Cubs Send Lendy Castillo Outright to Iowa
The Cubs have sent RHP Lendy Castillo outright to AAA Iowa. Castillo was Designated for Assignment on January 26th when RHP Carlos Villanueva (MLB Article XX-B free-agent signed by the Cubs last month) was added to the 40-man roster.
As most of you know, Castillo was selected by the Cubs off the reserve list of the Phillies AAA Lehigh Valley affiliate in the Major League Phase of the December 2011 Rule 5 Draft. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic by Philadelphia as a 17-year old shortstop in December 2006, but was converted to pitcher in 2010 after hitting a combined 239/287/313 (with 23 SB) in 132 games in the DSL and GCL 2007-09. So when the Cubs acquired him, Castillo had been a pitcher for only two years, and had never pitched higher than Lo-A (equivalent to Peoria or Kane County).
In order to fulfill Rule 5 obligations, Castillo needed to spend the entire 2012 season on the Cubs 40-man roster and/or 60-day DL, with at least 90 days spent on the Cubs MLB Active List (25-man roster). And he just barely made it, too, spending a total of 96 days on the Cubs MLB Active List after being placed on the 15-day DL with a "groin strain" in May. But placing Castillo on the DL allowed the Cubs to send the young RHP on a minor league rehab assignment for 30 days in July, which was spent first in Mesa with the AZL Cubs, and then later at Daytona (which is where he should have been all year) and AA Tennessee. He pitched a total of 20 minor league innings in 14 games at the three stops, allowing just three runs (two ER) on 13 hits (no HR) and 6/22 BB/K, with a sparkling 0.90 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. However, he was cuffed around in twelve games in the Dominican Winter League (DWL) post-2012, allowing 15 hits and 10 runs (7 ER) in 7.1 IP. (The DWL is approximately equivalent to AA).
It is not unusual for clubs to use the Disabled List to try and manipulate the MLB rules to get a Rule 5 player through a season with minimum MLB exposure, placing the player on the DL with some vague soft-tissue injury that can't be medically proven (or disproven), especially if the Rule 5 player is young and not ready for the big leagues (as was the case with Lendy Castillo). And by placing the player on the DL and leaving him there for a while, the club can eventually get the player 20 or 30 days of minor league time during the course of the player's "Rule 5 season" by way of a minor league rehab assignment (up to 20 days for a position player and up to 30 days for a pitcher). But even with the 14 minor league games (20.0 IP) while on the 30-day minor league rehab assignment and another 13 games (16.0 IP) while performing occasional mop-up duty at the big league level when he was on the Cubs MLB Active List (25-man roster), 2012 would probably have to be considered essentially a "lost season" in terms of development for Lendy, and now he will have an opportunity to get regular work at either Tennessee or Daytona in 2013 (depending upon where he is assigned at the end of Minor League Camp).
Castillo is just 23 years old (he will be 24 in April), he's athletic, he throws hard, and and he has been pitching only three years, so it's not like he's some 4-A retread. (Baseball America recently ranked Castillo as the Cubs #28 prospect). But despite his young age and relative inexperience as a pitcher, the Cubs will need to get a good reading on his ceiling in 2013, because he will be a Six-Year Minor League Free-Agent after the 2013 season if he is not added back to the MLB 40-man roster by the 5th day following the conclusion of the World Series. (He could become a minor league 6YFA and then re-sign with the Cubs, but Castillo would hold all the cards).
The Cubs made another Rule 5 selection in the Major League Phase of the December 2012 Rule 5 Draft, this time drafting RHP Hector Rondon off the reserve list of the Cleveland Indians AAA Columbus affiliate. The 24-year old Rondon was a former Indians Top 10 Prospect who missed much of the past three seasons while recovering from TJS. However, he pitched well as a set-up man for Caracas in the Venezulan Winter League (VWL) post-2012, at least proving he was (finally) healthy. (He pitched in more games in the VWL post-2012 than he did in the minor leagues over three previous seasons combined).
The thing is, unlike Lendy Castillo, Rondon has been outrighted previously in his career, and so he can elect free-agency if he is outrighted to the minors. And he is also out of minor league options, so even if the Cubs can secure waivers and even if the Indians opt not to reclaim him, he can't be optioned to the minors, and if he's outrighted (either by virtue of being re-claimed by Cleveland or outrighted by the Cubs), he can refuse the assignment and elect free-agency. So it's probably pretty much "Wrigley Field or Bust" for Rondon in 2013. He either makes the Cubs Opening Day 25-man roster (or starts the season on the 15-day or 60-day DL), or he's probably gone. In that sense, the Rondon Rule 5 selection was basically a glorified waiver claim of a player who is out of minor league options, with immediate results required for it to pay off.
Whatever ends up happening, Rondon (as a Rule 5 Player) can be traded at any time, but he cannot be placed on Outright Waivers until 25 days prior to MLB Opening Day, and he cannot be re-claimed by the Indians, outrighted by the Cubs, or released any earlier than 20 days prior to MLB Opening Day.
The Cubs will have to drop another player from the MLB 40-man roster whenever Scott Hairston is added. Like Carlos Villanueva, Hairston was an MLB Article XX-B FA, and thus the Cubs do not have to add him to the 40 until the contract is filed with the MLB Office. And the Cubs have up to 20 days to file the contract after Hairston signs on the line which is dotted. So depending on when Hairston actually signed, it's very possible that the Cubs will be able to wait to add Hairston to the 40-man roster until after the start of Spring Training, and then place either Arodys Vizcaino orScott Baker (both TJS rehab) on the 60-day DL at the same time.
Another possibility would be to try and outright 3B Ian Stewart to the minors, like the Cubs did with Manny Corpas and Blake DeWitt this time last year. Stewart was non-tendered on November 30th and then re-signed with the Cubs in December, getting a non-guaranteed 2013 major league contract with a $2M salary and another $500K in potential performance bonuses. If he were to be placed on Outright Waivers and waivers are secured, Stewart could be outrighted to the minors (and removed from the 40-man roster), although he would still be at Spring Training (as an NRI) with the exact same salary and opportunity to make the Cubs MLB Opening Day 25-man roster as he had when he was on the 40-man roster. Although Stewart could elect free-agency if outrighted (he has more than three years of MLB Service Time), it is unlikely that he would opt out since he would have gone unclaimned off waivers, and thus he (and his agent) would know that no other club was interested in him enough to make a claim (at least for that salary and a spot on the claiming club's MLB 40-man roster).