Jeremiah Estrada's breakout season with the Padres is a brutal look for the Cubs

San Diego picked up the right-hander off waivers last fall and he quickly emerged as a force in the Padres bullpen.
New York Yankees v San Diego Padres
New York Yankees v San Diego Padres / Orlando Ramirez/GettyImages

Injuries have handcuffed Craig Counsell when it comes to a lot of his bullpen-related decisions in the first two months, but when Chicago Cubs fans look over and see a guy the front office let walk out the door for nothing emerge as a dominant reliever, it definitely leaves a bitter taste.

Last November, the Cubs placed right-hander Jeremiah Estrada on release waivers and the San Diego Padres picked him up. The 25-year-old is in the headlines on Memorial Day after striking out all five Yankees hitters he faced on Sunday, making it a Padres franchise record 10 consecutive Ks (and counting) for Estrada.

Former Cubs reliever Jeremiah Estrada has blossomed with the Padres

The Padres have helped Estrada clean up his secondary offerings and control and, when paired with his high-powered fastball, that's culminated in his transformation as an elite back-end arm.

“This guy had a pretty special fastball,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said. “Now it was just a matter of making sure there were secondary pitches, then constantly working. … The message was: ‘Continue to get better at some of these things. If you do that, you can be a force at the back end of games.’”

On the year, Estrada has punched out 25 batters in 15 1/3 innings, while walking only four. That culminated in a 0.59 ERA and 1.49 FIP for a San Diego team that entered Monday in second place in the NL West and in control of the third Wild Card spot.

Estrada, a former sixth-round pick of the Cubs, made 17 appearances for Chicago between the 2022 and 2023 campaigns but struggled badly with control - especially last year when he walked a dozen batters in 10 2/3 frames. Jed Hoyer found himself with a roster crunch last fall and Estrada wound up as the odd man out, a decision that, again, doesn't look great in hindsight.

It's always easy to put decisions like this under the microscope after the fact. With Hoyer and the front office drawing widespread criticism during the team's recent cold spell, the timing couldn't be worse for Estrada to have his coming-out party out west.