For the next few months, I’ll have a dual focus in my Cubs writing. (And neither is fake trades.) I’m aiming to have daily prospect articles once the postseason ends, and I want to shake out the 40-man roster the same way Dick Butkus used to account for ball-carriers. Any of the players that don’t seem obvious as far as roster keeps will get at least a brief look. My first in a series on 40-man roster coin flips is Tommy Nance.
An undrafted free agent signed by the Cubs out of indy ball, Nance has had some serious arm concerns as both a college player and a pro, missing significant amount of time in both time periods. If a reliever, or first baseman, is on the wrong side of 27, but remains effective and cost-controlled, how is that an evil?
Would it be better for the Cubs if every reliever flowing through the system was 23 years old and a Top 60 prospect? Of course, but that would be statistically freakish. Sometimes, players develop later. Perhaps they had little pre-signing buzz. Or injuries kicked in. Quite a few players will get out of college later than usual the next few years due to the pandemic. Players that make MLB rosters, especially because they did well in Triple-A, should be considered attributes.
Nance was very good early for the Cubs. His ERA was under 1.00 through mid-June. Then, due to “being found out,” “bad fortune,” injury, overwork, or a combination thereof, his numbers pancaked. His September success wasn’t much better than his June slump.
Does Nance deserve an off-season 40-man roster spot?
On what factors should that be decided?
Do you have to be a member of the Cubs front office to have a valid opinion?
Are there special considerations with Nance?
The 40-man roster is a bit more Parcheesi than Tic-Tac-Toe. Planning into the future is part of the gig. The future involves the unknown, and the unknown includes a degree of hypothetical math. Which isn’t for some. With 40-man roster choices, a bucket game is rather apparent.
Set up different buckets for different types of results. Key player on a good team: one bucket. Useful piece with option seasons remaining is another. Is broken, and will never return, a third. Line up however many buckets as you need, and figure out the likelihood (in your perception) of each player ending up in each bucket. Stick to your opinion, but if you’re wrong, assess what you had wrong when that becomes an issue.
Tommy Nance has two option seasons remaining. Parking Nance in Triple-A Iowa for much of 2022 is a realistic possibility, and having players in Des Moines awaiting a call-up (or on the taxi squad, if that continues) is a perfectly realistic result. It isn’t essential for Nance to be a “likely eighth-inning guy in Chicago in 2022” to merit a roster spot. I doubt the Cubs are giving out 10 MLB free-agent deals this off-season. and having guys like Nance around is part of having an affiliated bullpen.
One thing to mind about Nance is that he hasn’t been non-tendered before. Since he hasn’t previously cleared waivers, if he does clear waivers in early 2022, two permutations can take place if he is run through waivers. One is, another team claims him. (This might hint that he’s probably worth a roster spot.) If unclaimed in January or February, the Cubs retain his rights, while he’s off the 40-man roster. Nance doesn’t have the option to declare himself a free agent, as long as he isn’t non-tendered before December. With that in mind, Nance could make for a very realistic Designated For Assignment candidate in January or February.
That last bit isn’t enough to earn him a roster spot, but it’s enough to serve as a tie-breaker with a player who has previously cleared waivers, and could declare himself a free agent (for example, Sergio Alcántara, Michael Rucker or Trevor Megill). The Cubs figure to bring in quite a few pitchers to spring camp, whether on or off the 40-man roster. I doubt the Cubs have enough activity, with a potential work stoppage, to sign enough free agents by early December to fill the 40-man roster.
Saying “Nance should make the off-season 40” isn’t guaranteeing his success in the future. It’s more about doubting the MLB roster will be overly stocked by early December. Keep Nance on the 40 by tendering him a contract. At league minimum with the option to zipline him to and from Iowa? That would certainly be my call.