Recent history suggests that the Chicago Cubs do not have success in signing reclamation projects in free agency, but that might not stop them.
Guys like Danny Hultzen, Tony Barnette and Xavier Cedeno all struck out in the bullpen, and Daniel Descalso played sparingly after June. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best showing for buy-low guys the Chicago Cubs targeted of late in 2019.
Yet, there is an oft-injured infielder that could be a decent fit with the Cubs given that he would plug multiple holes and would be a cost-efficient alternative to other players on the open market.
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Former Tampa Bay Rays infielder Matt Duffy cleared waivers on Tuesday and is now a free agent, and, given that he would have made just $2.9 million in arbitration before being designated for assignment, he figures to come at a low price tag.
Sure, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have every reason to be wary of these moves given how they have panned out in the past. Still, there is upside to signing Duffy that is hard to ignore.
By now you have heard all about the Cubs contact woes. They ranked second-to-last in the National League in contact rate, and all too often seemed reliant on the home run.
Epstein has put a premium on developing contact hitters in recent changes made to the player development staff, and Duffy fits the traditional mold of a guy that simply puts the ball in play.
Duffy is a career .282 hitters in nearly 1,800 plate appearances. He is just one year removed from hitting .294 in 560 plate appearances, and he has posted a contact rate of at least 82 percent in each year since 2015, according to FanGraphs.
Injuries may have zapped Duffy’s power. He hit 12 homers and posted a .428 slugging percentage in 2015, when he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year Award race.
Since then, Duffy has hit just 10 total homers. He played in just 46 games last year after missing the entirety of the 2017 season. Achilles and hamstring maladies have plagued his career.
That said, he can put the ball in motion, and despite hitting just four homers and posting a .366 slugging percentage in 2018, Duffy still managed a respectable 107 wRC+ value. Compare that to Addison Russell, who could not even surpass 100 wRC+ in his breakout 2016 campaign.
More money to spend in other areas
Should the Cubs sign Duffy, they will add to their infield depth while still having more money to spend on the bullpen and other areas that might demand more immediate attention.
Guys like Howie Kendrick and Ben Zobrist are tremendous options for the Cubs to consider, but the Cubs might be priced out of their respective markets due to demand.
Duffy, on the other hand, is more likely to sign something akin to a minor-league deal such as that signed by Josh Harrison. That makes him a low-risk, high-reward kind of buy.
Is there a risk? Of course. It always gets risky when injury histories are involved. However, the Cubs would address an area of need by signing Duffy, and they could mitigate injury concerns by moving him from third base to second base.