August 9: The Mariners announced that Festa has indeed cleared waivers and become a free agent.
August 8, 9:56pm: Festa’s transaction log at MLB.com indicates he has been placed on release waivers, as required. If he goes unclaimed, he’ll be a free agent later in the week.
3:20pm: The Mariners announced a series of transactions today, claiming right-hander Ryan Jensen off waivers from the Cubs and recalling righty Ryder Ryan from Triple-A. Jensen will report to Triple-A Tacoma. Righty Bryan Woo was placed on the 15-day injured list with right forearm inflammation, retroactive to August 5, while righty Matt Festa was designated for assignment in corresponding moves.
Jensen, 25, was a first-round pick of the Cubs, getting selected 27th overall in 2019. He quickly became considered one of the top 10 prospects in the club’s system though his stock has fallen since then thanks to some mediocre results.
After the pandemic wiped out the minor leagues in 2020, Jensen split 2021 between High-A and Double-A with a 4.16 ERA. Last year, he made 17 Double-A starts with a 4.25 ERA, striking out 23.2% of batters faced while walking 15.1% of them. Nonetheless, the Cubs still had enough belief in him to give him a 40-man roster spot in November, to protect him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Here in 2023, things haven’t gone much better. He made six Double-A starts at the beginning of the year but had a 5.31 ERA in those. In early May, he was moved to the bullpen and has since been promoted to Triple-A, but he has a combined 6.06 ERA in 32 2/3 innings since that time. He has struck out 26.2% of opponents since that bullpen move but given free passes at a 17.7% rate.
It had not been publicly reported that the Cubs removed Jensen from their roster, but they evidently tried to quietly sneak him through waivers with the M’s swooping in to snap him up. They will presumably try to get him to rein in his recent control issues and get him back on a good track.
In order to grab Jensen, the M’s are risking losing Festa, who has now been removed from the roster. He has 89 major league appearances from 2019 to the present season, posting a 4.32 ERA in those. He struck out 29.2% of batters faced last year but also allowed 10 home runs and finished the year with a 4.17 ERA.
Here in 2023, he’s spent most of the season in Triple-A, with a 0.53 ERA in 34 innings. That’s come with a .114 batting average on balls in play and 91.9% strand rate, both of which are unsustainable. His 21.9% strikeout rate and 12.5% walk rate are both subpar, leading to a 4.81 FIP at that level.
According to his transactions tracker at MLB.com, he was placed on the minor league injured list last week. Since injured players can’t be placed on outright waivers and the trade deadline has passed, Festa should be released in the coming days. He’ll be out of options next year but has less than two years of service time, meaning he could be controlled for five future seasons by a club that gives him a roster spot.
Ryan, 28, was just added to the club’s 40-man roster last week. Despite getting that roster spot, they kept him in the minors initially though he will now get a chance to make his major league debut. He’s thrown 40 2/3 innings in Triple-A this year with a 3.54 ERA, 23.3% strikeout rate, 8.7% walk rate and 46% ground ball rate.
As for Woo, the severity of his injury isn’t known, but this sheds some light on the earlier report that the M’s are promoting pitching prospect Emerson Hancock. It had been speculated by some that the club could potentially use a six-man rotation for a while, but now it seems a more straightforward situation where Hancock will step in for Woo.