Tuesday is the deadline for MLB teams to set their 40-man roster and the Cubs made some corresponding moves.
Chicago added four young players to the 40-man roster, but needed to clear up some room first, designating Bryan LaHair for assignment.
LaHair was one of the feel-good stories of the year, a career minor leaguer who finally earned a chance to start on a big-league club and eventually made the 2012 All-Star team as a reserve first baseman for the National League.
LaHair, who turned 30 earlier this month, started the season off hot, hitting .390 with a 1.251 OPS through April before finishing with a .259.334.450 line and 16 homers.
The Cubs are reportedly pursuing an opportunity for LaHair to play in Japan.
Carlos Gutierrez, whom the Cubs claimed off waivers in late October, was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa after clearing waivers.
That left some open spots on the Cubs' 40-man roster, which they subsequently filled with Christian Villanueva, Logan Watkins, Trey McNutt and Robert Whitenack.
McNutt, 23, was taken in the 32nd round of the '09 draft and burst onto the minor league scene with two great years to start his career, posting a 0.98 ERA in 13 games in '09 and a 10-1 record and a 2.48 ERA in 25 starts at three levels in 2010. He was named the No. 48 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season, but has struggled some since with ERAs of 4.55 and 4.26 and WHIPs of 1.67 and 1.45 in Double-A Tennessee over the past two seasons, though he has been slowed by a myriad of minor injuries.
Whitenack, who turned 24 Tuesday, was taken in the eighth round of the same 2009 draft and underwent Tommy John surgery in summer of 2011. He came back midway through the 2012 season and started 15 games for High-A Daytona, going 1-6 with a 5.96 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was just coming into his own before his elbow injury, posting a 7-0 record with a 1.93 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 11 starts in High-A and Double-A in 2011.
Watkins, 23, was named the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 after putting up a .281.383.422 line in Double-A Tennessee, stealing 28 bags and scoring 93 runs in 588 plate appearances. The 5-foot-11 Watkins has played six different defensive positions for the Cubs since he was selected in the 21st round of the 2008 draft, but spent most of his time at second base in 2012.
The Cubs acquired Villanueva, 21, in the deal that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers just before the trade deadline this past summer. He was named the No. 100 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, his first at High-A. Villanueva hit .279.353.427 with 14 homers and 24 doubles in 125 games this year, including a .250.337.452 line and four homers in Daytona following the trade. He has played 294 of his 307 career games at third base.
The Cubs also made a minor trade Tuesday, sending Jacob Brigham back to the Rangers for right-handed pitcher Barret Loux. Brigham, a 24-year-old starting pitcher, was acquired in the deal that sent Geovany Soto to Texas before the trade deadline.
Loux, 23, was drafted sixth overall in the 2010 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks before failing a physical with shoulder and elbow problems and signing with the Rangers in November 2010. He is apparently all the way back from the arm trouble, making 46 starts over the past two season and earning the Double-A Texas League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2012 with a 14-1 record, 3.47 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.
The move cleared up Brigham's spot on the 40-man roster. Loux does not have to be added to the 40-man roster.