The Cubs announced a series of roster moves prior to tonight’s opener in Houston (relayed by Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune). Chicago selected reliever Nick Burdi onto the MLB roster and recalled Jeremiah Estrada from Triple-A Iowa. In corresponding moves, starter Hayden Wesneski was optioned while reliever Brad Boxberger landed on the 15-day injured list with a forearm strain. The Cubs placed Adrian Sampson on the 60-day IL to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Burdi.
Burdi, 30, returns to the majors for the first time since 2020. A second round pick of the Twins in 2014, he preceded younger brother Zack Burdi in going from star college closer at Louisville to highly-regarded professional relief pitching prospect. Burdi never made it past Double-A in the Minnesota system thanks to injuries and strike-throwing concerns. The Pirates eventually added him (by way of trade with Philadelphia) in the 2017 Rule 5 draft.
The right-hander went on to pitch in parts of three seasons with Pittsburgh. He tallied just 12 1/3 combined innings, however, as successive Tommy John and thoracic outlet procedures mostly kept him off the mound. Burdi allowed 14 runs despite an impressive 23 strikeouts in his limited big league look and he spent all of 2021-22 on the minor league injured list.
Chicago nevertheless took a no-cost flier this offseason. They added him from the Padres — with whom he’d signed a minor league deal — in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft. He was assigned to Iowa and has pitched well in his long-awaited return to the mound. Through 10 2/3 innings, he’s allowed just four runs while punching out an excellent 19 of 49 hitters (a 38.8% clip). He’s walked five batters and hit three more but the ability to miss bats is still clearly present if he’s able to stay healthy.
Burdi racked up three years of major league service with all of his time on the IL for Pittsburgh. He still has a full slate of minor league option years remaining, so the Cubs can move him between Chicago and Iowa without exposing him to waivers. He’ll be eligible for arbitration through at least 2026 if he can carve out a lasting 40-man spot.
For now, he’ll take the bullpen spot vacated by Boxberger. The veteran right-hander has had a tough go since signing a $2.8MM free agent deal with Chicago. Through 17 appearances, he’s been tagged for a 5.52 ERA and walked just under 14% of opposing hitters. Boxberger’s average fastball velocity is down a tick from where it sat last season with the Brewers, perhaps a reflection of him pitching through some discomfort. He’ll be out of action for at least a couple weeks; the Cubs haven’t provided any specifics on his return timetable.
Wesneski is one of the top starting pitching prospects in the Chicago farm system. Acquired from the Yankees for Scott Effross at last summer’s trade deadline, he impressed over six appearances late last season. That success hasn’t yet carried over for the 25-year-old. He’s allowed a 5.03 ERA over 39 1/3 innings through eight starts. Wesneski has surrendered an untenable 10 home runs and posted a 16.7% strikeout percentage and 8.2% swinging strike rate that are each well below the league average.
It had seemed as if Wesneksi was righting the ship following a slow start to the season. He’d rattled off three straight one-run outings since April 27 before a seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Twins on Saturday. The Cubs decided to give him some time for a reset in Iowa, leaving a four-man starting staff of Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon and Drew Smyly. Chicago is off on Thursday and next Monday, allowing them to get by without a fifth starter until the end of next week. By then, Kyle Hendricks figures to be ready for his first MLB action of the season. The veteran hurler has made four rehab starts with Iowa as he works back from a strain in his shoulder that cut short his 2022 campaign.
Sampson has yet to pitch in the majors this season. The right-hander suffered a right knee injury in Triple-A and underwent surgery two weeks ago. He’ll be out until at least the middle of July as a result. The only silver lining is that he’ll paid a major league salary for time spent on the injured list now that the Cubs put him on the MLB IL to clear the 40-man roster spot.