When Z Comes Back
With Carlos Zambrano expected to be reactivated from the 15-day DL tomorrow, the Cubs will need to make an acompanying roster move.
Here are the three most-likely moves:
1. Option RHP Jose Ascanio to Iowa.
Since his recall from AAA Iowa ten days ago, Ascanio has appeared in just two games and worked a total of four innings. While he might get more work in the coming days, it still might not be enough to keep him sharp. So the Cubs might want to return him to the I-Cubs starting rotation, where he can get regular work, further extend his pitch count, and try and perfect his secondary pitches. Also, Ascanio will be out of minor league options in 2010 (he's using his 4th minor league option this year), so this is the last season the Cubs can send him to the minors without having to secure waivers. Ascanio is still young (he just turned 24 a couple of weeks ago) and he has "electric" stuff, so if the Cubs want to get him some additional minor league experience, they have to do it this year.
2. Designate LHP Neal Cotts for Assignment.
No question Cotts has struggled this season, but he is (at this time) the only lefty in the Cubs bullpen. That said, the Cubs still might decide to DFA Cotts, move Sean Marshall to the bullpen, and keep Randy Wells in the starting rotation.
If the Cubs were to DFA Cotts, they would have ten days to try and trade him, and if they don't find any takers, they would have to either release him (likely only if Cotts has a "no outright" clause in his contract), or (more-likely) place him on Outright Assignment Waivers.
If he were to be placed on Outright Waivers and get claimed, the claiming club would be responsible for paying Cotts the prorated portion of the MLB minuimum salary (about $300K at this point in the season), and the Cubs would have to pay the balance owed. If Cotts does not get claimed, the Cubs could outright him to the minors (presumably AAA Iowa), where he might (hopefully) find his control and at least get back to where he was last season.
If Cotts were to be placed on Outright Waivers, did not get claimed, and was outrighted to the minors, he would (because he has accrued at least three years of MLB service time) have a player option to become a free-agent immediately. Doing that, however, would mean that he would terminate his contract and forfeit his remaining salary with no termination pay, also meaning the Cubs would owe him nothing. So it's unlikely he would do that, unless he believes he could get as much (or more) on the open market as a FA. Except if he isn't claimed off Outright Waivers for the MLB minumum salary, why would another MLB club offer him more than that should he opt for free-agency?
So figure Cotts would (just as Joey Gathright did earlier this season) swallow hard and accept the outright assignment to AAA, and defer his right to be a FA until after the end of the regular season when his 2009 MLB contract has expired. (Cotts would not be eligible to be a free-agent post-2009 if the Cubs were to add him back to their 40-man roster prior to the end of the regular season, however).
3. DFA Rule 5 RHP David Patton and begin the return process.
David Patton is actually a year older than Ascanio, but he is probably less ready for prime-time, especially if the Cubs fancy themselves a contender. Maybe if the Cubs were cruising along ten games in front of the rest of the N. L. Central Division they could afford to keep Patton around as the 12th man on their pitching staff, but with Aramis Ramirez out until who knows when, it appears that the Cubs will have to fight tooth & nail just get in a position to make it to the post-season, and committing a roster slot to an inexperienced kid like Patton probably isn't the best idea.
The Cubs obviously like Patton a lot, and believe he has the potential to be a quality MLB reliever. But he is a Rule 5 player, meaning in order for the the Cubs to send him to the minors, he first must be placed on Outright Waivers (where any of the other MLB clubs could claim him for $25,000 and assume the Rule 5 obligations), and then even if he were to clear waivers, he would still have to be offered back to the Colorado Rockies for $25,000.
At that point in the process, the Rockies would have the option to take Patton back and assign him to the minors (which is likely). or the Cubs and Rockies could agree to a trade, where the Cubs would send the Rockies cash and/or a player or players in return for retaining the rights to Patton. If that were to happen, or if the Rockies were to decline to take Patton back (which is unlikely), the Cubs could outright Patton to the minors (probably to AA Tennessee) where he could get regular work out of a minor league bullpen.
There is also one other possibility, but it's kind of tricky. The Cubs could try and finesse Patton through the season without having to place him on waivers or offer him back to Colorado.
Rule 5 players must spend one season on an MLB Active List (or MLB DL) and accrure at least 90 days on the Active List (25-man roster) before the Rule 5 restrictions are lifted. If the Rule 5 player cannot accrue 90 days on an MLB Active List by the end of their "Rule 5 season" because of time spent on the DL, the player can complete the required 90 days by remaining a Rule 5 Player into the next season (2010).
At present, Patton has spent 46 days on the Cubs 25-man roster, and if he were to suddenly acquire some mysterious nagging soft-tissue injury (a sprained hangnail, perhaps) that would result in him being placed on the 15-day DL tomorrow (let's say), the Cubs could send him to Fitch Park for a couple of months to throw bullpen side-sessions, "live" BP, and "sim games" (as Angel Guzman did last year), and then send him out on a 30-day minor league rehab assignment (probably to AA Tennessee) in August, before reactivating him on September 1st. Then he could spend 30 days in September and the first four days of October on the Cubs Active List (he wouldn't even have to pitch in a game), adding 34 more days to the 47 days he will have spent on the active roster through tomorrow (Thursday), for a total of 81 days.
He would then have to spend only the first nine days of the 2010 season on the Cubs 25-man roster (thus completing the required 90 days), at which point the Cubs could option him to the minors (and he would have three minor league option years).
Of course, Patton would have to go along with DL plan, and the MLB office might look into it if the "injury" appears at all suspicious.