Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Underrated Reliever Re-Signs With Cubs


Back in January the Chicago Cubs had to make room on their 40-man roster when they signed veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer and right-handed reliever Mark Leiter Jr. was the odd-man out. The righty was DFA’d, but he did clear waivers as the rest of the league pretty much had no room on their 40-man rosters. Through MLB procedures, Leiter returned to the Cubs after going unclaimed, but he was able to either accept an outright assignment to Triple-A or elect free agency.

The 31-year-old pitcher chose to explore the free agent market, but ultimately, Leiter decided to return to the Cubs, signing a minor league deal with them on Thursday. He will go to camp in Arizona to compete for a bullpen spot during spring training.

Re-signing Mark Leiter Jr. obviously isn’t earth-shattering news, but I do think it’s a solid outcome for the Cubs. They were able to sneak him through waivers and eventually retain him with no risk. The Cubs have now been able to bring back three pitchers who they have DFA’d, as Manuel Rodriguez and Anthony Kay cleared waivers last month and were then outrighted to Triple-A. Left-handers Brailyn Marquez and Brad Wieck also returned to the organization this offseason after Marquez was non-tendered and Wieck elected free agency.

His overall numbers in 2022 may not jump off the page, but once Leiter became a regular reliever he put up strong numbers to end the year.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a rough start to the year for Leiter. I messaged a friend when Leiter was named the starting pitcher against the Colorado Rockies on April 16, and his start went exactly how we thought. Leiter allowed seven earned runs, on five hits and four walks in 3.1 innings. He only made three more starts for the Cubs in 2022 and had a 8.16 ERA in 14.1 innings in four starts overall.

However, Leiter was a stud as a reliever. The right-hander made 31 relief appearances and had a 2.87 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 53.1 innings, while averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. His second half numbers were even better, as Leiter posted a 2.17 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 21 outings covering 29 innings after the All-Star Break.

Prior to joining the Cubs organization during the 2021-22 offseason, Leiter pitched in 47 total games in the big leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays from 2017-18, posting a 5.53 ERA in 114 innings. So, after three years not pitching in the majors, the Cubs got something right with Leiter and got a quality reliever for at least one year. So yeah, I think Leiter should definitely be in the mix to win a bullpen job heading into the 2023 season.

Leiter was picked by the Phillies in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft. After his brief stint with the Blue Jays, Leiter spent time with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers, although he didn’t pitch for either team in the majors. The Cubs first signed Leiter in Dec. 2021.

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