Right-hander Vinny Nittoli has opted out of his minor league deal with the Cubs, tweets Robert Murray of FanSided. He’s not technically a free agent just yet — MLBTR has confirmed that the Cubs have 48 hours to select his contract or grant him his release — but he could formally be back on the market as soon as this weekend.
Nittoli, 32, has just three innings of big league experience — coming between the Mariners and Phillies in 2021-22 — but has been sharp with the Cubs’ Iowa affiliate so far in 2023. Through his first 20 2/3 frames on the season, the journeyman right-hander has notched a 3.48 ERA with better-than-average strikeout and walk rates of 24.4% and 7.8%, respectively. He’s allowed just two home runs on the season (0.87 HR/9). Nittoli struggled in his first two seasons of Triple-A ball, but this is his second strong showing at the level; in 52 innings there last season between the Yankees, Phillies and Blue Jays, he posted a combined 3.81 ERA with a 30.8% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate.
The Chicago bullpen has the fourth-worst ERA in the Majors at 4.60. About 18 points of that ERA stem from utilityman Miles Mastrobuoni taking a beating in mop-up duty, but the bullpen as a whole has generally struggled. The Cubs have received strong performances from minor league signee Mark Leiter Jr. and former top prospect Adbert Alzolay, but no other reliever on their roster has pitched at least 10 innings and recorded an ERA south of the recently optioned Keegan Thompson’s 4.22. Offseason signings of Brad Boxberger (5.52 ERA in 14 2/3 innings) and Michael Fulmer (7.36 ERA in 22 frames) haven’t paid off. Fielding-independent metrics such as FIP (4.05) and SIERA (3.86) feel Cubs relievers are more skilled than their baseline run-prevention numbers would otherwise suggest, but the results haven’t been there yet.
All that said, there’s still a good chance Nittoli will wind up a free agent within the next couple days. Assuming that’s indeed the case, he’ll be able to shop his solid start to the season around to other clubs in need of bullpen help. Teams are always on the hunt for bullpen arms this time of year, so there ought to be several clubs with interest in taking a look at a new arm in that scenario.
June 1 is a popular day for opt-out provisions in contracts, including a collectively bargained opt-out date for Article XX(B) free agents (i.e. free agents with six-plus years of service time who finished the preceding season on a Major League roster/injured list but signed a minor league contract). MLBTR’s Anthony Franco looked at nine veteran players with known opt-out opportunities last night, and as Nittoli shows, there are surely quite a few more around the league who’ll be making decisions on such clauses today.