Last Friday on Cubs Twitter, the “Laurel or Yanny?” question became “Terrance Gore or Tommy La Stella?” Michael Cerami wrote an article at Bleacher Nation on this topic, with Brett Taylor chiming in as well. With a minor quibble, I agreed with everything in the article. So, why am I, of all people, playing “Me too?” I would have rolled the article entirely differently.
If you’ve just dipped into the Cubs universe today, and you didn’t read the article (you should), you might not know that Tommy La Stella is a near-elite pinch hitter. He’s mildly versatile defensively, but not especially good at third, second, first or the outfield corners. On the other hand, Gore has “video game cheat code” speed, is a usable outfielder (my minor quibble with the article is that Gore is perfectly fine defensively), but is very challenged at the plate.
The question last week was which one belongs on an October roster more. It’s a valid thought-process. For my money, there’s a much more timely/important question, which creates a situation where the question of the day becomes more salient.
Tommy La Stella can be retained by arbitration this off-season. If he retains his 40-man roster spot, his 2019 salary will either be negotiated between the team and player, or be decided by an arbitrator. Rather straight-forward. As the acquisition in the Arodys Vizcaino trade is still useful for the team, bring it on. What he makes is of little concern to me.
Gore, however, is a different kettle of fish. His option seasons have been long since burned through, toggling from Triple-A to Kansas City and Chicago. The Cubs have two realistic questions to examine in the relative near future with Gore. The first is rather obvious. Should he retain a 40-man roster spot all off-season? Regardless how many players are in timeout, the answer to this is clearly “No.”
However, the second question is more important, and comes with a supplemental one. Do the Cubs want Gore in the pipeline next season? If you strip away roster spot considerations, I’d guess the answer is “Yes.” Then, it would boil down to if Gore wants to remain with the Cubs. He will soon be a free agent, able to broker any deal that he can.
I strongly doubt any of the 30 teams will offer Gore a big-league deal this offseason. If someone offers one, he should clearly take it, regardless who offers. I strongly doubt Gore gets a major-league deal. This would mean he would likely sign the best “minor-league deal” available. I hope I haven’t lost you yet.
Shortly after Theo Epstein arrived, he realized his pipeline was a bit shy on infield depth. In February 2012, the Cubs designated Blake DeWitt for assignment. Eventually, he cleared waivers, to the surprise of almost nobody. To claim him, another team would need to take on his $1.1 million deal, which intrigued no one. DeWitt now had two options. He could be declared a free agent, and rip up his contract, or honor his contract, and be bound to it for the season.
Those were his two options. Put yourself in DeWitt’s shoes. As a marginal player, you can be declared a free agent, or take you money that is guaranteed, and deal with it. If a player has an option season remaining, they have little recourse. They can go where they’re told, or leave the affiliated system. It isn’t nice, fair, or caring. It is well-defined, though.
DeWitt took his money. He broke camp with the parent club, and was returned to Iowa in May. At the end of the 2012 season, he became a free agent again. When he chose to decline free agency early in the year, he had made his decision. He was back in the scenario where he could be optioned again.
The question with Gore then becomes: Is he worth offering a competitive contract? Some of you might want him playing in Des Moines in 2019. Some of you might prefer that not be the case. Gore will be a free agent, in all likelihood, quite soon. He will sign a minor-league deal with one of the 30 teams. How much do you want the Cubs to offer him a competitive pact?
Assumption time. Let’s assume Gore really likes the Cubs MiLB contract offer. (I’m thinking in the range of $850,000 to $1 million ought to suffice. This is a split-deal, with him receiving a lower amount when in the minor leagues. Say $500,000 to use a number.) Gore signs with the Cubs on a split-deal, as noted above. Again, questions are welcomed if you’re lost.
Gore will get paid the higher number when in MLB, and the lower number when in the minors. An opt-out date could be added as a clincher, if needed. The MLB team heads to Chicago, and Gore goes to Iowa, receiving the lower number. Early in the season, a Cubs hitter is injured. Because it happens. Gore is called up to Chicago, and now is on the 25-man, the 40-man, and makes the larger number. At some point, his presence is no longer required in Chicago. He is optioned to Triple-A Iowa, as he has far less than six years of MLB experience.
“But, he’s out of options. He can’t be sent to Iowa.”
Correct and correct.
The first step is still that he can be optioned. If he clears waivers (this would be very likely, early on in the season), the Cubs can option Gore to Iowa. However, they have no ability to compel him to go there. He can be declared a free agent, or go to Iowa. (This doesn’t apply with players with six years of MLB experience. They can refuse the assignment, take their money, and go elsewhere.)
Does Gore rip up a contract he signed with a team he agreed he wanted to play for, and surrender the rest of his money? Or return to Triple-A for them? Those are his choices. Free agency, or return to the yo-yo he’s become used to. Theoretically, he could do either. It’s in the player’s hands. However, if he wants the guaranteed money, he does what DeWitt did. Whatever the Cubs want.
With that in mind, if a team wants Gore for 2019, they are strongly benefited in paying him a bit more than he might expect, as the Cubs did with DeWitt in 2012. Then, his issue of “being out of options” is less of an issue than normally would be the case.
If you want Gore to be on the Cubs 2019 roster, it’s possible. It would be a bit unwieldy. He might, or might not, be worth using in October over La Stella. However, if you think Gore is worth having around, it can still happen. Just Blake DeWitt him. This seems far more timely now, than arguing about October of 11 months and a few weeks in the future.