Cubs release Dontrelle Willis and former first-round pick Hayden Simpson

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Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune reports that the Cubs have released left-hander Dontrelle Willis and right-hander Hayden Simpson.

Willis came out of retirement to attempt a comeback this spring, but he had to leave his first appearance on February 25 due to shoulder tightness and didn’t pitch in another Cactus League game. This could be the end of the road for him.

While we ask what could have been with Willis, Simpson never was able to match the hype attached to being the No. 16 overall pick in 2010. It wasn’t all his fault, as the Cubs overdrafted him because they weren’t willing to spend on higher quality talent. While a lengthy bout with mononucleosis didn’t do any favors for his development, Simpson posted an ugly 6.42 ERA over 30 starts and 26 relief appearances with Chicago’s minor league system.

Michael Brenly, the son of former Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly, was also given his release today. The 26-year-old backstop owns a .251/.306/.334 batting line over five seasons in the minors.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