The Cubs have agreed to a minor league contract with veteran left-handed reliever Richard Bleier, reports Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. Bleier, who was released by the Red Sox last week, is headed to Triple-A Iowa for the time being.
The 36-year-old Bleier went from Miami to Boston this winter in an offseason trade sending Matt Barnes and cash the other way. Both teams involved in the swap hoped that a change of scenery would benefit the two veteran relievers, but it didn’t pan out for either. Bleier was roughed up for a 5.28 ERA in 30 1/3 frames with the Sox and also missed time with a shoulder injury, while Barnes yielded a 5.48 ERA in 21 1/3 innings before requiring season-ending hip surgery.
Looking beyond the current season, Bleier has regularly posted strong ERA marks despite one of the game’s lowest strikeout rates. He logged a sub-2.00 ERA in each of his first three big league seasons and a sub-3.00 ERA in two of the next three, so even with this year’s struggles, the soft-tossing southpaw owns a lifetime 3.27 mark in 330 1/3 innings. Bleier, however, averages just 89.2 mph on his fastball and has a career 13.6% strikeout rate. He’s gotten by thanks largely to a spectacular 3.9% walk rate, 60.9% ground-ball rate and consistently low exit velocities. That said, his results have worsened as he’s progressed into his mid-30s.
For the Cubs, there’s no real risk in taking a look at Bleier in Triple-A to see if they can get him back to form. The Red Sox are on the hook for this year’s $3.5MM salary and the $250K buyout on his 2024 club option, meaning Chicago will only owe him the prorated league minimum for any time spent on the big league roster. Because he’s signed before Sept. 1, Bleier would be postseason-eligible for the Cubs, in the event that they reach the playoffs and that Bleier pitches well enough to merit consideration for such a spot. The Cubs don’t presently have a lefty in their bullpen — Drew Smyly is likely headed back to the rotation following Marcus Stroman’s injury — so if Bleier performs decently in Des Moines there could be a spot for him at the big league level (particularly when rosters expand to 28 players on Sept. 1).