Saturday, January 23, 2021

Add a Player? Are They Allowed to Do That??

The Cubs actually did it!  They signed a free agent instead of letting one walk!!  Signed one to an actual Major League deal!!!  The rebuild is cancelled - huzzah!!!

Okay, I'm done with the sarcasm... for now.

Yesterday morning, it was announced that the Cubs signed an established catcher to a one-year, Major League contract worth $1.5 million.  Prior to this deal, it's been  an offseason that's been filled with nothing but non-tenders, "why not?" waiver claims, minor league reclamation signings, infuriating trades, and watching key free agents sign with other clubs - all coming off the back of a season in which they won their damn division.  Just this week, the greatest free agent signed in Chicago sports, Jon Lester, took his talents to the nation's capital after the Cubs refused to match the Nat's modest offer.  Then, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood took off for greener pastures in successive days.  Honestly, when I read that the Cubs had signed an actual big league player instead of waving goodbye, I thought that maybe Jed Hoyer snuck the guy in without telling the Ricketts.

"Hey Tom, can you sign this?  What is it??  Oh... ummmm... it's your Door Dash receipt.  Definitely not a free agent contract or anything like that."

Anyway, who was this free agent that Jed snuck into Wrigley Field hidden under a table cloth in a dinner cart?  

The man of the hour was Austin Romine, formerly of the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers.

I know that Romine is not a mind-blowing acquisition or anything; but, he is at least an established, Major League caliber backup catcher with a track record of success.  Austin was the main backup to Gary Sanchez in the Bronx from 2016 through 2019, providing good defense (career 1.3 dWar) and a usable bat (.239 batting average in NY and even popped 10 homers in 2018) coming off the bench.  That's pretty much exactly what you're looking for in a guy who only starts once a week or so.  Now, the guy is no Victor Caratini, but that's a whole different kettle of fish...  

Of course, last season was his first year in the Motor City and a total a dumpster fire for Austin; but the conditions of the 2020 season were not exactly conducive for success, especially for veteran players.  Perhaps it was a fluke due to the shortened prep, long layoff, and sprint schedule.  Perhaps it was the start of a decline for a player in his early 30's?  We shall see.

As long as the Cubs don't trade Willson Contreras for a stack of wooden nickels and let Austin start because more players cost more dollars, this could actually be a good pick-up.  At any rate, it was definitely needed, as Contreras was the only guy on the 40-man roster with any Major League experience.  Top prospect, Miguel Amaya, has yet to play above A ball and is still a few years away while P.J. Higgins is going to spend 2021 at AAA auditioning to take Austin's spot in 2022.

Image courtesy of Con Las Bases LLenas

With Austin signing a real Major League contract, that of course necessitated a concurrent move in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  So, after a long day at work, I made a quick stop at my LCS to dig through their team stacks in search of a good Romine card for my most treasured tome.  This place has always had stacks of common singles and inserts for each and every Big League club set out on their counters, making it perhaps the most fertile source for new CATRC additions since I started this project.  

They've been my number on, go-to source for damn near 20 years now and have always treated me  and my eclectic collecting habits exceptionally well.  If you're ever around the south suburbs of Chicago, you should definitely pop-in to Baseball Dreams and Memories and tell 'em Tony sent ya!

Anyway, despite having a fair amount of Yankee cardboard to sift through, I could only find one Romine card to bring home - the 2017 Honus Bonus Partners oddball that sits near the top of this post.  For those that may not remember, Honus Bonus was a very short-lived product that attempted to blend baseball cards with fantasy sports, a blend that several manufacturers have tried but no one has seemed to be able to perfect.  Playing off of the then-recently launched Topps Bunt digital cards, HBP even debuted their maiden offering with a virtual card-trader app of their own - gotta give them credit for being ambitious, after all.  

The Cubs' 2021 catching staff in Honus Bonus form.

The unlicensed product only lasted for one year, due to a decided lack of interest.  Honestly, I can't say I'm surprised as the cards themselves are not particularly appealing to the eye with their grayscale players, random colored borders that have no connections to the team depicted, and - of course - the lack of logos.  I mean, who doesn't think of purple when they think of the Yankees, right?  Nevertheless, seeing as I am absolutely entranced by off-the-wall oddballs, I purchased a Cubs team set at the time.  For a deeper review of Honus Bonus cards, I suggest that you give those timely ramblings of mine a read.

In short, as ugly as the cards are, HBP sure did try to make their product unique looking.  I must admit, I wouldn't confuse their cards with anything made by Topps or Panini - so, they had that going for them!  Honestly, I wish they could have stuck around.  Who knows, perhaps they would have been able to evolve their design to more aesthetically pleasing places?  Plus, it would be nice to have another baseball card-maker in the market.  Heck, in today's baseball card bubble and the nationwide legality of sports betting, maybe their fantasy blend would have even find some sustained success.  The world may never know.


Here's hoping that Mr. Romine fairs better in Cubbie Blue pinstripes than Honus Bonus faired in the baseball card market.  I guess that's not a very high hurdle to clear though.

Now that the team has finally inked a back-up catcher, all they need is a second baseman, a couple outfielders and two or three more starting pitchers... with just about a month left until spring training is set to begin.  Yikes - better start scraping the bottom of that bargain bin, Jed.  Although, maybe Austin can pitch in to help plug that hole on the pitching staff.  After all, believe it or not, he actually has experience taking the bump in the playoffs!  *Sigh*

Anywho, welcome to Chicago and to my CATRC, Austin Romine!


  1. I have fond memories of Romine from his NY days also. The Yanks' catching corps are so thin that maybe they should have signed him for 2021.

    Though Higashioka showed signs last year that he might have enough talent to take over if Sanchez hits .147 again.

  2. Do you really think the Cubs will sign two or three more starting pitchers? I'm beginning to think it'll be Hendricks, Davies, Mills, Alzolay and then the best of Shelby Miller, Brailyn Marquez and Tyson Miller.
    I'd feel much better if they had some more depth, because getting through a 162 game schedule after a shortened season is bound to be very trying with only 7 starters. I think Jed is more willing to go with some unestablished MLB talent on the mound than Theo was. It's hard to see what the younger arms can do at the MLB level if they're never given a legitimate chance. No?
    So yeah, I agree and think they should sign two or three more SPs, but I'm starting to wonder if they will.

    1. Honestly, they need to, but I don't think they will. Everything you said is super true, especially since Alzolay has been so fragile and Brailyn really isn't MLB ready. I think Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson, Jack Patterson, et al are going to be thrown to the wolves in the name of saving the Ricketts' money. On one hand, I welcome the development opportunities and these guys will need to sink or swim eventually. But, this team can still win the division in 2021 with as weak as the central is and this is all supremely frustrating.