I love the minutiae of Major League roster rules. There I said it. I admit to being that guy that derives perverse pleasure from understanding the rules for being designated for assignment to the variety of revocable and irrevocable waivers involved in baseball.
I bring this up not to claim that I am a better or smarter fan than you (though I am unless you are AZ Phil), but because to truly understand moves involving the 25- and 40-man rosters there is often a lot of moving parts. The addition of Tsuyoshi Wada to the 40-man roster is a perfect example of this situation.
Tsuyoshi Wada has been dominating the PCL this season. His numbers are not quite the video-game start to the season he had, but with a 2.73 ERA in a league with an average OPS of .767, he is having a strong season. Wada also had an opt-out clause, like many veteran minor league free-agent signings, that was fast approaching. This seems like an open-and-shut case for why Tsuyoshi Wada was added to the 40-man roster.
The problem is that Wada isn't the best pitcher on the Iowa Cubs roster. Kyle Hendricks' ERA might be higher than Wada's, but he has been better in every other way. Hendricks strikes more people out. He walks fewer people. He has given up fewer home runs, which has been an issue with Wada. Bosio loves Hendricks.
"We're going to get a good look at this guy before we send him out," Bosio said. "For selfish reasons, I want to see how he performs against big league hitters, not guys in Double A, A ball or Triple A. It's different.
"I think he'll keep his emotions in check. He seems like that kind of guy. His bullpen (sessions) have been pretty special. He knows what he's doing. So let's get him on a big league field against big league hitters and see what he can do."
Hendricks also has the dubious honor of throwing harder than Wada, if not the hardest out of the I-Cubs rotation.
"You're looking at a guy that takes the ball every time out and pounds the bottom of the strike zone. And he sinks it and cuts it really well," Pevey said. "He's got four quality pitches and he's starting to step on the heater. He's throwing between 15 and 18 fastballs at 95 mph just about every start now."
Add in the fact that Hendricks is younger by eight years, and a pretty compelling case for Hendricks having a far better big league career than Wada emerges. So why then, in the middle of a rebuild, are the Cubs choosing a weaker, older pitcher to promote first?
The answer goes back to a simple truth that major league teams are not simply comprised of the best 25 men in the organization. There is a balancing act that requires teams to balance having the best possible major league roster while also keeping the most talent in the organization. Kyle Hendricks is not going anywhere, even if he isn't on the 40-man roster until this offseason.
The Cubs would have lost Tsuyoshi Wada if they didn't add him to the roster. That is why Dallas Beeler is also ahead of Hendricks despite weaker performance to date. Hendricks does need to be added to the roster ahead of the rule 5 draft next year, but the Cubs are probably not anxious to commit those roster spaces prematurely given the other players that needed to be protected (Rafael Lopez and CJ Edwards to just name a couple more).
AZ Phil added an interesting wrinkle to this story with this tidbit:
The Cubs added LHP Tsuyoshi Wada to their MLB 40-man roster last Sunday (June 22) and then immediately optioned him to AAA Iowa because he had a July 1st opt out clause in his contract, but the fact that they chose to make the move on June 22nd instead of waiting a week might be significant because by optioning Wada to AAA on June 22nd, he can be recalled on July 2nd (an optioned player must remain on Optional Assignment for at least ten days unless he is traded, or is called up as a 26th man in a doubleheader, or is replacing another player on the 25-man roster who is placed on the DL or another MLB Inactive List).
And July 2nd (the earliest date Wada can be recalled unless there are unusual circumstances involved) is also the first day of the 2014-15 International Signing Period and it's also the first day that 2014-15 International Signing Bonus Pool (ISBP) Signing Bonus Values (SBV) can be traded, and so it's the day when Jason Hammel (and perhaps others) will most-likeky get traded. (The Cubs traded Scott Feldman, Carlos Marmol, and Roni Toreyes on July 2nd last season, and in each case the deal involved ISBP SBV).
So if the Cubs trade Hammel on July 2nd, Wada can be recalled at the exact same time to replace him, because July 2nd is exactly ten days after June 22nd, and Wada was optioned to the minors on June 22nd.
Now there is a lot there that makes sense. I do think the trade of Jason Hammel will be tied to international bonus money and will occur in early July. However, timing the move to the 40-man roster to make sure that Wada is available on July 2nd is a bit of stretch. The reason being that the roster spot was only open because Wellington Castillo was ready to return to the major league lineup.
It is doubtful that the front office would rush a potential long term piece like Castillo to make sure that Wada would be ready to go on July 2nd. That said, it is pretty clear that Wada is getting the first crack at the rotation from the Iowa Cubs since he has been taking his turn on the same day as Jason Hammel. The pitcher that has been pitching on the same day as Jeff Samardzija for Iowa has been Dallas Beeler, in case you were curious.
Dallas Beeler and Tsuyoshi Wada are the most likely replacements for when the Cubs trade 40% of their rotation again this year. That isn't to say they are the most MLB-ready pitching prospects, but due to the roster rules they are next in line to keep the maximum amount of talent in the organization. Maintaining that talent level within the organization can be as important as the guys on the major league roster because a 25-man roster is not a static entity.
Over the past two seasons the Cubs have used over 80 players, but even in good years like 2008 the Cubs had 65 different players on the major league roster. This is why you have to dig deeper, beyond just the talent level of each individual player, when analyzing roster maneuvering. Because a team's sixth, seventh, and eighth starter will usually contribute meaningful innings, even in a good major league season.