Leiter, 32 in March, is coming off a strong campaign where he served as an optional depth arm for the Cubs. He made four starts and 31 relief appearances, tallying 67 2/3 innings with a 3.99 ERA. He struck out 25.9% of batters faced while walking 8.9% and getting grounders at a 48.9% clip. He also made six Triple-A starts, posting a 5.32 ERA despite a 34% strikeout rate and 6.4% walk rate. His batting average on balls in play was .333 in the minors versus .251 in the majors and his strand rate was also higher in the show.
That was a generally solid showing but Leiter got nudged off the roster in January when the club added Eric Hosmer. Leiter went unclaimed on waivers and was eligible to elect free agency by virtue of having had a previous career outright. After just over a week on the open market, Leiter is now a Cub again, though without a spot on the roster.
He’ll head to spring and try to earn his way back onto the 40-man, though he’ll have less roster flexibility if he succeeds. He’s now out of options, preventing the club from freely shuffling him to the farm and back, which they did four times last year.
The Cubs’ bullpen chart will likely be topped by Brandon Hughes and Brad Boxberger, followed by names like Adbert Alzolay, Rowan Wick, Julian Merryweather and Michael Rucker. Leiter will be competing with other non-roster invitees like Vinny Nittoli, Tyler Duffey and Eric Stout for a job in that mix. If he succeeds in getting back on the team, he can be cheaply retained for further seasons as he has just over two years of service time and has yet to qualify for arbitration.