Cubs Sign Three Minor League Free-Agents

Besides re-signing free-agent RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract, the Cubs have signed three minor league free-agents in recent days, including one player who (as things stand now) actually has a legitimate chance to make the Cubs 2009 Opening Day Roster.

The three recent signees are veteran catcher Mark Johnson, ex-SF AA LHRP Jason Waddell, and ex-DET AA RHRP Angel Castro.   

The 33-year old left-handed hitting Johnson was a #1 draft pick of the White Sox way back in 1994, and was one of the players the Sox sent to OAK in the Keith Foulke for Billy Koch and Neal Cotts trade in December 2002. Since then, Johnson has bounced around like a billiard ball, moving from OAK to MIL to the Cubs (he played at AAA Iowa in 2005) back to MIL, then to ATL, and onward to STL.

Johnson is the epitome of a "4-A" player, a guy who gets a Non-Roster Invitation (NRI) to Spring Training with an MLB club every year and can always find a job at AAA, but has difficulty taking advantage of opportunities at the big league level (254/383/356 lifetime minor league hitter, with 218/314/318 lifetime MLB numbers).  .

Over his 15-year pro career, Johnson has spent all or parts of eight different seasons in the major leagues, including three full seasons with the White Sox (1999, 2000 and 2002) where he was used as a platoon catcher, alternating with the likes of Brook Fordyce, Josh Paul, and Sandy Alomar, Jr. Johnson's most recent MLB action came last September with the Cardinals, where hit .294 in ten games. and while he isn't much of a hitter and while he is virtually devoid of power (he's a poor man's Paul Bako), Johnson does take a lot of walks. 

Why this matters is because 2008 Cubs back-up catcher Henry Blanco is a free-agent, and he may not return to Chicago in 2009. With reigning N. L. Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto the #1 guy, the Cubs are unlikely to spend much on a back-up catcher, and since top catching prospect Welington Castillo probably still at least a year away, the Spring Training battle for the Cubs #2 catcher job in 2009 would appear (at this point anyway) to be between hold-over Koyie Hill and Mark Johnson, with the loser likely to be the #1 catcher at AAA Iowa. 

27-year old LHP Jason Waddell was the Giants' 8th round pick out of Riverside CC in June 2001, and he has spent his entire career in the SF organization, never pitching above AA. He spent the last five seasons bouncing back-and-forth between San Jose and Connecticut, and will likely battle for a lefty reliever job at AAA Iowa in 2009. Whether he will get an NRI to Spring Training with the Cubs has not been announced, but I would bet he will.

26-year old RHP Angel Castro is from the Dominican Republic, but he played college ball in the U. S. at Western Oklahoma State JC. He was drafted by the Tigers in the 13th round of the 2006 Rule 4 Draft, and spent the last three seasons pitching in the Tigers minor league system before getting released last month. He was not a six-year minor league FA, so it is not clear why the Tigers chose to release him at this time. It looks like he had a really nice season in 2008, though. He is presently pitching for Azucareros in the DWL.  

A scouting report from 2006 projected Castro as a reliever, with a 90-93 fastball that ccasionally touched 95 and a "darting" knuckle-curve, but if he had that kind of stuff in 2008 at AA one would think the Tigers probably wouldn't have released him.

While it's unknown if Castro will get an NRI to Spring Training with the Cubs in 2009, he will probably be given an opportunity to compete for a bullpen job at AAA Iowa.


I thought the Cubs' plan was to bring back Hank but at a lower price, hence the buyout. They're already in for $300K, so if Hendry can sign him for say, $1.2MM max, I bet that gets done. Geo seems to like Hank, I wonder if that counts for anything with the brass.

Phil, isn't Koyie Hill still a FA? I didn't know the Cubs already brought him back.

Submitted by Jim Hickmans Bat on Fri, 12/05/2008 - 3:16pm.

