These 5 Cubs Could Benefit Most from New Rules, Potential for Fewer Transactions

Because of the unique nature of the 2020 season, we keep learning a little more each day about the rules under which teams will be operating. The most recent of those, at least for me, is that only players from the 60-man roster can be traded. We had heard earlier that players who were removed from the 60-man could not be placed back on in order to make an appearance at the MLB level, though that doesn’t mean rosters are locked.

Players can still be shuffled on and off the roster just like before, so transactions will still take place in more or less the same way they have before. Except that there may very well be fewer personnel moves made across the board as teams operate under decidedly different parameters than they’re used to.

“[U]nder the circumstances, I think you’ll see fewer transactions around baseball — certainly transactions in which you’re bringing in guys from outside the organization,” Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told The Athletic.

Part of that comes down to matters of health and safety, since the risks increase the larger your bubble grows, but more of it may come down to the uncertainty of a short season. We talked about that recently in terms of the Cubs and trying to get under the competitive balance tax threshold, which would require them to trade at least one player at a relatively high salary level.

The trouble there is that such a player is probably a pitcher, and probably not one considered a real game-changer in terms of his fit in the rotation. While shortening the season makes each game more important, it also means the best or worst pitchers’ performances are mitigated by a dramatic decrease in their number of starts. Just imagine if Jake Arrieta had only made 4-5 of starts instead of 15 in the second half of the 2015 season.

But I digress. We’re here to talk about a few players who should end up benefiting from the shortened season and new roster rules. Whether it’s because of a specific skill or the elimination of other options, perhaps both, several members of the organization could very well end up taking advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves.

Burl Carraway

The Cubs’ second pick in the 2020 draft, Carraway is a lefty reliever whose upper-90’s fastball is complemented by a hammer of a curveball that evaluators believe is MLB ready. From the moment he was selected, people were saying he might be the first member of his draft class to reach the bigs, and the Cubs announced yesterday that they’d signed him with a $1.05 million bonus.

That below-slot being signed so quickly could indicate that the organization has prioritized a fast track for his development. Rosters need to be submitted Sunday, so perhaps they explained those plans to Carraway as a means by which to entice him to sign right away. With what amounts to 20 extra roster spots versus a normal season, it’s hardly a risk and could really pay off in a big way.

Though it’s unfair to make a direct comparison another hard-throwing lefty who used to pitch in Chicago, the White Sox called Chris Sale up after a total of 10.1 innings in the minors. He then went on to post a 1.93 with 32 strikeouts and 10 walks over 21 appearances. Call it Pollyanna syndrome, but I see no reason the Cubs can’t do the same with their new southpaw.

Adbert Alzolay

I’ve been saying for a long time now that I think Alzolay is a better long-term fit as a reliever or swingman because his fastball will play up and his changeup doesn’t matter as much. It might also help his durability. Based on what Jed Hoyer said in late 2019, the Cubs were planning on that as well.

The righty has been working on his two-seam during the shutdown and told me in January that he’d tweaked his change to a four-seam grip, so he’s still aiming for a starter’s repertoire and could be used in the rotation. Between the short ramp-up period and the potential to stretch rotations or even do piggyback starts on occasion, Alzolay makes a lot of sense.

Nico Hoerner

Had things continued as planned, the common belief was that Hoerner would be optioned to the minors to get more consistent plate appearances and maybe even some time in the outfield. The Cubs wanted to see improvements in his plate approach, specifically his ability to grind out at-bats and battle with two strikes, and they’d made an effort to improve their middle-infield depth.

More specifically, though, that depth is at second base and consists mainly of post-prime veterans. With no minor leagues and less value in those gritty clubhouse guys, Hoerner should play more of a featured role than he otherwise would have.

Victor Caratini

At the time it was announced that the NL would utilize the designated hitter in 2020, I immediately looked at Caratini as a great option. Kyle Schwarber is the most obvious fit, but David Ross is almost certainly going to use a committed approach here and could mix and match without much consistency.

So while Jason Martinez of FanGraphs believes Albert Almora Jr. and Steven Souza Jr. will gain the most playing time from the DH, I think Caratini could really come out on top.

Ian Miller

This should come as no surprise to those of you who’ve been visiting CI for a while, since I was calling for Miller to make the 26-man roster prior to the shutdown. Expanding to 30 right out of the gate should make him a shoo-in, and the idea of starting a runner on second base to start extra innings means he’s a virtual lock.

Miller’s game is as layoff-proof as you’ll find because of his speed and his go-as-hard-as-humanly-possible mentality. Though he displayed a lot more pop last season in Triple-A with the Mariners — yes, even accounting for the bouncy balls they used — Miller is willing and able to lay down bunts or beat out grounders. He can steal bases in bunches and gives the Cubs a dimension they’d otherwise lack.

Since the runner on second in extras is the man ahead of that inning’s leadoff batter, Miller could easily be a late replacement for whomever would otherwise be running. The new rules and increased importance of every game make a player like him that much more important.

There are surely some other players who can and will be granted bigger opportunities as a result of all the changes, but I believe the five listed here could have the greatest impact. If you’ve got others, please share them below. Now let’s just hope we get to see this play out.

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