Every team’s offseason transactions list is dotted with players who are unlikely to make an impact at the MLB level in the immediate future. But, of course, any player who is actively signed by a big league organization has at least something intriguing about them. It could be a certain rate stat, a certain pitch, and intriguing split, or just the fact that a team needs a viable Double-A catcher.
Because the Cubs are a particularly deep team in the first place, these signings often get overlooked—even more so than they used to. But the Cubs front office has a reason for signing each of these players, even if the reasons aren’t always obviously clear. So it’s worth getting to know these names and taking a brief look at how they could (maybe) fit in in 2017.
Why It Might Work: Of the Cubs’ minor acquisitions, this is probably the most major. The Cubs claimed Rollins off waivers not once, but twice this offseason, first from Seattle, and then, about three weeks later, from Texas. As a major league waiver acquisition, Rollins will have a legitimate—though perhaps slight—chance of making the big league roster.
Rollins is a left-handed pitcher who has worked 34 and 1/3 innings in the majors over the past two seasons, both with Seattle. He sits low 90s with his fastball, and mixes in a changeup and a slider. With that mix, he’s held opponents to a .261 TAv in those 30+ plus innings, which is almost exactly league average. He also has an inflated BABIP of .379 against, which would be almost certain to regress in a larger sample size. The 27-year-old performed well, if not extraordinarily well, during the entirety of his time in the minors. In short, he is a left-handed pitcher with major league experience and seemingly untapped potential.
Why It Probably Won’t: The Cubs must like something in Rollins’ makeup, but many of his major league stats are very ugly. His career ERA is 7.60, his DRA is 5.45, and his groundball rate sits at a low 42 percent. He is slightly better against lefties, which is expected, which might put him in the conversation as a LOOGY, but in this case “better” still means that he has allowed an .899 OPS to lefties (.928 to righties). He’s been riding the waiver wire all offseason, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Chicago isn’t his last stop in 2017.
Why it Might Work: Moskos was the fourth-overall pick of the Pirates in the 2007 draft. Now 30, is another left-handed arm with major league experience, which actually summarizes most of the reason that he might be an option this year for the Cubs. He was signed to a minor-league deal after spending 2016 with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in El Paso. There, he worked to the tune of a 3.39 ERA in 61 innings, which is good, except for the fact that his WHIP was 1.52 on the season. His 61 percent groundball rate is also promising, and it is much higher than it was (52 percent) in the majors, but that’s about all there is on the surface.
Why it Probably Won’t: Moskos does have MLB experience, but it came in 2011 with the Pirates, and he’s been out of the big leagues ever since. His trip included a UCL injury in 2014, a suspension for a “drug of abuse,” and a stop in independent league ball before hooking up with San Diego last year, but it still seems probable that Moskos’ MLB days are behind him. It is probably most likely that Moskos will serve as an experienced Triple-A left-handed arm in Iowa, with little chance of actually making the leap to the next level.
Why it Might Work: Solis, 29, is a catcher with major league experience, making him a valuable asset in any organization. He played big league ball with the Padres in 2012 and with the Rays in 2014, and has gotten 100 or more plate appearances in the minors every year since 2011. He rates out as an above-average defensive catcher, with 1.8 adjusted FRAA for 2016. And every organization needs catching depth. Tim Federowicz got 31 at-bats this year, even though there were three catchers ahead of him on the depth chart, and something similar could always happen again.
Why it Probably Won’t: Despite appearing in the majors for two different teams, Solis only has 11 plate appearances and zero hits. At higher minor league levels, his TAv is more often below .200 than above. He’s not a good hitter. This type of player can be key in helping develop minor leauge pitching, and it’s always good to have options at catcher, but it would be very surprising to see Solis get an at-bat with the Cubs this year.
Why it Might Work: The younger brother of the better-known Rickie Weeks, Jemile, 29, has racked up 1068 plate appearances since his debut in 2011. Weeks actually debuted as a 2.9 WARP second baseman in 2011 with the A’s, slashing .303/.340/.421 on the year. His career TAv is .254, which is OK. His career strikeout rate is 15 percent, which is good. He plays about a league-average second base, and he switch-hits. If the Cubs suffer a few infield injuries at once, Weeks will be a very good player to have as a backup in the system.
Why it Probably Won’t: Almost all of those plate appearances from Weeks came in 2011 and 2012—since then, even though he’s made the majors at some point every year, he hasn’t had a season with more than 57. This is largely because he simply stopped having any value as an offensive player. Since his rookie season (which included a .350 BABIP), Weeks simply hasn’t hit at a major league at a major league level. He seems to make the majors every year, but with Javy Baez and Ben Zobrist as options at second base, it seems unlikely (but possible!) that Weeks will get playing time with the Cubs. Regardless, he’ll be important Triple-A infield depth, an area where the Cubs are somewhat lacking.
Why it Might Work: Of all these players, Rodríguez, 32, probably has the most impressive MLB track record. He debuted with the Angels in 2009, and then went on to pitch two average seasons with the rebuilding Astros (2011 and 2012) and then, more recently, with the A’s (2015 and 2016). Between those two stints, he underwent Tommy John surgery, but his effectiveness has been at the same pretty-OK level since he came back. He has a career ERA of 4.35, a DRA of 4.04, and a cFIP of 101, each of which is very close to league average. He’s a flyball pitcher, with a mid-nineties fastball, cutter, and slower curveball. As recently as last year, he’s shown that he can eat innings in a major league bullpen.
Why it Probably Won’t: He was eating those innings in Oakland’s decidedly below-average bullpen, however, and as a right-handed option, Rodríguez is behind at least Wade Davis, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., and Koji Uehara as an option. Injuries could see the Cubs using Rodríguez at some point, but he seems unlikely to develop into the type of reliever that Joe Maddon would trust with much other than mop-up duty. Still, he’ll be valuable and proven Triple-A depth, which is something that makes the Cubs just that much more secure going into their title defense year.
These signings are never the most exciting of the offseason, but they provide a sturdy foundation for a successful franchise. Perhaps even more importantly, these journeyman types of players nearly always have long and interesting baseball stories, and getting to know them just a little bit is worth it for that, if nothing else.
Lead photo courtesy Jake Roth—USA Today Sports