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Cubs 40-man roster coin-flips: Adrian Sampson

The Cubs’ acquisition of Sampson turned out to be an astute move.

Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

In my self-selected writing genre, being wrong is a regular occurrence. I don’t think any of my faux trade ideas have ever happened. However, I’m not mocking trades because I think they’ll happen. I’m trying to figure out what makes sense, for both sides. If only to me. I make comments on who I think the Cubs ought to draft, and when I do, I’m usually wrong. Nonetheless, I continue. I’m wrong regularly, and I’m good with it, but I try to be as close as possible. Nonetheless, I took the bait regarding my next 40-man roster coin-flip selection.

In case you’ve forgotten a main subtext of the 2021 season, here it was. Another pitcher got injured. Perhaps it was a big league starter, or a prospect. Quite a few teams seemed to be playing solitaire for part of the season with 49 cards in the deck. When it was announced the Cubs were bringing in Adrian Sampson to take a roster spot at Triple-A Iowa, I was none-too-impressed. His numbers were ghastly.

A 2012 fifth-round draft choice by the Pirates out of Bellevue Community College in Washington, Sampson pitched in 2020 for Lotte in the KBO. Through six 2021 I-Cubs outings, including four starts, I still hadn’t changed my mind. But, hey, someone has to serve as a starter for the I-Cubs. I was ignoring a basic premise, though. Few minor league contract signings are bad contract signings.

After his June 12 start at Iowa, Sampson’s ERA was 6.92. It tumbled by more than two full runs over the next two months. By mid-August, pitchers being traded or shelved created the need for another call-up. By then, Sampson made sense, for two reasons. First of which, he’d trimmed his ERA by two points in two months, and had earned it. Secondly, if he managed to hit the “one-in-a-Frank-Schwindel” chance, and played well, the Cubs were going to be able to keep him into 2022 at a reasonable rate.

Despite following my Twitter feed rather close, I had zero cases of people asking “Why for the love of Ray Burris is this guy pitching in the major leagues?” in late September. There were a few scares. Some lineouts. A few bombs to the track. In all, Sampson showed the difference between BB-Ref WAR (0.6) and Fangraphs WAR (-0.2). However, for the question of a 40-man roster spot, two things should be minded before pointing to my default Fangraphs as proof of anything.

Sampson, amazingly, still has three minor league option seasons remaining. When he was called up previously, in 2019, the Texas Rangers had the same thought as the Cubs. We’re riding this guy until the end of the season. (Which means, if non-tendered, he can select free agency.) Barring a change in the CBA, Sampson can get toggled on the Iowa Zip-Line until the middle of the decade, if it suits the Cubs.

Also, there’s no real reason to expect (starting) pitcher injuries are going to stop in 2022. When whichever Cubs pitcher has an injury malady, it would be nice to have two or three ready starting pitching options in Iowa who are “Been there, done that” about starting in an MLB game. Sampson fills that rather important role on a 40-man roster, even if he isn’t a high-leverage prospect.

Sampson as a starting pitcher in Iowa in 2022 would be a bit of a pacifier. It’s entirely fair to wish someone with higher prestige was holding down that spot, but assessing the 40-man roster is about putting the team’s ducks in a row. As unimpressed as I was by the signing, it turned out to be very astute. Sampson has earned a 40 man roster spot, in my opinion.


Should Adrian Sampson make the Cubs 40 man roster in mid-December?

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