[UPDATE: The move is confirmed, and it’s Justin Grimm heading down to make room for Matusz. The original text of this post remains below.]
By all accounts, Brian Matusz has looked really good as he stretched back out as a starter with the Cubs in the minors. The numbers match, too, as the 29-year-old lefty has had three excellent (albeit short) starts between AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa, allowing just 3 ER over 12.2 innings, striking out 17(!) and walking 5.
What’s been unclear is exactly how the Cubs would use the big lefty since picking him up on a minor league deal after he was discarded by the Orioles (by way of a trade to the Braves, who dropped him). Starting depth? Sure. Coming up to join the pen at some point? Maybe. Sixth starter? Well …
The Cubs stretched Matusz out, worked on his mechanics, and now it sounds like they’re going to put him to work:
I'm hearing Brian Matusz will pitch Sunday night for the Cubs. No confirmation from the team.
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) July 30, 2016
Same. Why he didn't start Fri. RT @MDGonzales: I'm hearing Brian Matusz will pitch Sunday night for the Cubs. No confirmation from the team.
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) July 30, 2016
The Cubs haven’t made anything official yet, but if Matusz comes up to start tomorrow night, you can presume it’ll just bump everyone else in the rotation back a day to give them extra rest.
How long Matusz would stay and how many starts he would make remain an open question, especially since this all comes against the backdrop of Monday’s Trade Deadline. You can take only so much away from a single start, but if Matusz looks really good, it’s not inconceivable that it could impact the Cubs’ deadline plans (in a variety of plausible ways – maybe they no longer look to pick up another starter, maybe they simply use Matusz’s presence as leverage in starter trade talks, maybe they trade Matusz, himself, given the thin market).
More likely, though, is that Matusz will come up and start, and then the Cubs will sort things out from there.
From a roster perspective, it’ll be tricky because not, only do the Cubs have to make room for Matusz on the 25-man and 40-man rosters, but he’s out of minor league options. Which means, once he’s up and on that 25-man roster, he cannot be taken off of it short of designating him for assignment and
And about making room: the 40-man roster won’t be an issue, as there are several players who’ve been out longer than 60 days and can be put on the 60-day DL (which removes them from the 40-man roster), and there are probably others who could be DFA’d without too much concern. The 25-man is much trickier, as we’ve already seen in recent days on the positional side. Assuming Matusz replaces a pitcher, and further assuming it’s someone in the bullpen, the Cubs have only three relievers with minor league options left: Aroldis Chapman, Justin Grimm, and Carl Edwards Jr.
Chapman isn’t going anywhere. Grimm can be optioned, but has to clear revocable waivers first (usually players do clear them, because they are revocable – if a team claims the guy, he’s just pulled back by the now very-annoyed optioning team). He’s also been very good going on his last 10 or so appearances, and we know he has that ability. Edwards, though, has also been excellent. He can be freely optioned, though, and Joe Maddon has already mentioned wanting to make sure his appearances are controlled and monitored so he’s in good shape come the end of the year. So, if nothing changes between now and tomorrow, I’d think Edwards would be the guy going down … even though he’s been fantastic.
Once down, a player cannot be recalled for 10 days (unless he’s replacing an injured player). At least with a couple off-days sprinkled into those 10, Edwards wouldn’t miss a ton of games.
This roster stuff. It gets complicated when you’ve got a very good team, and also very good depth. We’ll see if anything shakes itself loose organically over the next two days, before the August 1 Trade Deadline passes.