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Twenty-five Cubs minor leaguers elect free agency, including Alec Mills

This is a big move on from a lot of guys who came into the organization under Theo Epstein.

Alec Mills and his Cubs teammates celebrate after his no-hitter over the Brewers in 2020
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It was said of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, when they were the tandem running the Cubs from 2012-20, that they worked together well and often thought the same way. They’d been together for several years in Boston, too.

Since Hoyer has taken over as Cubs President of Baseball Operations, we’re finding out that the two men have very different approaches to leading a baseball ops department. Whether this winds up in another Cubs World Series championship remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: Hoyer doesn’t have much room for sentiment, trading away many popular players from the 2016 team (the right thing to do, in my view) and not signing Willson Contreras to an extension, purportedly because he didn’t feel Contreras was a good fit for his team’s pitching/catching philosophy.

That sort of thing can be seen in this list of 25 Cubs minor leaguers (and thanks to BCBer rlpete for posting these in the comments yesterday), including several sent outright to Triple-A Iowa Thursday, all of whom have become free agents:

Of these 25 players, 11 have played in the major leagues for the Cubs (although some of them, just briefly in the final week of the 2021 season). But at least one of them had significant impact on the team: Alec Mills, who threw the team’s last complete game no-hitter in 2020 and who posted a decent 1.0 bWAR season for the Cubs in 2019. (Curiously, the list also includes the player who was traded to the Royals in 2017 for Mills, Donnie Dewees, who was reacquired by the Cubs in 2019.)

I suppose the Cubs could re-sign some of these players to minor-league deals and bring them to Spring Training, but this long list of guys who had at least some impact on the franchise or who were at one time considered prospects says to me that Jed Hoyer & Co. are moving on from a lot of players Theo brought in (Dewees was a second-round draft pick, for example) and really wanting to put their own stamp on the Chicago Cubs.

Lastly, I want to correct something I wrote in Thursday’s article noting some players had been moved off the 40-man roster. The correct current count on the 40-man, given all those moves, is 37, not 35.

Two deadlines that will affect the 40-man roster come up next week. Tuesday, November 15 is the day teams have to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on the 40-man roster. Friday, November 18 is the so-called “non-tender deadline” where teams have to offer pre-arb and arb-eligible players contracts for 2023. What this likely means for the Cubs is that they’ll probably issue some non-tenders before Tuesday, so they will have more space to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, as well as leave space on the 40-man for trades, waiver claims and/or free agent signings.

Of players currently on the 40-man roster (after Thursday’s moves), I would say the following could be non-tendered: Zach McKinstry, Rafael Ortega, Esteban Quiroz, Alfonso Rivas, Michael Rucker and Jared Young. We also know that Jason Heyward will be given his unconditional release at some point, and I’d guess that would also be before Tuesday to free up a spot for a prospect.

That’s seven more possible removals from the 40-man, so if they all happen that could leave the 40-man roster count as low as 30.

As always, we await developments.