Brian Matusz, a 29-year-old lefty, formerly of the Orioles. He was a studly prospect who had some so-so years as a starter in Baltimore, and then some very good years as a reliever. This season, though, the Orioles seemed to give up on him quickly when they needed roster space, and the Cubs picked him up on a minor league deal. From there, he worked in Arizona on some mechanical issues and to stretch back out as a starter. In three starts at AA and AAA, he reportedly looked good, and the results were very good, too.
He’s starting tonight for the Cubs. He takes the roster spot of Justin Grimm, who was optioned to AAA Iowa for the time being.
Wrigley Field. Tonight. I basically already said that.
Tonight. Come on, Brett. You’re really sticking to this concept, eh? Just get to the good question.
That’s a much better question. Ostensibly, the Cubs say Matusz is coming up to start tonight to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest, and indeed the rotation is expected to all just bump back a day. With a Cardinals series coming in two weeks, there’s also a way the Cubs can use this Matusz start to better line up the rotation for that series.
But is there more to it?
Buster Olney’s been hinting today that the Cubs could look to showcase Matusz tonight and then shop him on the thin starting pitching market. (It’s also very possible that, like Clayton Richard last year with the Pirates, Matusz had a clause in his minor league contract that he had to be added to the 25-man roster by a certain date (the Trade Deadline would make a lot of sense) or would have to be let go. That, too, could explain the timing. [UPDATE: Carrie Muskat confirms there was a “contractual obligation” involved in starting Matusz tonight.])
Normally, I’d say the last thing this Cubs team should do is trade away a guy who demonstrates he can be good starting pitching depth. The Cubs need someone(s) juuuuuust in case one (or more, heaven forbid) of their starting five goes down with a serious injury.
But the problem for the Cubs with respect to Matusz is that he can’t be held onto like traditional depth. He has no minor league options remaining, which means now that he’s been added to the 25-man roster, he can’t be optioned off of it. Instead, the Cubs would have to DFA and waive him, and, if he pitches well enough tonight that they’d want to keep him, it’s not like he’s going to clear waivers. So, what will the Cubs do? Sure, trading him is a possibility. Keeping him on the roster in the bullpen or as a sixth starter for more than one start is also a possibility.
It all starts with his outing tonight, though. How will he look? Is he truly better than he was when the Orioles decided he couldn’t start anymore and then subsequently let him go for nothing? The odds are never in favor of a reclamation project like this, so your best hope should simply be that he gives the Cubs five or six competitive innings, and gives them a chance to win.
Whatever happens from there is just gravy and/or fodder for further discussion. If he’s truly fantastic, then it’s going to be a lot of fun figuring out where to go from here. If he’s not – which is more likely – maybe the Cubs can still hang on and win the game.
Matusz will be a free agent at the end of this season, by the way.