I thought the Cubs' plan was to bring back Hank but at a lower price, hence the buyout. They're already in for $300K, so if Hendry can sign him for say, $1.2MM max, I bet that gets done. Geo seems to like Hank, I wonder if that counts for anything with the brass.

Phil, isn't Koyie Hill still a FA? I didn't know the Cubs already brought him back.


JIM H: The Cubs would probably like to bring Henry Blanco back for less money, but he might have other ideas.

As for Koyie Hill, he has been on the Cubs 40-man roster since the Cubs brought him up from Iowa on September 1st, and I would expect him to remain on the 40 at least until Blanco re-ups (if he does). 

Greg Maddux to announce retirement at Winter Meetings. Can't wait for 5 years from now to see him hopefully be come first unanimous HOF'er. Thanks for the memories!!!!

Sadly I don't think he'll be unanimous. Too many boneheaded sportswriters floating around.

Tricky Rickey is on the ballot for the first time this year - I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks the highest % record. Who has that now, Brett? I remember it was Seaver for a long time.

It's still Seaver at 98.84%, followed by Nolan Ryan (98.80%), Cal Ripken Jr. (98.50%), Ty Cobb (98.23%), and George Brett (98.20).

Those are the only 5 over 98% in history. I doubt Maddux does better, always a few stupid voters who vote for no one, or who refuse to vote for first years, etc.

would anyone argue that those are the 5 best players in the Hall? The BBWAA, GED not required....

Babe Ruth?

Um--- yeah, he was pretty good too....

Ted Williams and Wille Mays say " Hi" too.

IMO-Ruth greatest of all time until some one comes along and pitches and hits as good as he did.

I agree that reserve catcher may be one of the places Hendry looks to save some salary in 2009.

Is KC serious about contending? Wonder if they'd be interested in a Buck for Marquis deal.

1. Buck would be more expensive than Blanco.
2. Hard to see any KC interest in Marquis, either from a need or $$ perspective.
3. I think Hendry could flip Marquis for Guillen if he wanted to, but other than that, nope.
4. Royals COULD really use someone like a Mike Wuertz though.

1. Marquis is more expensive than Buck
2. They have two starters, so I think they need 3 more, unless they plan to forfeit a lot of games in 2009
3. Read #2
4. Well they could really use a power RH setup man. I don't think Wuertz qualifies, plus he will make less than Buck so that makes no sense.

Why the hell would we want Buck? Marquis is more valuable to us as a 5th starter (unless they're willing to take on his salary) than Buck is as a backup catcher...considering how much Hank played last year. I'd rather have Hill and Marquis.

Um, what? No one wants Buck but you. Further,

1. Greinke
2. Meche
3. Bannister
4. Hochevar
5. Davies

I'm sure they'd be willing to upgrade from Davies and put him in the bullpen as a long man, but they hardly have "two starters." They're not about to give up on Hochevar after one rough rookie season. Bannister is one year removed from being a guy with Cy Young votes.

I had forgot about Hochevar.

Bannister is not one year removed from receiving Cy Young votes. He is however one year removed from having a solid ERA supported by an unsustainable BABIP.

Marquis would be their third starter, though Davies or Hochevar could supplant him by the end of the year.

The point in trading Marquis for Buck is that we get an established ML catcher to back up Soto, not a Sunday backup, but a guy who we won't have to say 'Oh shit what are we going to do now that Soto has a broken leg' backup, while shedding a chunk of salary so which can be spent on Peavy or the new RF'r.

But why trade for Buck? Buck is a turd. There is a reason Miguel Olivo got 300+ ABs last year. Sign Blanco to be the backup catcher. They will hit about the same, Blanco's defense is far superior (compare 16% CS to 45%), he expects to be a backup, he knows the pitching staff, he knows the coaching staff, works well with Z, is great in the clubhouse, and they cost the same. If the idea is to shed Marquis's salaray, then at least trade him for something we need - LF, bullpen arm, loogy, etc.

