The Cubs made another series of moves Friday to reduce the 40-man roster further in preparation for free agency and the Rule 5 Draft. Like the first batch, none of these were very surprising given the needs of the team. P.J. Higgins, Trent Giambrone, and Adrian Sampson have all been outrighted to Triple-A Iowa and could be moving on from the organization unless new minor league deals are reached soon.
There are now 36 on the 40-man, including the recently-claimed Wade Miley, giving the front office a little more room to maneuver.
Higgins has been in the system since being selected in the 12th round in 2015 and he got a shot in Chicago as one of roughly 64 backup catchers the Cubs employed this past season. He’s versatile enough to play multiple other infield positions and the hit tool is solid, but he lacks pop and is now 28 years old. He also missed most of the season due to a right forearm flexor tendon issue that required surgery.
Giambrone struggled through the worst season of his professional career, but the .174 batting average at Triple-A was nothing compared to losing his father early in the season. “Big Tony” was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in mid-February and passed just 11 weeks later, during which time his son put baseball on the back burner to be by his side in Louisiana.
Though he was called up late in the season as a replacement during the Cubs’ COVID outbreak, the promotion felt almost like a parting gift. Giambrone had been progressing steadily through 2019, adding power numbers to an improving plate approach, and he looked something of a dark horse to make the Opening Day roster due to his strong performance during 2020 spring training.
Then a series of events well outside of his control altered his path and may have him looking to catch on elsewhere. He’s a good dude and he hits the ball hard, kind of throws off David Bote vibes, but his age and positional fit don’t bode well for a future with the Cubs.
Sampson was a very pleasant surprise this season, putting up a 2.80 ERA across five starts and as many relief appearances, almost making good on his Game of Thrones talk. But his box score numbers significantly outperformed his 5.72 FIP and 4.79 xERA, plus he gave up eight homers in 35.1 innings. He allowed a lot of hard contact and you have to think that would have been more evident in his numbers over time.
Another factor working against Sampson is his pedestrian fastball, something the Cubs are looking to get away from in the future. Having already added the soft-tossing Miley to go with Kyle Hendricks and possibly Alec Mills, hard throwers are the order of the day.
This is one of those situations where you wish the Cubs had unlimited roster space and could keep all these players around out of loyalty or goodwill. But that’s not the way the business works, not to mention the possibility of better opportunities with new organizations. As trite as it sounds, sometimes a change of scenery really does make a difference.