The Cubs have a minor league deal in place with free-agent righty Mark Leiter Jr., per their transaction log at MLB.com. As a minor league free agent who was not on a 40-man roster or Major League injured list at season’s end, Leiter was eligible to sign a minor league deal during the lockout.
It’s been three years since Leiter — the son of 11-year MLB veteran Mark Leiter, nephew of 19-year veteran Al Leiter and cousin of 2021 No. 2 overall draft pick Jack Leiter — last pitched in the Majors. He split the 2018 campaign with the Phillies, who selected him in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft, and the Blue Jays, who claimed him off waivers from Philadelphia in Sept. 2018. The righty logged 114 innings through 47 games (36 relief appearances, 11 starts) between Philly and Toronto from 2017-18, pitching to a 5.54 ERA with a 20.5% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate.
Leiter would’ve competed for a spot with the 2019 Jays had he been healthy, but he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament during Spring Training that year and missed the season due to Tommy John surgery. He signed a minor league deal with the D-backs in Feb. 2020, but he was not included in Arizona’s 60-man player pool when the league returned from the Covid-19 shutdown (as was the case with most minor league signees of this nature).
Leiter finally did make it back to the mound in 2021, spending the season with the Double-A and Triple-A affiliate for the Tigers. His work in Triple-A was particularly sharp, as he totaled 89 innings of 3.34 ERA ball with an outstanding 30.5% strikeout rate, a strong 6.6% walk rate and an above-average 46.9% ground-ball rate through 17 appearances (15 starts). Those numbers fall in line with Leiter’s prior success in Triple-A, where he now has a career 3.60 ERA, 29.1% strikeout rate and 6.9% walk rate in 147 1/3 innings.
The Cubs have strengthened their rotation considerably this offseason, signing Marcus Stroman and effectively being gifted left-hander Wade Miley when the Reds surprisingly placed him on waivers. They’ll join mainstay Kyle Hendricks and righties Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills in the rotation, barring further MLB additions after the lockout. Leiter could vie for a bullpen job this spring (assuming his deal contains a Spring Training invite) or head to Triple-A Iowa to give the Cubs some experienced rotation depth.
Chicago has also added lefty Stephen Gonsalves on a minor league pact and selected lefty Conner Menez from the Giants in the minor league Rule 5 Draft this month, adding some additional non-roster depth even as transactions of the Major League variety have been frozen.