The Cubs have agreed to a minor league contract with former Royals reliever Kevin McCarthy, according to the team’s transactions log at MLB.com. He’s represented by Pro Agents Inc. and, presumably, will be in big league camp once Spring Training gets underway.
The 30-year-old McCarthy spent parts of the 2016-20 seasons in the Kansas City bullpen, logging a combined 191 2/3 innings of 3.80 ERA ball along the way. His career 14.5% strikeout rate is well below the league average, but McCarthy’s 7.4% walk rate is strong and his 58.7% ground-ball rate would place him among the league leaders in any given season. That said, after averaging 94 mph on his sinker as a rookie in 2016, the former 16th-rounder has seen his velocity drop annually — bottoming out at an average of 90 mph in his six innings of 2020 work.
McCarthy was passed through outright waivers following that 2020 season and elected minor league free agency. He signed a minor league pact with the Red Sox and spent the first several months of the season in their system before being released in mid-August. He latched on with the White Sox on another minor league deal and tossed another 7 2/3 innings with their Triple-A affiliate.
On the whole, the 2021 season wasn’t a good one for McCarthy, who was hit hard with both Sox organizations — posting an ERA north of 7.00 at each stop. He finished the year with 43 innings of 7.12 ERA ball in Triple-A. McCarthy did, however, post a 20.3% strikeout rate that’s a good bit higher than his prior strikeout rates, and he did so while maintaining a superlative walk rate (4.4%) and a strong ground-ball rate (48%). There’s little harm for the Cubs to bring him in on a nonguaranteed pact to see if he can maintain the strikeout gains while doing away with some of the alarming rise in hits allowed (which was fueled, in part, by a sky-high .408 BABIP with the Red Sox’ top affiliate).
As it stands, the Cubs’ bullpen picture ought to be wide open. The only relievers on the roster with more than a year of big league experience are Rowan Wick, Codi Heuer and Brad Wieck. Left-hander Justin Steele, 26, and right-hander Scott Effross, 28, both had strong showings in limited samples out of the bullpen and could have the inside track on relief gigs at the moment, but there’s plenty of opportunity for McCarthy and other minor league signees (e.g. Jonathan Holder, Eric Yardley) to grab a spot with some strong work either in Spring Training or early in the Triple-A season. The Cubs could well sign a veteran reliever or two post-lockout, but even in that event, there’s still room for a non-roster player or two to win a job in camp.