Cubs Claim RHP Julian Merryweather from Blue Jays, DFA Manny Rodríguez

The Cubs claimed 31-year-old Julian Merryweather off waivers from the Blue Jays after he had been designated for assignment. To make room on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Manuel Rodríguez has been DFA’d.

Merryweather appeared in 26 games for Toronto in 2022, going 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA and 23 strikeouts with seven walks over 26.2 innings. He missed nearly three months with a left abdominal strain and sat out most of ’21 with a left oblique strain. The righty also missed all of 2018 and most of ’19 due to Tommy John surgery, so it’s fair to call him snake-bit.

The flip side of that injury coin is that he’s got fewer innings on his arm than you’d expect for his age, in part because he was moved to the bullpen after his elbow reconstruction. All told, Merryweather has logged only 80 professional innings over the last five years in the Toronto organization.

He was part of the Cleveland system prior to that and was named a 2016 Carolina League Mid-Season All-Star after going 8-2 with a 1.03 ERA in 11 starts with High-A Lynchburg. While still rehabbing his elbow in October of 2018, Merryweather was sent to Toronto as the player to be named later in the trade involving former Cubs catching prospect Josh Donaldson.

The first thing that stands out about Merryweather is that he throws really hard, sitting a little over 97 mph with the fastball and touching higher. He throws the heater about half the time, which has been an issue because it’s not much of a weapon in spite of the high velocity. His slider (34.1%), change (9.6%), and curve (4.8%) have all gotten good results and I love seeing that nearly 16-tick disparity between the four-seam and offspeed.

Merryweather may be running into trouble because his fastball is a little too straight. Though it’s roughly average in terms of vertical movement, he gets about 12% less horizontal break than comparable pitches. Maybe that’s why he’s allowed eight homers over his last 39.2 innings. The Cubs must believe they can unlock something with a grip or sequencing change because Merryweather is out of options at this point.

If Tommy Hottovy and the other pitching coaches can figure out how to get his whiffs up above league-average levels, which they’ll have to in order for this to work, Merryweather could be a real weapon. He’s an inexpensive one as well, what with three more years of club control remaining after this one.

Rodríguez is only 26 and logged four saves in 14 relief outings for the Cubs in 2022, plus he throws nearly as hard as Merryweather. His velo was down last year, however, and he had all kinds of trouble missing bats while also struggling to throw strikes. Rodríguez has an option left, so the Cubs can outright him to Iowa if he makes it through waivers.

Then again, it sounds like the team might not be all that pleased with the reliever. I wasn’t in close enough proximity to confirm his appearance, but I know Rodríguez is built like a fire hydrant and has always been a big weight room guy who takes pride in lifting heavy weight. While weight loss is often a good thing, there are times when it can be detrimental to health and performance.

I guess we’ll have to see what happens if and when he clears waivers.

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