Cubs Claim Julian Merryweather, Designate Manuel Rodríguez

The Cubs have claimed right-hander Julian Merryweather off waivers from the Blue Jays, reports Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune. Merryweather had been designated for assignment by the Jays last week. In a corresponding move, fellow righty Manuel Rodríguez has been designated for assignment.

Merryweather, 31, was drafted by Cleveland but went to the Blue Jays in the 2018 trade that saw Josh Donaldson go the other way. He has pitched in each of the past three MLB seasons, flashing elite velocity on his fastball, which has averaged in the 96-98 mph range in each of those campaigns.

Despite that blazing speed, Merryweather hasn’t had good results so far. He struck out 27.3% of batters faced in 2020 but saw that number drop to 21.8% and 19.3% in the past two seasons. That coincided with an increase in his ERA, going from 4.15 to 4.85 and 6.75 in the most recent season. In addition to those struggles, health is an ongoing concern. Though he pitched over 40 innings in 2022, the previous four years each saw him fall short of 20 frames.

Merryweather’s been much better in the minors, such as pitching 14 1/3 scoreless innings at Triple-A last year with a 32.7% strikeout rate. However, he’s now out of options and the Cubs will have to keep him on their active roster or else send him into DFA limbo again. If they can help him turn his huge velocity into better results, they can keep him around for many seasons via arbitration since Merryweather has just over two years of MLB service time.

In adding one flamethrower, the Cubs are risking losing another. Rodríguez, 26, averaged 97.2 mph on his sinker in 2021 and 95.9 mph last year. But like Merryweather, he hasn’t turned that into punchouts, striking out just 17.1% of batters faced in 31 1/3 major league innings thus far. He has gotten ground balls at a solid 53.2% clip but has also given free passes to 15% of batters faced.

The Cubs will now have a week to trade Rodríguez or pass him through waivers. He still has one option year remaining and just over a year of service time. Given his youth and potent velocity, he could find interest from other clubs that are looking for some pitching depth.

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