Getting to Know New Chicago Cubs Pitcher Michael Bowden

This weekend, the Chicago Cubs traded outfielder Marlon Byrd – and a huge pile of cash – to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later, who is expected be named at some point in May, and reliever Michael Bowden. The Cubs are expected to add Bowden to the bullpen today, so it’s worth a look at just whom the Cubs are getting.

Bowden, 25, is a big righty (6’3″, 215lb), who’s been pitching out of the bullpen for the last three years. A former top prospect (he was a top 100 prospect from 2007 through 2009), Bowden made it to the bigs at just 21 years old in 2008. He was hit hard in the big leagues in bullpen stints with the Red Sox in 2009 and 2010, before pitching decently in the Majors in limited duty (20 IP) in 2011. Over that same four year stretch, Bowden was excellent at AAA, keeping his ERA right around 3.00, and then finding even more success when he was a full-time reliever last year: 2.73 ERA, 1.158 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 in 52.2 innings.

So, on a quick look, we’re talking about a young pitcher, a former top prospect, who was coming into his own as a reliever. Why would the Red Sox – who’ve got the worst bullpen in baseball right now – designate him for assignment in the first place?

It’s hard to say. It’s possible that, after years in the system and being up and down with the big club, the Red Sox have seen enough, and believe he’s never going to be a valuable piece of their pen (the advanced stats suggest he’s been luckier than he’s been good). It’s also possible, however, that, on April 15 – when Bowden was DFA’d – the Red Sox didn’t realize how much they were going to need arms like Bowden.

I think the most likely explanation, though, is a combination of a Red Sox belief that Bowden isn’t going to be great, and discussions with teams like the Cubs in advance of the DFA. In other words, I think the Red Sox knew they were going to have at least one trade partner for Bowden, so the DFA was not a reflection of the Red Sox giving up on Bowden as much as it was a recognition that they were going to have to pick up an outfielder, and knowing that Bowden could make that happen. It’s not a coincidence that Jacoby Ellsbury went down on April 13, and then Bowden was DFA’d two days later. I suspect conversations with the Cubs filled those two intervening days.

Kevin Goldstein has generally described Bowden’s upside as a decent reliever, but he might also just be another guy. John Sickels is a bit more optimistic:

Bowden is no longer a rookie and was lost in the shuffle in Boston, but I think he can be useful for the Cubs. A supplemental first round pick in 2005 from high school in Aurora, Illinois, he has been effective as both a starter and reliever in the minor leagues and had nothing left to prove in Triple-A. His major league performance has been mixed; he has a 5.61 ERA in 59 career innings with a 48/23 K/BB and 71 hits allowed, but I think he’s capable of better, useful as a middle reliever at least. His stuff isn’t spectacular, but he has three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) and a good minor league track record.

One thing is certain: Bowden is going to get a full and fair shake with the Cubs, unlike his time with the Red Sox. From the Pawtucket Times:

“The last four years have been difficult because I wasn’t always put in the best situation. I would go up for a day and get sent back down. I would go up for three days and get sent back,” said Bowden, reflecting on the 39 appearances he made with Boston between 2008 and this season. “It’s just hard to go up there and pitch your game and feel comfortable. You know you’re not part of the team, you’re just kind of a temporary.” …

Once Sox general manager Ben Cherington hung up the phone with Bowden Saturday, a familiar face (Theo Epstein) wasted little time in officially welcoming the newest member of the Cubs.

“Theo called to say that they want me in the bullpen and that I’m going to get a consistent opportunity to get thrown out there,” Bowden said. “That’s all I need. Theo knows the potential that I have. That said, it’s a great feeling knowing that he wants me to come over and pitch for his club.”

It’s a good read on Bowden, if you’ve got some time.

Of Bowden, GM Jed Hoyer has been highly complimentary.

“Michael’s a guy we’ve known since 2005,” Hoyer said. “He has tremendous makeup, a very hard worker. He’s also a local kid and is excited about being with the Cubs. The relationship helps when you know a guys makeup and how hard he works. That’s nice when you make a trade.”

So, Bowden comes home to Chicago after an inconsistent time in Boston, and he’ll get a meaningful shot to establish himself as a long-term member of the Cubs’ pen (if he’s not later converted back into starting). I look forward to seeing what he can do.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

24 responses to “Getting to Know New Chicago Cubs Pitcher Michael Bowden”

  1. Noah

    Is Camp getting released or someone getting sent down to make room for Bowden?

  2. CubsFanBob

    It’ll be Camp or Lopez gone, Maine down, or Castillo offered back to Philadelphia.

    Keep maine drop the other three. I dont care where…

  3. Cliffy

    Is Bowden capable to go more than one inning at this point in his career?

  4. Spencer

    It’s interesting how the bullpen got blown up in the offseason and now, 16 games into the season, we are trading for bullpen help. Seems a bit counter intuitive.

