The Cubs announced Monday that right-hander Rowan Wick went unclaimed on waivers and has been assigned outright to Triple-A Iowa. The team also optioned infielder/outfielder Christopher Morel to Iowa. Non-roster veterans Mike Tauchman and Roenis Elias, meanwhile, have been reassigned to minor league camp. They won’t make the roster out of spring training. Manager David Ross also confirmed earlier in the day that right-hander Javier Assad has made the team’s Opening Day bullpen (Twitter link via Jordan Bastian of MLB.com).
Wick, 30, has enough service time to reject the outright assignment, but doing so would mean forfeiting the $1.55MM salary to which he agreed earlier in the offseason when he avoided arbitration. As such, he’s all but certain to accept the assignment and remain in the organization without occupying a spot on the 40-man roster.
Wick has spent the past four seasons with the Cubs, pitching to a combined 3.66 ERA with a 25.2% strikeout rate, 10.7% walk rate and 44.2% ground-ball rate. His results have dipped over the past two years, however, with his ERA clocking in at 4.24 during that time. Last year’s 23.5% strikeout rate was the lowest of his four seasons with the Cubs.
The Cubs had enough faith in Wick to sign him to that $1.55MM deal, and that salary now quite likely helped them pass him through waivers. Since avoiding arbitration with Wick, they’ve signed Brad Boxberger and Michael Fulmer in addition to claiming hard-throwing righty Julian Merryweather off waivers. With a strong showing in Iowa, Wick would figure to put himself back in the mix for a big league spot pretty quickly, given his track record, but he’ll open the year in the minors and off the 40-man roster.
As for Morel, he’ll head to Iowa to receive regular at-bats rather than work in a part-time role on the big league roster. The 23-year-old hit .235/.308/.433 while playing third base, second base, shortstop, left field and center field in his MLB debut last summer. That came on the heels of a huge .306/.380/.565 batting line in Double-A. However, Morel still has only nine Triple-A games to his name, and strikeouts were an issue for him both in last year’s debut (32.2%) and even more so during spring training in 2023 (42.1%). Even though he fanned 24 times in 57 Cactus League plate appearances, he still posted a .269/.333/.577 batting line, but that type of production isn’t sustainable with such pronounced swing-and-miss issues.
The decision to option Morel doesn’t take away from the fact that the Cubs are still hoping he’ll be a major contributor for them over the long term. However, for the time being, the focus will be on reining in his strikeout tendencies in order to better take advantage of his impressive combination of plus raw power and plus speed.