On the eve of the first pitcher and catcher workout of the spring, the Chicago Cubs have a couple of reliever injury/health-delays to report.
According to President Jed Hoyer, Rowan Wick and Kyle Ryan will miss the beginning of camp.
First, there’s Wick, whose season ended early last year because of an oblique strain:
Jed Hoyer just mentioned that Rowan Wick is still dealing with a bit of an intercostal issue. Missed the end of last season with an oblique injury. Sounds like he’ll be slowed at least at the start of camp.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) February 16, 2021
Wick, 28, emerged as one of the best relievers in the Cubs bullpen in recent years, with a combined 2.66 ERA across 50.2 innings from 2019-2020 (55 Ks to just 22 BBs during that stretch). In fact, at the moment, he’s likely Craig Kimbrel’s primary set-up man, unless that “mystery reliever” Hoyer teased is someone significant. So let’s hope this is really nothing more than a delay/set-back. I don’t want to speculate on anything medical, but you don’t have to stretch to see how an intercostal issue (which occurs when the muscles between the ribs pull inward, apparently) can be somehow related to an oblique injury. Let’s just say they share an area code.
With that said, you always expect some pitchers to show up hurt around this time of the year, and for this season – after 2020 – that probably goes double. The Cubs training staff will have their work cut out for them and almost no pitcher can be counted on for a full, normal year’s worth of innings.
Wick is under team control through 2025, and isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2023. Keeping his long-term health in mind should be a priority, especially given the middling-expectations for the Cubs in 2021.
And then there’s Ryan, whose delay is due to something a little more familiar (sadly):
Cubs reliever Kyle Ryan is being placed on the Covid list. His start to the spring will be delayed
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) February 16, 2021
Remember, this doesn’t actually mean Ryan has COVID-19 (indeed, we certainly hope he does not!), the protocols can keep someone off the field and out of the locker room for any number of reasons (exposure, intake, process, etc.).
This isn’t a wholly new experience with him. Last “spring training” (which was actually in July at Wrigley Field), Ryan was the one player delayed in getting full clearance for training camp. He didn’t actually have COVID, but was similarly delayed for protocol-related reasons.
With all appropriate recognition to Ryan, the potential impact to the bullpen here (both in 2021 and beyond) is probably less significant than with Wick. Ryan did break out for the Cubs in 2019 as a legitimate left-handed, full-inning reliever, but his velocity dipped substantially in 2020 and so did his effectiveness. And perhaps not unrelated to expectations/projections, the Cubs went out and added the very same left-handed reliever, Andrew Chafin, they brought in last deadline to help support the left-handed role in the pen.
Ryan, 29, avoided arbitration with the Cubs this offseason ($800K) and will have two more cracks at it in 2022 and 2023 before hitting free agency ahead of the 2024 season (if he sticks with the team that long). Fortunately, Ryan comes with one more minor league option season, which means he can start the year in the minors if he’s healthy but not yet ready – he signed a split deal that pays him $250,000 in the minors and $800,000 when he’s in the majors.
But given the past success, and the fact that we’re obviously rooting for him to be both healthy and productive, let’s hope he clears protocols soon and returns to the team as quickly as possible. It’s not as though Chaffin is a sure thing, after all. He’s dealt with some recent injuries, too, and the other lefty options for the bullpen come with questions – Brad Wieck’s health, Justin Steele’s inexperience, Adam Morgan’s readiness to bounce back, Rex Brothers’ control, etc.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.