Yeah, I had actually thought that Buck is a better defensive catcher than the stats show. Maybe I read it somewhere. He's probably a candidate to be non-tendered, unless the stats lie, or the KC's are really high on his game calling.

I'm talking about an even up trade for Marquis, so someone who comes in a $3 million or less. Not sure we need a left fielder.

If we can trade Marquis even up for someone we need making 2-3 million and use the savings to complete the trade for Peavy, I am all for it. I'd like to see Hendry get something to replace what he will lose in the Peavy trade - relief arm, swingman like Marshall, utility infielder to replace Cedeno, etc.

Well he's not going to bring Marshall back. And I don't think there's a big difference between your backup SS/2B and your backup Catcher.

Well, if you trade away your backup SS/2B in a deal for a back-up catcher, then you have to sign a back-up SS/2B somewhere and you'd be letting Blanco go. I simply think the Cubs should re-sign Blanco and trade for one of the positions they are trading away. This seems like the best solution.

Blanco is farther gone than Wood.


Brian Bannister is not concerned about your BABIP issues...

that was a fascinating story from last year, how many pitchers realize they were being lucky and trying to figure out ways to "beat the system"?

I read that article based on some KC blogger's article last year.

The thing about two strikes was pretty telling. The KC Fan thought that Bannister would do what we want Zambrano to do, throw strikes, and if you get to two strikes on a guy, then try to get the K, but otherwise, just keep it down in the zone. But then when I looked at Bannister's stats - he wasn't really any better with 2 strikes than you would expect.

To be a succesful major leaguer, you've got to get a lot of GB's or a lot of K's. At this point, it doens't look like Bannister is going to be able to do either. I do like the fact that he's trying to figure it out, though. It took Maddux 6 years to do that, but he started off with better talent.

speaking of Maddux and 2 strikes...great story on XM radio last night from Leo Mazzone.

Maddux comes over from the Braves and is throwing a bullpen session, I'm guessing first day of spring training or something. They're chatting and stuff and Greg tells Mazzone, just tell Bobby Cox I'm going to give up a lot of 0-2 hits and not to get mad.

Mazzone is like okay, but do I mind explaining why, because I'm pretty sure he's going to get mad when I tell him. So Maddux explains that at 0-2, the hitter has the biggest disadvantage and that's when Maddux is going to try and get him out, instead of wasting a bunch of pitches.

So Mazzone goes to  Cox, who's like, wtf are you talking about....Mazzone explains what Maddux said and Cox replies, "and that's what seperates the mediocre from the great".

Phil, have you heard any rumors as to the minor lge manager assignments for next season? I know there is an opening at Iowa at this time.

Submitted by Hagsag on Fri, 12/05/2008 - 5:35pm.

Phil, have you heard any rumors as to the minor lge manager assignments for next season? I know there is an opening at Iowa at this time.


HAGSAG: I haven't heard anything.

E-Man and all,
Got my Season ticket renewal sheet. Cubs raised ticket prices again (Thanks Mr. Hendry!). They said they are going up 6% overall, but my tickets only went up 4.7%. Better than last year when they said ticket prices went up much less than they really did for season ticket holders (my ticket went up 20.5% last year).

Go Cubs!

Who's going to point out to Manny that GM's don't set ticket prices?

I think you just did. Thanks Dusty Baker!

Can you say backloaded contracts? Cubs said they are raising ticket prices because of the rising payroll. It is rising mostly due to the backloaded contract Hendry gives out. Understand?

Higher payrolls? Oh no! Yea... lets go back to crappy players and no playoffs. Good idea.

Are you even a Cubs fan? Or do you just hang out around these parts in order to find information about season tickets in order to rip off Cubs fans?

Hey there's another thing that Hendry doesn't set!

1. Ticket Prices
2. Payroll

What's it going to be for strike 3, Manny? The schedule is my guess.

AZ Phil: The best baseball reporter on earth. Even Google Earth!!!!

