As first reported by Héctor Gómez and subsequently confirmed by Greg Zumach of North Side Bound, the Cubs are promoting flamethrowing righty reliever Daniel Palencia to the bigs. This move was imminent from the point the Cubs placed Palencia on the development list to transition him from the rotation to the bullpen, a process that took just 12 days.
Acquired along with Greg Deichmann in the Andrew Chafin trade in 2021, Palencia has showcased a triple-digit fastball with a solid changeup and a wipeout slider that has led him to 186 strikeouts under 148 professional innings. The 23-year-old completed five innings in only four of his 38 minor-league starts prior to the change, so the bullpen always felt like a strong possibility.
Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register reported that the Cubs still view Palencia as a starter, however, and that may just be a matter of fast-tracking him to Chicago. While I don’t want to go so far as to say the organization isn’t being entirely truthful about that, it strikes me as a way to get Palencia on board with the transition. That’s what I took from the way Craig Breslow presented the option, though it’s entirely possible the option is indeed open in the future.
I have no doubt this news will cause people to look up Palencia’s stats and freak out about the 7.90 ERA over 13 appearances with Iowa, but all the damage came in three games. He struck out 18 batters in 13.2 innings at Triple-A and gives the Cubs a true weapon who can miss bats, something they’ve had far too little of in the bullpen over the past few seasons.
The Cubs’ bullpen is actually in the top 10 when it comes to both K/9 (9.64, ninth) and K% (25.3%, seventh), so Palencia is hardly being looked to as a savior. Rather, he’s got the kind of elite stuff that can further elevate a unit that has to be close to perfect in order to support an offense that frequently stops scoring runs after the first 2-3 innings.
No word on the corresponding move yet, but Nick Madrigal left Monday’s game due to hamstring tightness and could be ticketed for the IL. Of course, that would not clear the requisite 40-man spot and Patrick Wisdom is probably ready to return as well. Edwin Ríos has a very tenuous grasp on his spot, so a DFA would not be surprising.
Lefty Anthony Kay is another DFA possibility, though he’s done little to suggest he can’t be a viable reliever. He hasn’t registered a strikeout over his last five appearances, though he’s only thrown 2.2 innings in that time and has also walked three batters. Simply put, he’s more expendable right now than the other relievers the Cubs have.
There’s also the possibility that Brad Boxberger, who was supposed to have been on his way back from the 15-day IL, is transitioned to the 60-day. He went to the IL on May 15 due to a right forearm strain and initial tests showed no structural damage, then he was working back through bullpens and a live BP in Mesa on June 12. However, he’s been slowed down since then and doesn’t appear close to returning.
More on this as we get specifics.