Cubs Minor Leaguers Choose Freedom
15 Cubs minor leaguers were eligible to be Rule 55 minor league free-agents post-2010, and nine ended up choosing to leave.
The other seven have opted to re-up with the Cubs and sign minor league successor contracts for 2011, although it's possible one will retire, while others could get released prior to the start of the 2011 season.
In addition to the 15 players eligible to be Rule 55 minor league free-agents post-2010, three other Cubs (RHP Angel Guzman, RHP Mike Parisi, and IF-OF Bobby Scales) are Article XX-D minor league free-agents, although it has been reported that the Cubs have re-signed Guzman (who is still rehabbing from April 2010 shoulder surgery) to a 2011 minor league contract and a Non-Roster Invitation (NRI) to Spring Training.
The Cubs 7th round draft pick out of a North Carolina HS in 2004, the 25-year old Atkins has had his ups & downs over the years, going 13-4 with a 2.41 ERA and 1.18 WHIP at Peoria in 2006 and a combined 17-7 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.25 WHIP combined at AA Tennessse and AAA Iowa in 2008 (when he was named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year), but also went 8-12 with a 6.58 ERA and 1.48 WHIP at Iowa in 2009. He bounced-back and had a decent (not great) year at Iowa in 2010, but he was unable to crack the Cubs roster except for a few brief call-ups over the past two seasons. I would expect Atkins to sign with the Orioles (he was a John Stockstill draft pick).
The 24-year old Canzler was selected by the Cubs in the 30th round of the 2004 draft out of a Pennsylvania HS, and moved slowly through the Cubs system over the past seven seasons. He spent two seasons with the AZL Cubs (2004-05) and EXST Cubs (2005-06) before finally getting moved up to Boise in June 2006, and then was promoted to Peoria in 2007 and to Daytona in 2008, and then back to Daytona to start the 2009 season, before getting a mid-season promotion to AA Tennessee. He was assigned to Tennessee again in 2010, where he hit a career-best 287/372/566. A natural 1B, Canzler has played 3B and corner OF over the past couple of years to increase his versatility, but he has never had a chance to play AAA ball. I would expect him to sign a minor leagtue deal with an organization that will give him a chance to play at the AAA level in 2011 (probably with an organization that has a AAA affiliate in the International League, so that he can play closer to home), possibly with the Phillies, or maybe with the Orioles (Canzler was another Stockstill draft pick).
The 31-year old Dubois leads the Venezuelan Winter League in HR after clubbing 20 HR in 72 games (1.017 OPS) for Iowa in 2010. He will be looking for a deal that will give him an NRI to Spring Training and more playing time at AAA in 2011, and he was not going to get that from the Cubs.
Gray was acquired by the Cubs from the Oakland A's last December in the deal that sent IF-OF Jake Fox and INF Aaron Miles to Oakland, and Gray, RHP Ronny Morla, and 1B-OF Matt Spencer to the Cubs. Gray suffered a groin strain at Fitch Park last February and never really was able to get into a groove. He struggled with the Cubs, and at AAA Iowa, and then was outrighted last month.
35-year old veteran MLB catcher Mark Johnson has been signed to a Minor League Uniform Player Contract for the past two seasons while serving as a player-coach at AAA Iowa, spending most of the two seasons on the DL with a "sore neck" or a "sprained ankle," but always being able to get himself just healthy enough to be activated whenever a body was needed short-term on the I-Cubs 24-man roster. He was an instructor with the Cubs AZ Instructional League team post-2010, and he even was the Instructs Game Manager the last week, so it's possible that he will take a position as a manager, coach, or instructor in the Cubs organization.
Lahair was signed by the Cubs last off-season as a Rule 55 minor league FA after the lefty slugger had spent seven seasons in the Seattle Mariners organization. The 27-year old Lahair has hit 85 HR over the past five seasons at AAA (including 25 in 125 games at Iowa in 2010), but he struggles against AAA LHP.
The protypical "4-A" player, the 38-year old McClain has hit 292 HR in his minor league career, plus another 71 in Japan 2001-04. But he has never has been able to crack an MLB roster except for an occasional "cup of coffee" (September call-up) over the years. The veteran slugger spent the entire 2010 season on the Iowa DL while re-habbing from off-season knee surgery, but he never got himself into playing shape, and ended up working as a coach at Fitch Park.
The 24-year old Mercedes probably would have been one of the catchers at Daytona in 2011 if he had opted to return, but he apparently believes he can get more of a chance to advance to AA if he goes to an organization where he won't be blocked at the upper levels by Welington Castillo, Robinson Chirinos, Chris Robinson, Steve Clevenger. Michael Brenly, and Luis Flores.
The Cubs had high hopes for Mark Reed when they selected him in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft out of a California HS, but he never hit enough to get out of "A" ball for any extended period of time. The younger brother of long-time MLB OF Jeremy Reed, Mark is a solid receiver with a decent arm, but like Mercedes, he's blocked at AA and AAA by several catchers who are ahead of him on the depth chart. He will be looking to sign someplace where he will have a chance to play at least in AA in 2011.
Adduci, Bibens-Dirkx, and Mathes almost certainly received an NRI to Spring Training and probably at least 1st year 40-man roster money ($32K+) to re-up, while the 24-year old Ramirez probably believes he has a chance to make the Daytona Cubs Opening Day roster after hitting 322/350/420 combined at Boise and Peoria in 2010.
Released by the Seattle Mariners at the end of Spring Training 2009 and then acquired by the Cubs later that season from an independent team, Bibens-Dirkx had a very good year at Peoria in 2009 (7-2 with a 2.04 ERA and 0.91 WHIP) and then again at Tennessee and Iowa in 2010 (combined 10-7 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.17 WHIP), and he is pitching well in the Venezuelan Winter League post-2010 (8th in ERA and 10th in WHIP), too. Because he signed a minor league contract, he will be eligible for selection in next month's Rule 5 Draft, and I would say he is a good candidate to get picked.
Mathes has spent the past four seasons as a rotation starter at Iowa, and while he has received an NRI to Spring Training in each of the past three seasons, he has not been given an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues with the Cubs. It's possible that he has a clause in his contract allowing him to be a free-aqent if he does not make the Cubs 25-man Opening Day roster, or maybe he just likes to spend his summers in Des Moines.
The 22-year old Lugo was one of the top power hitters in the DSL in 2010 (294/382/472 in 58 games, and 3rd in the DSL in HR) in his first season with the Cubs after getting released by the White Sox, and he probably will get an invitation to Fitch Park (Minor League Camp and/or Extended Spring Training) next year after spending four seasons in the DSL (three with the Sox and one with the Cubs).
A 21-year old Venezuelan, Aviles was an outfielder in the Dodgers organization (DSL Dodgers) for four seasons before getting released, and then the Cubs signed him prior to the start of the 2010 season and converted him to a LHP at their Dominican Academy. Although he was on the DSL Cubs #1 roster for the entire 2010 season, he didn't pitch in any DSL games.