Cubs Find New Orioles Reclamation Project, Sign Brian Matusz

Call the scouts back from New York, we found our lefty reliever!

Okay, it’s far too early to assume that Brian Matusz can parlay his new minor league contract into a legit shot with the Cubs. There’s also the report that he’s going to be stretched out as a starter with AAA Iowa, though I think we all understand that’s not set in stone.

Matusz, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft out of the University of San Diego (Kris Bryant’s alma mater), debuted with the Orioles in 2009 but struggled as a starter over parts of four seasons. He was moved to the bullpen midway through the 2012 season and seemed to have found his niche as a lefty specialist, though he was ineffective in seven appearances this season. The O’s recently traded Matusz to Atlanta, where he was immediately DFA’ed and subsequently released, and he hasn’t pitched in the majors since May 17.

It’d be easy to look at Jake Arrieta’s rebirth in Chicago and dream that something similar is possible for Matusz, though you might be getting yourself out over your skis from a hope standpoint on that one. If, however, the Cubs can help the guy figure it out even a little bit, it’d be nice to have him as an option for the bullpen or even as a spot starter later this season.

Despite my earlier warning, Arrieta does provide a template for how a pitcher can go from awful to awesome, so I guess you can go ahead and hit the slopes looking for fresh powder. Matusz’s former teammate was less than good in Baltimore and wasn’t able to harness any of his pitches with consistency prior to coming to the Cubs in one of the most lopsided trades ever. In terms of pitch value, only one or two of Arrieta’s offerings was ever positive during his time in orange and black.

Matusz has been similarly ineffective across the board, though moving to the pen and going with more of a fastball/slider combo has helped things. He still utilizes a curve and change, though neither has gotten much use since his move to the pen in 2012. If we look at the numbers from 2013-15, those two main pitches have yielded decent, if not spectacular, results and there’s a reason to believe he could replicate that if healthy.

The really promising part in all this is what Matusz has done against lefties, holding them to a .208/.269/.358 slash over the course of his career. If we narrow our view to those bullpen-only seasons, the numbers drop to .190/.245/.320 and Matusz struck out 110 men while walking only 17 of the 333 he faced. I don’t know about you, but I’d be really happy to have that guy available down the stretch.

The more I look at it, the easier it becomes to feel really good about this move. There’s virtually no cost involved, either in money or prospects, which continues to be the big fear when discussing other rumored moves¬†out there. Even the red flags can be explained away pretty easily. The O’s and Braves cast him aside, but one move was a salary dump and the other just about a team in a full rebuild mode that wasn’t interested in a reclamation project who’d be a free agent at season’s end. Even the ugly numbers can be at least partially blamed on an intercostal (muscles between the ribs) strain that forced him to miss a portion of the early season.

And who knows, maybe this is a case where a change of scenery and the opportunity to sort of start over will do Matusz well. There’s really a lot to like about this move no matter which angle you take on it. In a perfect world, the guy rounds into form in Des Moines and is able to join the Cubs in Chicago at some point in the second half. Actually, a perfect world would feature Brian Matusz turning into a southpaw reliever version of Jake Arrieta and bolstering the bullpen while saving all the prospects.

Even if things don’t follow a perfect path, this signing buys the Cubs both time and leverage when it comes to deciding how they want to address their flaws/wants/needs as the season presses on. Just another reason this front office was recently ranked¬†the best in baseball.




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