you MIGHT end up with Clayton Kershaw. But you might also wind up with Mark Appel or Brady Aiken. Both were very highly thought of. And both have failed to live up to the lofty expectations. And that's just in recent drafts.

    Your examples of Happ (2015) and Schwarber (2014) come OUTSIDE of that window. So it is not really fair to compare them as they have an advantage of another year. Also both of them rocketed through the minor leagues far faster than most players do. Most players spend at least 4-5 years in the minor leagues, which is why the Rule 5 draft doesn't come in the first couple years.

    So let's look at the window you gave: 3 years. 2016, 2017, 2018 drafts. In 2016 the Cubs didn't even have a PICK until the 3rd round. So that one kind of has to be thrown out. And they did pick a pitcher who is still in the organization and pitching in the minor leagues.

    2017 the Cubs picked pitchers with their 1st 5 picks and 7 of their first 8. My guess is that at least one of those early picks was a guy that the Cubs considered the best pitcher available at the time. If you disagree with their judgment of WHICH pitchers to take then that is a separate conversation.

    2018 the Cubs chose ANOTHER hitting prospect. This one a guy capable of playing SS. Which AVAILABLE pitcher should they have taken. Because, recall, the Cubs aren't picking in the first few picks anymore. Most of the "high end pitchers" go in the top 10-15 picks.

    If you want to re-live the 2014 draft the Cubs probably could have taken Aaron Nola or Kyle Freeland. But I remember discussing Nola here and plenty of people had seen him and said he would certainly be an MLB pitcher but would likely not be a "high end" pitcher. He would be a "safe" pick in that he was unlikely to flame out but he was seen as having a limited ceiling at the time. I don't recall the discussions on Kyle Freeland.

    The 2015 draft (Ian Happ) a guy picked later was Walker Buehler. He was available. There were 6 other pitchers picked BETWEEN Happ and Buehler and there were questions about Buehler's size. And, finally, there is no guarantee that Buehler will continue his current success.

    My point is that it is useful to look back at previous drafts and say, "What if..." It is also a fun conversation to have. But we have to remember, in the process, that this is done almost exclusively with "hind-sight." We lament not taking Walker Buehler, but somehow Kolby Allard, James Kapreilian, Brady Aiken, Phil Bickford, Ashe Russell and Beau Burrows are almost never brought up. Apparently other teams thought that THEY were better pitching prospects than Walker Buehler and better worth the risk of a 1st round pick. While I am sure they are fine players their teams could ALSO be faulted for not seeing the potential of Walker Buehler.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Nice post Joel. You framed it very well.

    Hindsight is always nice. But, having a philosophy is stronger and the Cubs stuck to their plan to get to a sustained success at the MLB level. Now they are sprinkling in a few more arms than previous drafts.

    I still believe in their path and would not deviate.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I am with you. The FO is one of the best. They know much more than any of us fans but some fans will never be satisfied.

  • In reply to veteran:

    Exactly. Thanks to you, Tater, Bolla, and a few others for bursting the fairy tale bubble of everything is well and good on the farm, but rather presenting the brutal reality of our not drafting well. I do not think that Ricketts, as the Cubs owner, is in this for the short term and will not risk going over the salary cap limit to destroy our drafts for years to come. We broke the jinx and won the World Series 2 years ago and now must rebuild the farm system for our future teams. That means having good draft positions along with the higher amounts of money available at those higher draft positions.. It means we must maintain our decent draft positions by not going over the salary cap for short term gains. I think that Hoyer and Epstein must now be told to stop looking for short term solutions to long term problems which involves buying players for big money and losing draft picks and raiding the farm system to buy or trade for older, well worn players, but rather just drafting better. Trying to define our core players is very problematic because it is a very fast changing and moving target. Boston just won the World Series w/o Epstein.

  • In reply to shalin:

    The goal of the farm is to put the best MLB team on the field. Not to continually crack BA’s Top 5 farm system.

    How has that worked out? Pretty spectacular I would say. As for the last couple drafts, those guys shouldn’t be counted on or counted out yet as bad drafts.

    Name all the teams who have graduated 7 regular everyday players from their farm system in the last 4 years and have won 90+ games over that time. I’ll save you time. None! That is the definition of spectacular drafting.

    Crazy how much people worry about the farm system when the goal is World Series titles.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    But...but...we don't have the next Jacob DeGrom at the AA level. Our drafting strategy is obviously a failure!

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Good thing for you is we can trade victor and Addison and get a top elite pitching prospect.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Let's make it a low-A SP. Those guys are virtually guaranteed to become TOR MLB guys.

  • John Farrell's name has surfaced as a possible pitching coach per Mark Gonzales. Yes, please. Farell was an excellent pitching coach and a pretty good manager and most of all he knows arms. Jon Lester's first pitching coach I believe.

  • In reply to TC154:

    According to Kaplan no chance for Farrell. Will be more of a no name

  • Rick Kranitz might be another candidate for Cubs new pitching coach. Among his qualifications :

    1) 13 years experience as a big league pitching coach
    2) 20 years (as pitcher, MiLB manager, MiLB coach, pitching coordinator) in the Cubs system
    3) Outstanding work with the 2017, 2018 Phillies pitching staff which greatly improved this year. See Nola, Aaron.

    Supposedly, he was let go because the Phillies did not want to lose Assistant Pitching Coach Chris Young to another team. From what I have read, the Phillies pitchers are shocked, disappointed, and P.O. that Kranitz was let go.

  • Sharma wrote tommy hottovoy(cubs run prevention coordinator) is emerging as the leading candidate to be the cubs new pitching coach.

  • In reply to bolla:

    I read that. Have to assume that there's a reason his name has been "leaked..."

  • In reply to bolla:

    Jesse Rogers told Kaplan same thing the other day

  • In reply to bolla:

    And here I thought "run prevention coordinator" was the guy responsible for keeping the guys from missing day games after the brown bottle flu from the night before.

  • fb_avatar

    I am thankful for many things, but since this is Cubs Den I am so thankful for Tom Ricketts, Theo and Co., and Andrew Friedman for leaving the Rays and giving us a chance to hire Joe Maddon.
    My pecan pie awaits!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Dude, I just did a spread for 50 people. The biggest I've ever done. I'm very thankful of the freedom our country offers us, and the men and women who serve to keep it that way. On this day that we gourge ourselves remember those that are hungry. We waste enough food over the next couple days to feed a family for a week or more. Keep the less fortunate in mind.That pecan pie sounds good, Jonathan. I'm not in the South anymore, but I do have walnut trees on my new property.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    I am thankful for all that too, but didn't want to stray too far from Cubs Den, but you are right. We are so lucky to live in this country, and for anyone who has traveled to other countries and seen what they have
    (or don't have) would realize what we have. We do waste so much food in this county--do you know a huge percentage of food is thrown out of grocery stores because it doesn't look good?
    My congratulations on you for hosting so many people.Sit back with a glass of your favorite drink and relax.
    Now we go from one stove to the hot stove. Go Cubs!!

  • I’m thankful for First Resonders, fire fighters, and rain.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    Rain, yes. I hope the flames are staying away. I've lost everything in a wildfire in Texas, and it sucked. Good luck.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    I hope you were not personally affected by the fires.

  • Kinda surprised to see Christian (I always try to call him “Hector”) Villanueva sent to Japan, but I didn’t really keep track of him, and the numbers are mediocre. I also admit I sometimes confuse him with another guy who used to be in our 3B pipeline, Jeimer Camdelario.

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