See y'all in spring training.

offered 4 years between 35 and 40 M....

Which means that no one is in the Furcal talks, correct?

bobby dickereson

we would definately need a shortstop i think
we saw the fontenot experience last year
i wish he could play there i am all for getting
him more atbats.

i also agree why would we trade for a backup catcher
use marquis for something else

I believe we saw the "fontenot experience" for all of about two plays before Lou swapped him and DeRo.

I don't think either one would be a great SS, though. Significantly worse defenders than Theriot? Hmm. I think they'll both outhit him, but that's not an experiment I expect to see happen. It'd be a way to get another lefty in the lineup, though.

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  • "Like the Chapman deal for Cubs from on-field POV, wish I didn't now have to feel lousy following an otherwise likable Cubs team." @jonahkeri

    pretty much sums up my feelings

    Rob G. 3 hours 55 min ago view
  • You mean Yankees?

    QuietMan 3 hours 59 min ago view
  • Cards lose!

    billybucks 4 hours 6 min ago view
  • You do have a point. The TheoJed certainly would need to address this in a transparent way. Milton Bradley was no help to the team.

    The E-Man 4 hours 18 min ago view
  • FWIW, the Cubs would get a compensation draft pick between the 1st & 2nd rounds (around #35) if they extend a Qualifying Offer to Chapman post-2016 (probably about $17M), Chapman declines, and then he signs with another MLB club before next year's draft. 

    Arizona Phil 4 hours 24 min ago view
  • This all assumes Chapman doesn't want to be a free agent and possibly sign a $20MM+/year deal. We all know free agents get overpaid, sometimes dramatically (Hello, JayHey!). Not sure why Chapman would agree to the extension. If i'm is agent, I would tell him I could get I'm a $100M deal as a FA.

    billybucks 4 hours 31 min ago view
  • I'll root for the uniform and imagine it's left-handed Rod Beck or Randy Myers out there I suppose.

    Rob G. 4 hours 55 min ago view
  • Amen to this. I guess it's gonna happen and I'm gonna have to suck it up but I really despise domestic abusers with every bone in my body and cannot stand them on any team I root for.

    johann 5 hours 4 min ago view
  • I just prefer they don't  acquire players that choke their wives/girlfriends.

    Rob G. 5 hours 7 min ago view
  • So you'd rather go with Blown Save guy, when you can trade a prospect who is blocked for one piece that could get you over the top to the Big Dance? That is pretty old thinking. This is not a move that they cannot recover from if it goes south. But the upside is potentially historic.

    The E-Man 5 hours 16 min ago view
  • I'd prefer it not happen too.

    Rob G. 5 hours 43 min ago view
  • it's a hell of a blockbuster, but it's for a guy who pitches 1/3rd of a season at an extreme premium considering the guy being traded and if the early extension $$$ rumors are true.

    it's one of those things that is bringing a guy at the top his game, but something is nagging me that this trade piece could have been put to better use.

    a huge part of me is all "hell yeah, top of the line producer"...another part of me is "hmm, that for that?"

    crunch 5 hours 47 min ago view
  • Still don't want. Kinda hope they can't work out the extension.

    Charlie 5 hours 58 min ago view
  • obviously not, and I'm sure they did their homework...just hope they have some better answers than the Yankees

    Rob G. 5 hours 59 min ago view
  • Chapman 12+ Career WAR. Currently 4.7:1 k-BB. With Rondon/Chapman/Strop/Nathan/Montgomery/Wood...Its the best pen I can recall other than Sutter or Lee Smith handling things themselves.

    Its gonna suck if he gets injured, and it appears he's not the greatest of characters.

    But, he'll have another Cuban to hang out with on the team.

    The E-Man 6 hours 20 min ago view
  • I agree with the names you mention but there are lots of names being tossed around still and there's that small matter of Chapman agreeing to the extension.

    Old and Blue 6 hours 26 min ago view