The Cubs have requested unconditional release waivers on right-hander Jake Arrieta, per a team announcement. That move comes amid a series of transactions, as Chicago has also placed catcher Willson Contreras on the 10-day injured list with a sprained knee, reinstated catcher Austin Romine from the 60-day injured list, selected the contract of right-hander Ryan Meisinger from Triple-A Iowa, and designated lefty Kyle Ryan for assignment.
It’s been a miserable season for Arrieta in his return to Chicago. The former Cy Young winner got out to a nice start, working to a 2.57 ERA through April 25, but he’s been tattooed for 58 runs in 58 1/3 innings since that time. Opponents have racked up 91 hits, including 19 home runs, during that stretch. Last night’s outing was particularly non-competitive; Arrieta yielded seven runs in the first inning and ultimately departed after four frames with eight Brewers runs on the board.
The Cubs signed Arrieta to a one-year, $6MM deal over the winter with the hope that the injury troubles which plagued him during his three years with the Phillies were behind him. He’s avoided any notable arm troubles, but Arrieta’s fastball is sitting at a career-low 90.8 mph on the year and he’s seen across-the-board declines in swinging-strike rate, chase rate, home-run rate and walk rate. This marks the sixth straight season that he’s seen his ERA increase from the prior season.
Arrieta is still owed the balance of that $6MM salary — about $1.71MM between now and season’s end. He’s a lock to clear release waivers and become a free agent, but any team that signs him thereafter would only owe him the prorated league minimum for the remainder of the year. That sum would then be subtracted from the balance owed to him by the Cubs.
As for Contreras, the knee troubles that are currently hobbling him are believed to be minor. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told reporters this morning that the move was “precautionary” in nature (Twitter link via the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan). He’s seemingly not expected to require a lengthy stay on the injured list.
Romine, who has logged just six games and nine place appearances this season due to a left wrist sprain, will presumably pick up the bulk of the catching work in place of Contreras. The veteran 32-year-old was the Yankees’ backup catcher from 2016-19 before signing with the Tigers as a free agent for the 2020 season. He’ll now get the opportunity to team up with his brother, Andrew, for the first time in the big leagues. The Cubs inked Andrew to a minor league pact at the end of Spring Training and recently selected him to the Major League roster.
Meisinger, 27, has a 5.70 career ERA, albeit in a tiny sample of 23 2/3 innings between the Orioles and the division-rival Cardinals. He’s spent the 2021 season thus far with the Cubs’ top affiliate in Iowa, pitching to a 4.25 ERA with a huge 34.4 percent strikeout rate but also a concerning 12.2 percent walk rate (in addition to three hit batters).
The 29-year-old Ryan, meanwhile, has struggled to a 6.75 ERA in 13 1/3 innings this year. It’s the second straight season of struggles for Ryan, who posted similarly discouraging numbers in 15 2/3 frames with the 2020 Cubs.
That said, Ryan has been excellent in 25 innings of Triple-A ball this season, logging a 2.52 ERA with a 24-to-7 K/BB ratio. He’s also not terribly far removed from a 2019 season that saw him toss 61 frames of 3.54 ERA ball as one of the Cubs’ most heavily used relievers.
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, Ryan will be placed on either outright or release waivers in the coming days and be made available to all 29 other clubs. He’s playing on an $800K salary, so he’ll cost a bit more than the league minimum, but Ryan has a bit of track record and can be optioned for the remainder of the season, so he’d be a solid enough depth pickup for a team in need of some southpaws in the bullpen.