Jonathan Lucroy will be added to the 40-man and 25-man rosters today. Taylor Davis will be optioned back to Iowa to make room for Lucroy on the 25-man.
Later this month or in early September, the expected return of Ben Zobrist will require another 40-man roster move. Looking at who is least likely to survive the next DFA is a valid concern on a Cubs blog. I had little interest in the topic as long as Brad Brach was around, because he was an entire article unto himself. The reality is, Taylor Davis fulfills a valid role in the organization, and at least one name makes far more sense for a DFA than Davis.
As fans get used to the top shelf of their team’s roster, it’s occasionally easy to think that there has to be someone better than the specific fill-in. Whether it’s Mike Freeman at shortstop, or Davis behind the plate, someone has to be available and better, right? As things stand right now, Lucroy is likely better than Davis. Perhaps a few others, as well. When players are added to the 40-man roster, though, others may be in danger of being thwacked. Sometimes, it’s more of a problem than others.
The Davis position is one that is as good as essential in the affiliated organization system. Davis has three assets that are very useful. He’s familiar with the pitchers in both Triple-A and the major leagues. He has minor league options remaining. His cost is rather close to the league minimum. As such, he can be bounced back-and-forth between Iowa as needed, without much heed to cost against salary limits. Every team had limits this July. The Astros’ limits were the lowest, as they were able to trade for Zack Greinke. The White Sox have Zack Collins in a similar spot to Davis. The Cardinals had Carson Kelly in the role for three years. (When they thought he was no better than that, and they suddenly had Andrew Knizner, Kelly was considered excess. Kelly has been useful in Arizona.)
Davis belongs in the Cubs pipeline until the Cubs have someone better at the role. Perhaps Jhonny Pereda is that catcher. Maybe it will be Miguel Amaya. They don’t seem to have anyone in South Bend or Eugene on the pathway to being the escalator catcher, like Davis, but catcher was prioritized in the June draft and July international signings.
I get a bit concerned when the mindset becomes “Willson Contreras should catch six games a week.” Catchers really shouldn’t catch as often as fans want them to. The season is about 27 weeks long. If the starter goes four times a week, that spots him at 108 per season. That, or a little bit over, ought to be the goal. not 108 starts, but four-and-change starts a week. The reserve, whoever he is, is best served taking two or three starts per week, and here or there, bumping it up to five starts a week? Reluctantly, okay. However, heavy reliance on a player at the most physically demanding position doesn’t seem wise, long-term.
The escalator guy, the Davis-type, ought to be expected to be on the big league club two or three months a year, due to injury. If you want the option to be better than Davis, the time to show that is in the draft run-up, or the July international signing period. Every team is going to have a guy that will spend over half the season in Triple-A, and filling out the roster, as needed. Putting a priority on those types in June reduces the urgency for any one specific player to be “the next Taylor Davis.” If the priority and development mesh, you can locate a player that’s much better than “third-best,” and might even turn into a swap piece.
As to who goes when the Cubs need to DFA someone when adding Zobrist? Here are some (not all) of the players the Cubs have on the 40-man roster, but not on the 25-man.
The list quickly trims, as Alzolay, Garcia, Norwood, and Zagunis have been mildly useful this season, and might be in September, as well. As much of a lightning rod as Russell is, he makes sense in September as a starter four or five times so Javier Baez can get some rest. While Wieck isn’t familiar, he cost the Cubs Carl Edwards Jr. and some international spending space. It won’t be him.
That leaves Steele, Rosario, and Maples. Teams will give players like Maples every opportunity to figure out his filthy repertoire. Progress on the mound isn’t linear. Unless no other options are available, it won’t be Maples. Steele has had a rugged 11-start season for Double-A Tennessee. I doubt Steele gets the short straw, and I think he’s safe, for now.
The obvious next choice seems to be Rosario, who might even get a brief MLB look between now and then as a “final appeal” scenario. Rosario, who had his brief day in the sun, is out of options in 2020. The same applies to Duane Underwood Jr. Underwood and Rosario are among the interesting gambles from now until October. If they are going to be useful into the future, their long-term cost control make them very valuable. However, only if useful at the MLB level, as both will be out of options.
With the lefthanded Wieck, effectively, replacing Rosario, I expect Rosario to get the next DFA from the Cubs. Underwood and Steele are in the same general range, but Rosario’s 1.769 WHIP in Iowa leaves him as both unlikely to be claimed and not a major concern if he is. Underwood’s six-strikeout relief performance bumped him up a bit, as well. Regardless how likely you might think it is that the catcher Davis goes unclaimed, the Cubs are in a tight spot in 2020 without an escalator-riding catcher. Davis should survive the offseason, unless a better flexible option is located.