The Cubs’ off-season stands somewhere between “dawdling” and “thumb-twiddling,” despite the addition of catcher Austin Romine. I grasp that a trade of a big-name, big-ticket player or more might need to precede any major additions. However, with the 40-man roster at 36, at some point, running that to full might be useful eventually. This was my mindset when I saw this MLBTR headline on Saturday about the Braves making a couple of waiver claims that could prove useful.
You might not be familiar with corner outfielder Kyle Garlick or reliever Victor Arano. Arano has 74⅔ innings of MLB time over 73 outings with the Phillies from 2017-19. He has slightly over two years of MLB service time with an ERA of 2.65. Fangraphs valued him at $200,000 in 2020 after a bit over $6 million in 2019. He will make roughly league minimum in 2021.
Garlick homered for the Dodgers in 2019, had an OPS+ that year of 118 as a part-time fill-in, and will make league minimum next season. These seem like the low-risk types of players the Cubs should be filling their roster with. Alas, no.
The Braves, who had a better record in 2020, claimed both Arano and Garlick this weekend. Which means, the Cubs were "Naaah, we're good," regarding both players, despite having four 40-man roster spots available. It's not that either or both would be lead-pipe cinches to be contributors in 2021 or beyond. Far from it. They were inexpensive, have team control if the light bulb goes on, and Garlick could be freely sent to Iowa for seasoning, if needed.
At some point, a plan should become apparent. Hoyer hasn't represented that a plan exists. If Garlick or Arano showed up and looked hopeless, they could then be run through waivers, themselves. No harm, no foul, as it were. However, the Braves bought in on both. Who is better at assessing talent, in your eyes?
Perhaps the Cubs are saving a roster spot for a player or two invited to camp. That could be. However, if PJ Higgins or Shelby Miller represent in Mesa, Dillon Maples or Gray Fenter could be ushered aside. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a few pitchers have longer-term injuries this spring. If a player goes on the 60-day injured list, that 40-man roster spot is refunded. Bringing in Arano and/or Garlick would have given the Cubs a month or more to kick the tires. The team was uninterested.
It's not I know who will work out. However, if the Braves buy in on a player as the Cubs are disinterested, it gets more frustrating to see players ignored when money isn't the reason.
The Reds, over the last few days, have traded for two similarly-named relief pitchers against a better team's 40-man crunch. Were those good trades? Will they have surrendered too much? It could be, but by using that strategy, they've passed the Cubs with 37 on their 40 man, as the Cubs hang at 36. The Cubs could have gone to 38, but passed.
In need of 40-man roster space, #BlueJays have traded right-hander Hector Perez to the Reds for a player to be named later or cash per team— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) January 22, 2021
Perhaps the Cubs plan to sign five players to big-league contracts before the incoming snow stops. Maybe their computers don't like a reliever with three successive above-zero value seasons. Perhaps they have other red flags. At some point, though, adding players to the 40-man limit might be helpful. It might even give a hint of what any plan is. If one exists.