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.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) November 20, 2018
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.