CHICAGO -- The Cubs headed into this offseason with holes to fill in their bullpen, and the team has spent the past couple of months collecting low-risk, cost-effective options. The latest arm to join the list of Opening Day ‘pen hopefuls is righty Ryan Tepera.
On Friday, the Cubs signed Tepera to a one-year split contract that will net him a $900,000 base salary in the Major Leagues or $300,000 in the Minors. A year removed from being a reliable cog in the Blue Jays' relief corps, Tepera was added to Chicago's roster to bring the 40-man ledger to 39.
Prior to signing Tepera, the Cubs added bullpen possibilities in Brandon Morrow (re-signed to a Minor League contract with a non-roster invite, per sources), Dan Winkler (one-year MLB deal), CD Pelham (claimed off waivers from Texas), Jharel Cotton (acquired via trade from the A's) and Trevor Megill (picked in the Rule 5 Draft from the Padres).
Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this week that the Cubs have also offered lefty Danny Hultzon a Minor League contract with an invite to big league Spring Training. Hultzen was non-tendered earlier this month, following an inspirational rise to the Majors with the Cubs in September.
The 32-year-old Tepera joins the fold after being limited to 23 appearances last year with Toronto due to a right elbow impingement. He was sidelined with the injury between May and August, and posted a 4.98 ERA in the 21 2/3 innings. In the previous two seasons combined, Tepera had a 3.60 ERA with 149 strikeouts vs. 55 walks in 141 games (142 1/3 innings).
Tepera relies mostly on a sinker, cutter and four-seamer mix, working in a changeup and slider to complement the trio of fastballs. Per Statcast, his sinker checked in at 93.7 mph on average in '19, compared to 95 mph in '18. In the injury-marred campaign, Tepera also saw velocity drops with his cutter (88.1 in '19 after 89 mph in '18) and four-seamer (93.4 in '19 after 94.8 mph in '18).
For his career, Tepera has turned in a 3.64 ERA in 216 outings for Toronto, recording a 22.9 percent strikeout rate, 8.7 percent walk rate and 44.4 percent ground-ball rate along the way. He has limited righties to a .220 average (.645 OPS) and lefties to a .220 mark (.754 OPS) in his career. The relatively even splits could factor into his bullpen candidacy, given that MLB is adopting a three-batter minimum rule in the 2020 season.
As things stand, the only virtual locks for the Cubs' bullpen are closer Craig Kimbrel, righty Rowan Wick and lefty Kyle Ryan. Tyler Chatwood would be next on the list, if he does not fit into Chicago's rotation plans. Beyond the crop of offseason additions, the Cubs also have 40-man relief candidates in Adbert Alzolay, Dillon Maples, Alec Mills, James Norwood, Duane Underwood Jr. and Brad Wieck.
Miller to bring speed, depth to outfield
Earlier this week, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported that the Cubs reached an agreement on a Minor League contract with center fielder Ian Miller. The club has not confirmed the deal. Miller, 27, hit .264 with a .346 on-base percentage, 35 steals, 47 extra-base hits and 72 runs in 121 Triple-A games between stints with the Mariners and Twins in '19. He appeared in 12 games in September for Minnesota. Miller, who hits lefty and can play all three outfield spots, has 243 career steals in parts of seven Minor League seasons.