Right when two-time All-Star pitcher B.J. Ryan(pictured left) was released from the Toronto Blue Jays, I immediately wanted the Cubs to take the gamble and sign the left-hander. Well today they did, and to my surprise at just the prorated league minimum price of a minor-league contract, which is under $200,000(basically, that's the All-Star bonuses the Cubs didn't have to pay this year, aside from $75,000 for Ted Lilly).
What that means is nobody around the league has any confidence in him regaining his past form. That's very understandable since the 33-year-old had a 6.53 ERA, allowed 22 hits, walked 17, and struck out just 13 in 20.2 innings pitched this year for the Blue Jays. The real problem is that he's seen a huge drop in velocity, so it's very possible those numbers were not just a fluke, and this is what he is now.
But for the Cubs, this deal makes perfect sense. If Ryan gets his velocity back, they're getting arguably a top ten reliever in baseball, and something they really need, another left-handed arm in the bullpen. If he doesn't, so what? It's a minor-league deal. The rewards far outweigh the risk here. It's just like the Jim Edmonds signing last year and that one turned out pretty well, wouldn't you say?
Just last year, Ryan had 32 saves, a 2.95 ERA, and 58 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched. Since 2004, Ryan's had a sub-3 ERA four times. In his career, he's averaged 10.48 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. These are the reasons the Blue Jays signed him to a five-year, $47 million contract, which expired next year, and they're on the hook for the remaining $15 million.
The Cubs have looked for another reliable left-hander in the bullpen all season. Neal Cotts was a major disappointment, was sent down to Triple-A Iowa, and then had Tommy John surgery, ending his season. Jason Waddell's shown some promise, but is a 28-year-old that has spent all but 1 2/3 innings of his pitching career(which were this year) in the minors.
Sean Marshall is doing a superb job out of the bullpen, with a 1.65 ERA in 16 1/3 innings pitched in relief this year. He even leads the National League in stranding runners, succeeding in 23 of 24 chances.
In all reality though, Marshall best serves the team in the swing man role, where he can pitch an inning here and there out of relief, be the long man if need be, and be a fill-in starter. The team would be much better off with him starting than Kevin Hart right now while Ryan Dempster is on the disabled list.
Additionally, with Rich Harden's struggles and health concerns, having Marshall ready as another starting pitcher for the rest of the season would be big. With no other lefties in the bullpen though, the Cubs can't afford to do this. That's why if Ryan could serve as the left-hander in the bullpen, that would give the Cubs some much needed flexibility with the pitching staff.
Ryan wouldn't feel the pressure of closing games like he did in Toronto. He'd mainly be serving as a left-handed specialist. He's held left-handed batters to a .179 batting average and .558 OPS in his career, so if he can look anything like his pre-2009 self, he could be terrific in the role. Furthermore, say he really got it all back together and Kevin Gregg or Carlos Marmol suffer an injury, maybe he could go back to pitching in the late innings as he did in Toronto.
Whatever the case, we won't get to see it with our own eyes for a few weeks likely, if at all. The Cubs sent him to Mesa to fix up his mechanics and work on some things, and he'll likely report to Iowa soon. The Cubs certainly aren't just going to throw him up with the big club, they want to make sure he still has something left.
With a limited amount of money to work with due to the ownership mess, and few spots on the team available to upgrade, this is a low risk/high reward chance the Cubs had to take.
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