Cubs announce a flurry of minor league signings this week

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

For baseball fans, it sure feels like the game is at a dead stop. Player images scrubbed from websites, no player-focused coverage on MLB Network and a lack of Hot Stove rumors all contribute to that feeling. But that’s not the case, evidenced by seven minor league deals announced by the Chicago Cubs this week.

We saw this year how critical depth can be – and with a new COVID-19 variant raging across the glove, it seems likely that depth will be just as important in 2022. Every major professional sports league is proof enough of that right now and there’s no reason to think Major League Baseball will be the exception to that rule next year.

With that in mind, Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins added a group to the ranks this week with those minor league deals that feature invites to big league camp:

  • Dixon Machado (IF), Ildemaro Vargas (IF), P.J. Higgins (C), Jonathan Holder (RHP), Locke St. John (LHP), Stephen Gonsalves (LHP), Mark Leiter Jr. (RHP)

A few of those names should ring a bell with Cubs fans. Machado, Vargas, Higgins and Holder have all spent time in the organization previously. Obviously, someone like Higgins is particularly important to have on-hand given the lack of certainty you have when it comes to Willson Contreras’ status with the team.

The Yan Gomes signing definitely helped in that regard, but you need some depth behind him. Hopefully we don’t see Chicago trot out a franchise-record number of backstops again in 2022, but you never know in today’s world.

The Cubs seem likely to (barring a signing) rely primarily on Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal up the middle next year. Hoerner has experience in the outfield, as well, so having Vargas and Machado waiting in the wings certainly won’t hurt matters.

Vargas saw very limited action with Chicago in each of the last two years – and actually bounced around to three different organizations in 2021. Meanwhile, Machado last played in the Cubs’ system back in 2019 when he put up an .851 OPS with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 102 games. He’s back after spending each of the last two seasons in the KBO.

Expect the Cubs to continue to add to the pitching depth in free agency

Hoyer has already improved the big league starting rotation tremendously, but we know the bullpen will be a major focus for the team once the lockout ends. Holder joined the Cubs last winter, but suffered a shoulder injury and actually never threw a pitch at the big league level.

You’ll see St. John and Gonsalves compete in camp for a lefty role out of the pen. St. John was crazy good for the Tigers’ Triple-A club last year, doing a little bit of everything: starting, coming out of the pen and even closing out some games. All told, he worked to a 2.58 ERA and 11.4 K/9 across 59 1/3 innings of work.

Gonsalves has all of 10 big league appearances to his name heading into 2022 and was, at one point, a top 100 prospect in the game. He’s really struggled with control at Triple-A and at the major league level, but he’s clearly got swing-and-miss stuff, as well, evidenced by his 12.7 K/9 with Triple-A Worcester last season.

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Last, but certainly not least, we turn to Leiter Jr., who hasn’t pitched at the highest level of the game since 2018. Last year, though, between Double and Triple-A with the Tigers organization, he turned in solid numbers. Tommy John and the pandemic erased the 2019 and 2020 seasons for the right-hander, so we’ll see how he builds on a solid showing last year this spring.