Kendall Graveman was only able to pitch a total of six innings last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, but the Cubs would be foolish to not pick up his $3 million option for 2020. They signed the 28-year-old righty last year with the knowledge that he wouldn’t pitch in Chicago, but the unique structure of his deal opens up all kinds of possibilities moving forward.
Graveman’s deal guaranteed $575,000 last season with a $3 million option for 2020 that does not include a buyout or the ability to go to arbitration. That means the Cubs have to release him if they don’t pick up the option, which seems on the surface like a distinct possibility for a team that could be facing another budget crunch this winter.
However, things start to get really interesting once you get into all the details. The option year also contains $2.5 million worth of incentives, which Graveman can only reach if he’s healthy and pitching well. Beyond that, he still has a minor league option available and has a year of arbitration eligibility remaining in 2021. That means the Cubs can still stash him in the minors for more seasoning and even bring him back for another year at what figures to be a relatively modest salary.
So picking up the option is really just an inexpensive insurance policy for the rotation and/or bullpen, if not even a way to generate trade value. That’s kinda-sorta what happened with Drew Smyly, who the Cubs signed to a two-year, $10 million deal knowing he wasn’t going to pitch for at least a year. As you may recall, they ended up moving him to the Rangers this past offseason as a way to clear salary space for Cole Hamels.
Graveman’s situation is a lot more dynamic due to the option year and additional arbitration control, not to mention the much lower cost, so a Smyly comp is imperfect at best. Even so, those things could all be very attractive to another team looking to fill out a rotation on the cheap. One way or the other, the Cubs have very little risk and a whole lot of potential reward in what is a pretty cheap option by today’s standards.
Even if nothing in his stat line jumps out at you, a 4.38 ERA over 446 big-league innings is well worth the minimal price tag. And though Graveman’s strikeout numbers are pedestrian at best (5.77 K/9), his fastball averaged 95 mph with the A’s in 2018 and he’s got a plus changeup. Get him in the Pitch Lab and tighten up the other secondaries and he could really take off.
What I’m saying is that it’s almost impossible for this to end up looking grave, man.