Chicago Cubs: Brian Matusz Signs Minor League Deal


Former Oriole Brian Matusz has signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. Will he be the next Jake Arrieta?

On Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs and left-hander Brian Matusz reached an agreement on a minor league deal, and the comparisons to Jake Arrieta began almost immediately. A talented but struggling pitcher cast off by the Orioles, acquired by the Cubs after a miserable start to the season – could the Cubs have found another Arrieta?

In terms of becoming a long-term unbeatable ace… no. Matusz is 29 and has enough service time to become a free agent at the end of the year. The Orioles also gave up on Matusz as a starter in 2012 (compared to Arrieta having been a starter at the time of his trade) in part because of a lengthy injury history. There are plenty of reasons to like Matusz, but the potential to become another Cy Young winner is not one of them.

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However, just as they did with Arrieta, the Cubs may have found a diamond in the rough with the acquisition of Matusz. The left-hander was released by the Atlanta Braves after being dealt by the Orioles in a salary dump effort. The Braves never intended to use Matusz and were only interested in the 76th overall draft pick that accompanied him. They placed him on waivers before he could ever take the mound.

In 2015, Matusz made 58 appearances and struck out 56 batters, posting a 2.94 ERA over 49 innings of work. It followed up on a pair of seasons in which he averaged 64 appearances per year and maintained a respectable, if not great, 3.51 ERA. The 2013 campaign marked the first season of full-time relief work for Matusz, who would have preferred to stay in the rotation and did not want to work out of the bullpen, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Luckily for the lefty, the Cubs have already announced that they intend to stretch him out as a starter, giving themselves some depth behind a rotation that has been all but unbeatable this season. There are no immediate plans to replace any of the current starters, but if an injury were to crop up, the Cubs want to have options in Triple-A. Matusz will given them that, assuming he himself can stay healthy.

In the event that Matusz is not needed for a starting role, he could also slot in to the Cubs’ bullpen in place of the struggling Clayton Richards. Through 20 appearances and 12 innings of work this season, Richards has given up 19 hits and walked five, striking out just six total batters. He’s easily the weak link in their bullpen, and Matusz has plenty of experience as a lefty specialist if the Cubs decide to go in that direction.

It sounds like the Cubs are hopeful that Matusz could have a turnaround and revert back to his 2015 form. Whatever Chicago’s organizational pitching coaches are doing seems to be working, because they’ve had a lot of success with “project” pitchers like him.

When the Cubs acquired Arrieta from the Orioles, he was in his fourth major league season and had never owned an ERA below 4.50. He had gotten progressively worse each season prior to when the Orioles gave up on him in July 2013. Since his first full season in Chicago in 2014, Arrieta’s highest ERA has been 2.53. He has a 42-12 record, and, oh yeah, he won the Cy Young Award last year.

While Matusz doesn’t have as high of an upside as Arrieta, the Cubs also have a track record of success with relief pitchers like Chicago closer Hector Rondon, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Cleveland Indians who had struggled to stay healthy or perform with the Tribe’s minor league clubs.

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It’s safe to say that if Matusz is looking for a second chance, the Cubs are the team that can give it to him. It will be partially up to him whether that chance comes in the form of the starting rotation role that he wants, or as the replacement lefty specialist.