Cubs part ways with three pitchers, agree to terms with slugging infielder
Ahead of Friday night’s non-tender deadline, the Cubs are not extending contracts to a trio of relievers, including a key piece to their bullpen just a season ago.
The team non-tendered left-handed reliever Brandon Hughes, right-handed pitcher Ethan Roberts and right-handed pitcher Codi Heuer. The team tendered contracts to six arbitration-eligible players — Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr., Nick Madrigal, Julian Merryweather, Justin Steele and Mike Tauchman. Twenty-two players not eligible for arbitration also were tendered contracts.
Additionally, the team agreed to terms on a contract with Patrick Wisdom, avoiding arbitration.
The Cubs 40-man roster sits at 37.
Hughes was one of the Cubs’ most dependable relievers in 2022 and, entering the 2023 season was expected to play a key role for their bullpen. But injuries limited him to just 17 major-league games and, in that time, the 27-year-old posted a 7.24 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 13.2 innings across 17 games.
Hughes was one of the promising stories in 2022 for the Cubs. He struck out 5 of the first six batters he faced in his major-league debut and developed into one of the Cubs’ most trusted relievers that season, posting a 3.12 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 8 saves in 57 games. He started this season on the 15-day IL with left knee inflammation, debuted on April 17 and landed on the IL again 10 days later. He would return to the majors in May and stayed healthy for a month, before landing on the injured list and not returning.
He was on a rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs in September, posting an 8.64 ERA and 2.16 WHIP in 8 games. His absence from the bullpen really hurt the Cubs down the stretch, as their reliever corps faltered down the stretch.
“Going into the year you thought Hughes and Codi Heuer would be back in June and I just think that’s gonna happen every single year and it’s gonna happen to every team,” Jed Hoyer said at last week’s GM Meetings. “You’re not gonna ride with the 4 or 5 guys you think you’re gonna have to do that.”
Luke Little and Bailey Horn are the lone lefty relievers on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. Drew Smyly also is on the roster, but he should be in the rotation mix when Spring Training kicks off.
Wisdom’s return might be a surprise to some, but there’s no denying the power that he provides to the Cubs. His 23 home runs were second most on the team and he averaged a home run every 11.65 at-bats, the fourth-best mark among players with at least 20 home runs — a mark better than players like Kyle Schwarber, Yordan Alvarez, Corey Seager and Adolis Garcîa.
Keeping Wisdom’s power threat in the organization — whether as a starter at first base or third base or as a bench option — clearly was a priority for Hoyer and the Cubs.
Heuer was acquired with Madrigal in the Craig Kimbrel at the 2021 deadline, underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2022, and suffered an elbow fracture while on a rehab assignment with Iowa this summer. He hasn’t pitched in a major-league game since 2021 and was arbitration-eligible.
Roberts was one of the heartwarming stories in 2022. One of the last players to make the Opening Day roster, made his major league debut and pitched in 9 games before suffering an injury. He suffered a setback on a rehab assignment that summer and later underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2023 season.
Roberts, Heuer and Hughes are all free agents, meaning they can sign with any 30 teams.
Friday represents the last major event before the Winter Meetings, traditionally a busy time for the offseason.