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.