If his pitching is even close to as good as his Twitter game, right-hander Tony Barnette might turn out to be the best free agent signing of the winter for the Cubs.
Until then, suffice it to say that the little-known reliever who spent six years playing in Japan knows where he stands with Cubs fans on a hot stove news scale.
After his signing to a one-year, $750,000 deal was announced Friday, Barnette tweeted that he’s in Arizona and “thrilled to get this year started with the @Cubs,” then added:
“(Reads first comment) also … I’d like to apologize my name doesn’t rhym[e] with … tarper.”
Judging by the comments it elicited, the 35-year-old vagabond with a 3.50 ERA in three years for the Rangers made a good first impression with a fan base still aching for the Cubs to go after Bryce Harper.
Next up for Barnette is finding a place in a bullpen crowded with more pitchers on big-league contracts than available spots but little certainty after the top four or five names on the list as spring training opens less than two weeks from now.
Barnette, who pitched parts of four seasons in the minors before a six-year stretch with the Yakult Swallows in Japan, debuted in the majors with the Rangers in 2016 – where he was a teammate of Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He was a closer for much of his time in Japan, including 41 saves with a 1.29 ERA in 2015.
After making 53 and 50 appearances his first two seasons with the Rangers, he was limited to 22 last season because of a shoulder injury and didn’t pitch after July 3 – which helps explain a base salary half of what he made last year.
Barnette earns a $1 million bonus if he makes the Opening Day roster. He makes an additional $50,000 each for reaching 40-game and 50-game thresholds, and an additional $75,000 each for 60 and 70 appearances.
He also has bonuses for days on the active roster: $75,000 each for 100 and 125 days, $100,000 for 155 days.
The Cubs hold a $3 million option for 2020 (no buyout). Despite arbitration-level service time, the contract makes him a free agent after this season if the Cubs don’t pick up the option or after 2020 if they do.
Last season, Barnette went 2-0 with a 2.39 ERA in 26⅓ innings before being sidelined by the shoulder strain.
This move comes after the Cubs added Brad Brach to their bullpen as he agreed on a one-year, $4.35 million contract on Jan. 24.
With the addition of Barnette, the Cubs’ 40-man roster stands at 39. Pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Mesa, Arizona, on Feb. 12.