The Curious Case of Benjamin Wells
By outrighting eight players and losing two more off waivers over the past couple of days, the Cubs are beginning to clear some space on their MLB Reserve List (40-man roster).
The Cubs MLB Reserve List now stands at 33 players, but three more players (RHP Matt Garza, 3B Ian Stewart, and RHP Arodys Vizcaino) are still on the 60-day Disabled List and they will need to be reinstated no later than the 5th day following the conclusion of the World Series. So the Cubs essentially have a 36-man MLB Reserve List right now.
RHP Shawn Camp is eligible to be an Article XX-B MLB free-agent post-2012 and so he will automatically be dropped from the Cubs 40-man roster the day after the conclusion of the World Series, unless he is re-signed by the Cubs prior to that deadline. While Theo Epstein has said that the Cubs would like to bring Camp back in 2013, it would most likely be on a non-guaranteed minor league contract (albeit for "big league money") with an NRI to Spring Training and opt-out rights for Camp if he is not on the Cubs 2013 25-man Opening Day roster.
So when Camp becomes a free-agent, the Cubs MLB Reserve List will consist of 35 players (including the three players presently on the 60-day DL).
Any player eligible to be an MLB Rule 55 free-agent (AKA "six-year minor league free-agent") can be added (by selection) to a club's 40-man roster anytime up until 5 PM on the 5th day following the conclusion of the World Series. After that deadline, a Rule 55 minor league FA is free to sign a major league or minor league contract with any club (including the player's former club).
LHP (ex-OF) Kyler Burke is the only Cub minor leaguer eligible to be a Rule 55 minor league FA who is likely to receive consideration for selection to the 40-man roster. If the Cubs do not add him to their 40-man roster by 5 PM on the 5th day following the conclusion of the World Series, expect Burke to score a major league contract (40-man roster slot) with another MLB club. (A 24-year old left-hander with upside who has no negative medical history should attract multiple offers). If Burke is added to the Cubs 40-man roster, that would use up one of the five open slots.
All MLB clubs are required to submit their off-season major league and minor league reserve lists to the MLB office on November 20th, in preparation for the December 2012 Rule 5 Draft. Players on minor league reserve lists submitted on 11/20 who are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft cannot be added to an MLB Reserve List (40-man roster), moved to a different minor league reserve list, or traded until after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft, so clubs need to decide by 11/20 which players they wish to add to their MLB 40-man roster to keep them from being eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft. (Free-agents signed to minor league contracts prior to the Rule 5 Draft are also eligible for selection).
At present there are 48 players on Cub minor league reserve lists who are eligible for selection in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft, and of that group, I would think that RHP Trey McNutt, RHP Nick Struck, 3B Christian Villanueva, and IF-OF Logan Watkins will be the only four added to the Cubs MLB 40-man roster by the 11/20 deadline. That would fill-up the 40-man roster, although an additional slot could be saved if (for example) RHP Casey Coleman were to get outrighted (presuming he is not claimed off waivers) at the same time the others are added. (Unsigned players who are eligible to be Rule 55 minor league free-agents cannot be outrighted after the 5th day following conclusion of the World Series, but Coleman is not eligible to be a minor league FA if outrighted).
So figure the Cubs will probably have at least one slot open on their MLB 40-man roster after 11/20 (either because Kyle Burke is allowed to be a minor league FA and/or because Casey Coleman is outrighted).
All unsigned players on an MLB 40-man roster must be tendered 2013 contracts by November 30, 2012 (it's normally December 2nd, but 12/2 falls on a Sunday this year, so the contract tender date is the Friday prior to that Sunday), or else the player automatically becomes a free-agent (he is said to be "non-tendered") and can sign a major leagie or minor league contract with any club (including the player's former club) without any restriction (like waivers).
It is not unusual for clubs to non-tender certain players and then (with an agreement already in place) immediately re-sign the player to a minor league contract (but for "big league money") and an NRI to Spring Training. Arbitration-eligible players coming back from injuries and/or who are not locks to make the Opening Day roster are especially likely to be non-tendered, and 3B Ian Stewart and possibly INF Luis Valbuena (both eligible for salary arbitration--Valbuena is a "Super Two") would seem to fit the profile of a non-tender candidate.
If Stewart and Valbuena were to be non-tendered on 11/30, they would be immediately dropped from the Cubs 40-man roster. That would open up two more slots on the 40.
So the Cubs could have three or possibly four slots open on their MLB 40-man roster going into the MLB Winter Meetings the first week of December, allowing them the flexibility to select a player in the Rule 5 Draft (if they wish), make another waiver claim, and/or sign two or three free-agents (including a couple of starting pitchers) to major league contracts sometime in December or January.
Which brings us to The Strange Case of Ben Wells...
The Cubs drafted 17-year old RHP Ben Wells (Bryant HS - Bryant, AR) in the 7th round of the 2010 MLB Rule 4 Draft (First-Year Player Draft), and signed him to a 2011 contract ("Signed for Future Service") at the 8/15 deadline. Wells reportedly received a $530K signing bonus (equivalent to "3rd round money" at the time) plus guaranteed tuition payments should he wish to attend college sometime in the future.
Wells gave up a chance to play college ball at the U. of Arkansas when he signed with the Cubs, but the bonus he received (plus potentially four years of college tuition) would have turned anyone's head.
However, Bryant Daily sportswriter Rob Patrick reported at the time that there is also a special clause in Wells' contract that requires the Cubs to add him to their MLB 40-man roster in 2013, even though he would not be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft for the first time until December 2014.
Even for a Jim Hendry operation, that would have been an unusual perk to give a 17-year old HS player.
The Cubs did sign Jeff Samardzija and Matt Szczur to second contracts which required placing them on the MLB 40-man roster--Samardzija right away, and Szczur after the season, but the Shark and Scrabble were two-sport stars giving up potentially lucrative careers in the NFL when they commited 100% to baseball. Wells did not have that kind of leverage.
So the question becomes, how is this going to work? When exactly does Wells have to be added to the Cubs MLB 40-man roster in 2013 (does it have to be as early as January 1st, or can it be as late as December 31st?), and what happens if he isn't added to the 40? Do the Cubs have to pay some kind of financial penalty, or does he become a free-agent? Does he have to be healthy in order to get added? (Wells had elbow problems for much of the 2012 season).
Wells is not eligible for selection in the December 2012 Rule 5 Draft, so there shouldn't be any reason to add him to the 40 next month (on 11/20).
And if he is in fact supposed to go to Spring Training with the big club next February, he could do that as an NRI. He doesn't have to be on an MLB 40-man roster to go to Spring Training with the big club.
Time will tell, but this could be really weird.