The Cubs are filling up the 40-man roster today, it seems, bringing back another player:
#Cubs sign LHP Kyle Ryan to major-league contract, source tells The Athletic. Was minor-league free agent. At AAA with CHC last season: 2.86 ERA in 66 IP, 22 games, eight starts. From 2014 to ‘17, 3.87 ERA in 128 IP during various stints with #Tigers.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 28, 2018
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) November 28, 2018
As Rosenthal notes, Ryan was very good in 2018 at AAA after making his debut in May, even as he never did get a call-up: 2.86 ERA, 23.7% K rate, 7.0% BB rate, 66.0 innings (14 relief appearances, 8 starts). Ryan only just turned 27 in September.
Procedurally, the move is an interesting one, because the Cubs could have added Ryan to the 40-man roster at the end of the year if they wanted. Presumably because of the roster crunch at the time (or a different understanding of what the budget would permit in terms of other additions (if you’re being cynical/nervous)), they elected not to do so. For that reason, Ryan hit free agency, and if I had to guess, there was sufficient interest out there that he was going to get a big league deal elsewhere. Maybe he liked his time with the Cubs, and preferred to sign with them. And boom, it’s basically just like the Cubs decided to add him to the 40-man roster after all.
Going forward, Ryan figures to be among the Cubs’ many depth relief options, and he comes with a track record of getting big league outs before 2018. From our initial write-up when the Cubs signed him last year:
Ryan, whose name sounds an awful lot like a First Order Sith, is 26 and pitched with the Tigers in 2017. A 12th round pick back in 2010, Ryan actually first reached the big leagues with the Tigers in 2014, getting solid results between the rotation and the bullpen for the next three seasons, posting a 3.07 ERA in 2016 over 55.2 relief innings. Dude was a groundballing, contact-managing, no-walking kinda reliever. Not sexy, but very useful.
Moreover, Ryan is exactly split-neutral – a .314 wOBA in his big league career against lefties, and a .314 against righties. That’s always handy if a guy wants to be as useful as possible in a big league bullpen. And, you know, there’s a spot to be won with the Cubs.
But before we get there, what happened that he was available on – I’m guessing – a minor league deal this offseason? Well his 2017 season was a bit of a disaster, with a total inability to find the strike zone in April before a demotion to AAA, where he mostly struggled some more. Specifically, his previously pristine control fell apart, and his walk rate ballooned to unusable levels. He was outrighted at the end of the year and elected free agency.
Ryan dealt with a rib issue before 2017, so maybe that’s what caused his disastrous season, and then needed a full year in 2018 to re-establish himself.
The addition of Ryan, together with the trade for Ronald Torreyes, fills up the Cubs’ 40-man roster for the moment.