Former Cubs reliever Kyle Ryan signs minor league deal with the Cardinals

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

In recent years, the Chicago Cubs have been remarkably good at uncovering diamonds in the rough when it comes to relievers. A perfect example came back in 2019, when left-hander Kyle Ryan became a go-to guy for then-manager Joe Maddon, making 73 appearances and working to a 3.85 FIP and 1.377 WHIP for Chicago.

Unfortunately, he was never able to replicate that success – and the Cubs released him back in mid-August. But there’s a chance they’ll see him again next season after the southpaw inked a minor league deal with the division rival Cardinals on Friday.

Over the last two seasons, Ryan has struggled – working to a 5.90 ERA and 6.70 FIP across 31 appearances spanning just 29 innings. So at first glance, you might wonder what St. Louis sees in the 30-year-old reliever. But if you dig into his numbers a bit more, it jumps off the page given the Cardinals won the team Gold Glove Award in 2021 – he keeps the ball on the ground consistently.

If Ryan can get back to what made him successful in 2019: namely limiting the big flies, it’s easy to see how he could return to form with that defense behind him. As for the Cubs, they’re reportedly keeping an eye on the relief pitching market this winter, and it’s not all that hard to understand why, either.

We’ve talked ad nauseam about the deadline moves that sent Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo packing for months now. But they also decimated the bullpen, trading Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel, as well.

Now, the fact Kimbrel imploded down the stretch for the White Sox doesn’t negate the fact it left a hole in the ninth inning and the next two guys in the pecking order (Tepera and Chafin) were also out of the picture. On the year, Cubs relievers finished ninth in the NL in terms of ERA – but that number is heavily impacted by the work turned in by the three aforementioned arms.

Chicago Cubs will need to add more reliable relievers to the mix

Right now, you’re thinking the ninth belongs to either Codi Heuer or Rowan Wick. But from there, there’s a pretty steep drop-off in the bullpen. You’re talking about high-upside, unproven guys like Manuel Rodríguez and a mix of names like Trevor Megill, Michael Rucker, Jason Adam and Cory Abbott.

We’ve been so focused on the team’s needs in the rotation that the bullpen has largely gone overlooked. Even if you move a Justin Steele or Adbert Alzolay out of the rotation heading into 2022, it’s clear there’s definitely room for some more proven commodities in the reliever mix.

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Kyle Ryan seems to have run his course in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean the Cubs are going to stand pat with their bullpen. Expect a handful of relievers to be added to the mix between now and spring training.