    1. WGNstatic

      How is it counter intuitive? All along the Cubs brass acknowledged they were giving up talent from the ‘pen. Whether you agree with trading Marshall and/or Cashner or not or moving Shark to the rotation, nobody ever suggested they were making those trades because of a surplus of talent or that those two guys don’t have value. The reality is, the F.O. thought the value those guys had would best be cashed in for other value. I am still thrilled with the Cashner-Rizzo trade, the move of the Shark to the rotation is at the least a worthwhile experiment. I am not thrilled with the Marshall trade, but I can acknowledge the calculations behind the move,

      To me, picking up guys like Bowden and Camp are very logical moves coming on the heels of moving guys out of the pen. So, as I started with, how is it counter intuitive?

  5. MikeW

    If we’re gonna stink (and we’re going to), there’s no point in sending Maine down, we need to see what we have in some younger guys. I’d think its gonna be the old Rodrigo Lopez gone. Camp I think sticks around a little longer (but Blake Parker is really pitching well in AAA).

    Lendy – I don’t get why we’re still carrying him. His velocity is pedestrian, his command is awful, and I don’t see much upside.

  6. djriz

    Not about Bowden, put does anyone else see some irony when Epstein and Hoyer talk?

    Let’s see:
    Boston (Epstein) = 4 and 10
    San Diego (Hoyer) = 5 and 12

    Both leave their teams, to join the
    Cubs (both) = 4 and 12

    Now, if someone just woke up from a three year coma, they’d be going “WtF”, right?

    I know it has nothing to do with the Cubbies future, but does have to make me laugh.

    1. AB

      Don’t forget

      All world OF Ben klaschzynkaki -> thrown on the trash heap

  7. tim815

    I’d prefer to DL somebody. I’m sure someone has a striated hip flexor, or something. Disable Dolis. I’d rather hold off on DL’ing Castillo, as he has to spend 90 days on the MLB roster before September first to be ours next year free and clear. Dolis would be my choice.

    1. WGNstatic

      I know that the standard procedure for players like Castillo is to give them 90 days, have them suffer a strained hamstring while walking out to the the bullpen before a game, then go on the DL.

      Alternatively, might it make sense to “DL” him now? Send him to extended ST, give him a rehab assignment eventually… Basically get a good look at him and work with him to actually develop? Then, around the first of July bring him back up? Under that scenario, you have a guy, who probably should be pitching at AA, actually pitch at AA or so for a while, and hopefully even improve enough that he could contribute to the pen in July and August. It seems like that might be preferable for his development.

  8. Andrew

    Maybe I’m missing something, but considering the rest of our bullpen, I actually have liked Camp so far. He seems to have pitched better as of late too. He’s not gonna be a closer or a setup man but I think he can be a pretty decent middle reliever for now. I would like to see Maine stay up too just because I think itd be nice for him to be the specialist for now while Russell gets a shot to prove he can get righties and lefties out like marshall did.

    1. JustSwain

      I agree with you on all three guys. Lets keep them up, I see potential.

  9. tim815

    Except if he doesn’t get in his 90 days this year, he will have to be on the 25 man until his 90 are completed. That, or be subjected to the Rule 5 rules. By that point, someone would snag him. Then, they’d leave him on the roster for the 20 or so remaining days, and keep him.

    I’d prefer to use him as we have been. Disable him strategically. It isn’t like he’s going to ‘cost us any important wins’. We have to bottom out, and keeping him around for 90 days won’t hurt in our efforts.

    1. JustSwain

      I think your strategy is sound, my only problem is that I haven’t seen anything from him that makes me think he is worth keeping. Hope he proves me wrong. He’s young so he has a good shot at doing so.

  10. cubsin

    Lendy Castillo is a converted SS who’d never pitched above A ball. He’s performed about as well as I’d expect a promising young A ball pitcher to do. I expect Jed and Theo will keep him on the roster unless they decide he’s not as good as they thought he was when they drafted him.

    1. MikeW

      except his velocity has been down significantly versus what was reported when we took him in December.

      And if he doesnt have the plus velocity, then what’s the point?

  11. FromFenwayPahk

    Chicago Cubs might just be about to give us all a lesson in the sweetness of good management. I think this is a big win for the team. I like Bowden here.

  12. Gregb

    Didnt know he was from aurora i grew up out there so i definitely have to root for the guy not to many guys make it to pro ball from there besides kenny battle,kip wells those are the only ones that i can think of off the top of my head and they werent that good its a shame moshe rogers got shot and killed he was a beast of a basketball player and he never had anything to do with gangs wrong place wrong time and i can say i was proud to know him great guy his bro was in my same class r.i.p. it would have been interesting to see if he would of made it anyway enough negative i hope the guy does well for the cubs