One of the big questions surrounding the Cubs pitching staff this spring is whether Adbert Alzolay, who had some promising outings late last September, would be out of options. A case regarding a fourth option year for some players, including Alzolay, has been before an arbitrator.
According to Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago, the arbitrator has ruled in favor of MLB in Alzolay’s case:
The Cubs learned Tuesday that a potential complication to final roster decisions has been cleared up, with word that promising young pitcher Adbert Alzolay will have a fourth minor-league option this year.
The decision by an arbitrator on one of multiple grievances filed on behalf of players over unresolved issues from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season means that Alzolay can be sent to the minors to start the season without exposing him to waivers.
Alzolay, who is on the roster bubble after a shaky spring, otherwise almost certainly would have been kept on the opening roster if only to avoid the risk losing him to a waiver claim, possibly at the expense of a better-performing pitcher or even a position player.
A major-league source said the decision has not been made official by Major League Baseball or the players’ union, which issued a blanket “no comment” regarding any of its grievances related to 2020.
There’s a lot to unpack here.
As noted by Wittenmyer, Alzolay hasn’t had a great spring, although in a very small sample size. He’s appeared in just three games covering four innings (though did also pitch in a couple of intrasquad games). As such, he wouldn’t be stretched out to start, or even to fill a long relief role.
He’ll likely be assigned to the Cubs’ alternate site until the Triple-A season begins in May, at which time he’ll probably be in the Iowa rotation.
Alzolay reportedly developed his slider at the alternate site in South Bend last summer and showed progress in that in some MLB appearances in September.
It has yet to be announced where the Cubs’ alternate site will be; South Bend seems a logical place.
One thing that’s a concern of some regarding the alternate site is that players there don’t get a real feel for competition just playing intrasquad games. This article in The Athletic notes how a couple of teams will be addressing that this year:
While noting that everything is subject to change with the pandemic ongoing, the plan is for the A’s to hold their alternate site camp at the home of the Low-A Stockton Ports, Banner Island Ballpark. Same as last summer, the Giants will be at the home of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, Sutter Health Park.
The current plan is for the A’s and Giants alternate site groups to square off four times a week, with two games at each stadium, for the duration of the alternate site schedule.
So, that could conceivably be the plan for the Cubs — match up with another team that has an alternate site near theirs, and play competitive games against another team’s minor leaguers while waiting for the minor-league season to begin. Alzolay could get stretched out to start in such a scenario.
Beyond that, this likely makes clear a couple of spots in the pitching staff. Alec Mills, who had a decent season in 2020 that included a no-hitter, appears to have locked down the No. 5 spot in the rotation, while Shelby Miller could play a role similar to what Mike Montgomery used to do a few years back:
Shelby Miller with another shutout inning. Two K, two BB.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 23, 2021
Ross pregame: "I've talked to him about being a swing guy. I've talked to him about one inning. I've talked to him about multiple innings. And I've talked to him about starting."
NRI, still in Opening Day roster mix.
Miller has six appearances this spring (one start). He’s thrown nine innings, allowed seven hits and five walks (1.333 WHIP), allowed two runs (one earned, 1.00 ERA) and struck out 12.
Yes, it has been several years since Miller was an effective MLB pitcher. But he appears healthy this spring, and he could be quite useful to the Cubs in the roles noted above by David Ross. As noted in the tweet, Miller is a non-roster invitee to spring training and will require a 40-man roster spot. The Cubs currently have one 40-man spot open and could clear another one by placing Rowan Wick on the 60-day injured list.
Adbert Alzolay is still a key part of the Cubs’ future. He’ll be back. For now, he can get regular work — which he wouldn’t get in Chicago — and the Cubs would seem to be well-served by Shelby Miller.