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A great side conversation popped up in the comments yesterday, and I want to share-and-comment-upon it, myself.

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In the context of talking about which starting pitchers the Cubs could realistically pursue this offseason – we tend to think it’s going to be the low-or-no-cost, high-risk, upside types – very much like the Shelby Miller signing – HeelTurn85 dropped this thought:

If they Cubs spent $1.5M on a backup catcher [Austin Romine] rather than just rolling with Higgins, that means one of three things to me.
1. They really don’t like something about Higgins working with pitchers.
2. They are planning on trading Contreras or very open to the possibility.
3. There’s some money for pitchers, because no sane team would spend their extremely limited money on a backup catcher.

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The deep cold today is really annoying, having just arrived for the weekend, when I especially like to get outside and play with the kids. I still will, but it’ll be a lot more brief and poofy than I would have preferred.

• The Red Sox landed Enrique Hernandez, lefty-killer and good-defense-all-over guy, for two years and $14 million (with some money deferred). I don’t really see signs that the bottom has fallen out of the market too much, which will leave the Cubs scrambling close to Spring Training to pick up the few guys who have to settle for minor league deals, or uber-cheap guarantees. Until they demonstrate otherwise, that’s my anticipation. Sorry. It sucks. But the Cubs just aren’t going to spend $7+ million right now on complementary roster guys like Hernandez, because I think they just don’t have it.

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• Speaking of which, the Austin Romine signing is now officially official:

• At $1.5 million, the Cubs just DOUBLED the previous biggest signing for the entire NL Central this offseason (reliever Jonathan Holder, also signed by the Cubs, got $750,000). The Cubs are, by far, the big spenders of the NL Central this offseason. Talk about the moneybags of the division, right?! Yes, I’m laughing.

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• Big sports media news, as NBC’s national sports channel is shutting down at the end of the year. Some content will shift over to USA (like hockey), while other content will undoubtedly wind up on NBC’s streaming app, Peacock. I mention it here because the decision is in line with our thinking about what’s coming long-term for baseball teams’ broadcast rights: standalone streaming products that carry a team’s games, controlled by the team rather than MLB. In five years, I think the whole MLB-watching ecosystem is going to look vastly different. Or at least it should.

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It’s a point/question that I’d be treating as tacitly understood, but we should actually address this thing and fill it out a bit. After all, that’s a large contract relative to the Cubs’ spending this offseason ($750,000 for Jonathan Holder is the only other big league deal), and, heck, it’s the biggest free agent signing in the whole NL Central so far.

In the abstract, even in a depressed market, spending $1.5 million on a quality back-up like Austin Romine is totally reasonable. In fact, given that his entire set of numbers from 2020 tanked because of 15 bad games after returning from an injury, it’s possible it’s actually a bargain signing. The guy was one of the best back-ups in baseball with the Yankees in 2018-19, after all.

But HeelTurn85’s point is a really good one: we’re flowing through this offseason as observers, increasingly believing that the Cubs have just flat-out no available dollars to spend. If that were actually true, though, why would they commit $1.5 million to a quality back-up catcher? After all, they could have turned that job over internally to a rising prospect like P.J. Higgins or Taylor Gushue, each of whom has the plausible look and feel of a big league back-up (especially on a team with debatable playoff aspirations in 2021). Alternatively, there are always fringe back-up catcher types available on minor league deals late in the offseason. The Cubs could’ve gone that route and saved themselves some cash.

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The three offered theories look like the right ones to discuss to me, though I’d add the fourth I mentioned above: maybe the Cubs just really like Romine at this price point and believe he has a sufficiently good chance of offering value (to the team, or as a modest midseason trade piece) that they were willing to extend themselves a bit. Remember, that roster spot is still going to have to be taken by someone, and the minimum salary is nearly $600,000. So you’re talking about $900,000 in additional money, not $1.5 million. Maybe that’s just a good deal, even with the belt tightened.

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Today the Chicago Cubs added three prospects to their 40-man roster in advance of the deadline to do so for Rule 5 Draft purposes: righties Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson, and infielder Christopher Morel.

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Not surprisingly or coincidentally, these three are probably the best Cubs prospects who were eligible for Rule 5 selection this year, thus they get protected. As we’ve discussed this week, that still doesn’t make it quite a lock to add a guy to the 40-man roster (not all good prospects would get drafted in the Rule 5, because they can’t necessarily stick on a big league roster the next year), but these guys were close enough and/or talented enough that the Cubs didn’t want to mess around.

Much more from Bryan on Morel here and Abbott here, with a bit on Thompson, too. Morel is one of the Cubs’ highest upside prospects, and was at the alternate site this past year (but has not played games above Low-A). He’ll probably play at High-A next season – third base, most likely – and we’ll see how the weird 2020 season treated his development.

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Cory Abbott may be an internal option to provide depth for the Cubs in 2021.
Over the past year, I have spoken at varying lengths about the Chicago Cubs‘ future options within the rotation and how it projects moving forward into the coming seasons. One of those prospects who has been discussed at different points is right-handed pitcher Cory Abbott.

Abbott ranked as Baseball America‘s 149th prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft. His first professional action came at Class-A Short Season, where he started five games and finished with a 3.86 ERA over 14 innings. Each start encapsulated a few innings where Abbott could get his feet wet at a higher level.

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From 2018 to the present, the 25-year-old has serenely climbed the rankings ladder within the organization. In 2018, Abbott ranked as the number 16 overall prospect in Chicago’s pipeline. After a strong showing the season before, he cracked the top ten in 2019, moving between Class-A South Bend and Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach. He posted a collective 2.50 ERA in 115 innings.

Last season Abbott made the jump to Double-A Tennessee. His final five starts at Myrtle Beach encapsulated a stretch of ball where he posted a 0.67 ERA over 27 innings where Abbott posted a 27.4 percent strikeout percentage and a 2.80 FIP.

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The continued growth Abbott displayed shone through with the Smokies. He made a career-high 26 starts, finishing with ten quality starts and a 3.01 ERA. His strikeout rate improved, as did his walk rate. Opponents hit barely over .200 off Abbott, and a significant improvement in his WHIP showcased his ability to limit those opposing hitters.

Similar to how Abbott finished his year in 2018 with the Pelicans, he strung together another stretch to end his 2019 campaign in which he posted a staunch 1.17 ERA over his final nine starts. Most impressive was the notable increase once again in his strikeouts as his rate soared to 34.5 percent. In a fun and strangely consistent finish, Abbott also posted a 2.80 FIP in those final starts.

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Patrick Mooney, a senior writer at The Athletic and Cubs correspondent at Baseball America, recently wrote a piece on Abbott. Coming off a shoulder injury that punctuated his pre-spring training throwing program, the right-hander touched on working his way back and staying in the purview as a future rotation option.

NEXT: Five Cubs prospects you’ll see in Chicago in 2021
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Regarding 2021 and the expected roster shakeup inevitably heading the Cubs’ way, Abbott can very much be in consideration for a back-end role in the rotation. In the past, he has been scouted as a future number four starter, and if the Cubs wish to continue to grow the crop of the farm, Abbott represents the perfect option and should be on fans’ radar next year.

Abbott and Thompson are just-about-big-league-ready starting pitchers, with Abbott the Cubs’ 2019 minor league pitcher of the year, and Thompson potentially just as effective, though slowed by injuries. Each could easily factor into the depth starting mix for the Cubs in 2021, though each figures to start the year in the Iowa Cubs rotation.

The Cubs 40-man roster now stands at 37.