Cubs Sign Outfielder with Initials NC, Just Not the One You Were Hoping

The Cubs signed an outfielder with the initials NC on Monday, but it wasn’t Nicholas Castellanos. As first reported by Ken Rosenthal, 28-year-old Noel Cuevas has agreed to a minor-league contract wiht the Cubs that will pay him $575,000 if he is on the MLB roster.

Cuevas is what is colloquially known as a quad-A player, a career minor leaguer who is just barely good enough to make the Show briefly but can’t stay. To wit, he’s got 3,444 plate appearances in the minors and just 155 in the majors. His .750 career OPS across multiple levels over 10 years isn’t very impressive, though he appeared to be on the verge of breaking out in 2018.

With a .331/.390/.538 (.928 OPS) slash line that included 19 extra base hits, Cuevas was called up to Colorado for his first MLB action. His subsequent results over 153 plate appearances were…not good. With a 41 wRC+ and -0.9 fWAR, Cuevas assured himself of another season in the minors in 2019 (he did get two PAs with the Rockies). After a relatively pedestrian campaign, he became a free agent and is now part of the Cubs organization.

There isn’t much information available on minor leaguers’ injuries, and I’m not certain you’d be very concerned about exactly what has limited Cuevas’ plate appearances over the course of his career, but suffice to say he’s not been the picture of health. Were he a pitcher, that alone would explain the Cubs’ interest in him.

A strained left quad sent Cuevas to the IL early in the 2019 season and the rapid drop-off in his stolen base numbers would indicate an erosion of speed over the last few seasons. After stealing at least 31 bags in three of four seasons from 2012-15, Cuevas has stolen a combined total of 31 over the last four seasons. So much for the possibility of being a late-season pinch-running threat.

There’s no risk to this move, so it’s not something to get all up in arms about. The real issue is that there doesn’t seem to be any real reward for it. Say what you will about the stockpiling of scratch-and-dent pitchers, at least most of them have big upside. And maybe Cuevas does too and there’s just something that I’m missing. After all, he does kinda look like Carlos González and he shares initials with another Cubs target.

Not that either had any bearing on the deal, but it’s more plausible than wondering whether Theo Epstein butt-dialed Cuevas’ agent while ordering tequila shots to celebrate the end of the Winter Meetings.

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