How the Cubs ended up with Bonifacio

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are lucky the Kansas City Royals have a hard budget. That's the reason they employ Emilio Bonifacio, the leading hitter in the National League entering play on Tuesday.

Here's how it went down:

Kansas City needed pitching after Ervin Santana priced himself out of the market, but they didn't have much money left in their budget. They decided to re-sign pitcher Bruce Chen by using Bonifacio's $3.5 million salary. So on Jan. 30 Chen agreed to a contract and the next day Bonifacio was designated for assignment. Ten days later, Bonifacio had cleared waivers and became a free agent after a season in which he hit just .243 and struck out 103 times. His on-base percentage was just .295 combined between Toronto and Kansas City in 2013.

"They thought they had a trade worked out so the timing of the release was horrible for us," Bonifacio's agent, Paul Kinzer, recalled on Tuesday. "The last thing you want is to be a free agent the week before spring training."

Bonifacio didn't know what was going on. A trade would have guaranteed him his full salary. By being released he was back to square one without a job. The Royals were only on the hook for $575,000.

"It's really hard two weeks before camp and you have no idea where you're going," Bonifacio said.

So the calls started coming in. Kinzer said up to 12 teams were interested, most with major league offers.

"The target was to get him equal [salary] to what it would have been in Kansas City," Kinzer said.

That eliminated a few teams as some were maxed out on their budget like the Royals, and if they wanted to pay him his full salary they would have just claimed him when he went through waivers. The Cubs were only offering a minor league deal.

"At that point he was a little nervous," Kinzer said.

But the Cubs said Bonifacio would have an opportunity to make the 25-man roster and earn playing time. With rosters nearly set around baseball it became very enticing, as the Cubs aren't exactly a juggernaut with entrenched starters at every position. And the versatile Bonifacio can play most of them.

"I felt like he was miscast in the American League," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said recently. "He's a really good National League guy."

So the sides worked out a deal. If Bonifacio made the team he would make $2.5 million with incentives that could net him $3 million from the Cubs. Adding on his $575,000 from the Royals, Bonifacio had a chance to match his original salary. At 28 years old, he's not necessarily just a guy to flip, although that's still a possibility.

"He's not a guy that's going to break the bank, and he gives you so much flexibility. I think he would be tremendously valuable to them," Kinzer said of a possible longer deal with the rebuilding Cubs.

Fast-forward to spring training when Bonifacio legged out four triples then went 14-for-28 with four stolen bases in the first week of the season. It's been only seven days of a long season, but Bonifacio's value has increased even in just a few days. He has hit in the leadoff spot every game while playing center field, shortstop and second base.

"He knows what his game is," Hoyer said. "You don't see a lot of fly balls out of him. You don't see him get big with his swing very often. He knows why he's on this team and what he's trying to do."

What he's trying to do is stick around. Right now he's joined Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro as mainstays in the Cubs' lineup. They're the only three players to start every game so far, including Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"I'm glad to be here," Bonifacio said. "I'm trying to swing at strikes, and I'm having a good result."