Jorge Lopez Signs Minor League Contract with Chicago Cubs (2024)

As the MLB midseason approaches, the Chicago Cubs are making strategic moves to bolster their bullpen by signing right-handed relief pitcher Jorge Lopez to a minor league contract. This decision, reported by Will Sammon of The Athletic, comes shortly after Lopez’s release from the New York Mets. The former All-Star aims to revitalize his career and make a significant impact with his new team.

Lopez’s recent release from the Mets followed a dramatic incident during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a challenging outing, Lopez engaged in a heated argument with the umpires, resulting in his ejection. In a display of frustration, he threw his glove into the crowd and untucked his shirt while leaving the field. The drama continued post-game when Lopez addressed reporters in English, without an interpreter, and stated he had no regrets about his actions. He mentioned he had not discussed the incident with Mets manager Carlos Mendoza or president of baseball operations David Stearns, though this claim was disputed by others. Adding to the confusion, some initially believed Lopez had called the Mets “the worst —-ing team” in MLB, but he later clarified that he referred to himself as the “worst teammate” in the league.

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In the aftermath, many in the baseball community highlighted the personal challenges Lopez has faced. He has a child with significant medical issues currently awaiting a transplant, and Lopez himself missed part of last year due to mental health concerns. Despite these explanations, the Mets deemed his behavior unacceptable, leading to his designation for assignment and subsequent release. This move freed Lopez to enter free agency, with the Mets covering most of his $2 million salary.

Lopez has experienced fluctuating success throughout his career. Initially struggling as a starter, he found success as a reliever with the Baltimore Orioles in 2022, posting a 1.68 ERA over 48 1/3 innings. His performance included a 27.6 percent strikeout rate, an 8.7 percent walk rate, and a 60 percent ground ball rate. However, after being traded to the Twins, his performance declined. From the trade to the present, Lopez’s ERA has risen to 5.08, with an 18 percent strikeout rate, a 9.8 percent walk rate, and a 48 percent ground ball rate. This season with the Mets, Lopez had a 3.76 ERA before his release, but his strikeout and ground ball rates remained below his peak performance.

Despite recent struggles, the Cubs see potential in bringing Lopez into their organization. The minor league contract poses little risk, as the Cubs would only pay a prorated league minimum for any time Lopez spends on their roster, with the Mets covering the remainder of his salary.

The Cubs’ bullpen has faced challenges this season, ranking 24th out of 30 teams with a collective ERA of 4.47. With key relievers like Adbert Alzolay, Yency Almonte, Julian Merryweather, and Keegan Thompson on the injured list, Lopez could provide much-needed support. If he can regain any semblance of his previous form, Lopez has the potential to be a valuable asset for the Cubs as they navigate the second half of the season.

Lopez’s Early Career and Rise to Prominence

Jorge Lopez’s journey in professional baseball began when he was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as an international free agent in 2011. His early career was marked by promise, but also inconsistency. As a starter in the Brewers’ minor league system, Lopez displayed flashes of potential but struggled to maintain consistent performance. His breakthrough came in 2015 when he was named the Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a standout season with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers.

Despite this success, Lopez’s transition to the major leagues was rocky. He debuted with the Brewers in 2015 but failed to secure a permanent spot in the rotation. Over the next few years, Lopez bounced between the majors and minors, experiencing mixed results. His fortunes began to change when he was traded to the Kansas City Royals in 2018 as part of a package for Mike Moustakas. The Royals, known for their emphasis on pitching development, provided Lopez with new opportunities to refine his skills.

The Transition to Relief Pitching

Lopez’s career took a significant turn in 2022 when the Baltimore Orioles, seeking to maximize his potential, transitioned him to a full-time relief role. This move proved to be a turning point. Freed from the rigors of starting, Lopez flourished in the bullpen. His 2022 season with the Orioles was nothing short of remarkable. Over 48 1/3 innings, Lopez posted a minuscule 1.68 ERA, striking out 27.6 percent of the batters he faced while maintaining an impressive 60 percent ground ball rate. His newfound success as a reliever made him a valuable asset, and he was traded to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.

However, the transition to a new team did not go as smoothly as anticipated. Lopez’s performance with the Twins was a shadow of his earlier dominance. His ERA ballooned to 5.08, and his strikeout rate dropped to 18 percent. Despite these struggles, Lopez’s potential remained evident. The New York Mets, seeking to bolster their bullpen depth, signed him in 2023. While he showed some signs of improvement, posting a 3.76 ERA, his strikeout and ground ball rates continued to lag behind his peak levels.

Personal Challenges and Resilience

Throughout his career, Lopez has faced significant personal challenges. His son’s medical condition, requiring a transplant, has been a source of immense stress and distraction. Lopez’s own mental health struggles have also impacted his performance on the field. Despite these hurdles, Lopez has shown remarkable resilience. His ability to persevere through adversity speaks to his character and determination.

The incident leading to his release from the Mets, while dramatic, also highlighted the pressures he faces. Lopez’s outburst during the game against the Dodgers and his subsequent comments to the media underscored the emotional toll of his circ*mstances. While his behavior was deemed unacceptable by the Mets, it also brought attention to the need for understanding and support for athletes dealing with personal challenges.

The Cubs’ Bullpen Struggles and Opportunity

The Cubs’ decision to sign Lopez to a minor league contract reflects both a recognition of his potential and a pragmatic approach to addressing their bullpen struggles. With a collective ERA of 4.47, the Cubs’ relievers rank near the bottom of the league. Injuries to key relievers have further exacerbated the situation, making the addition of Lopez a low-risk, high-reward proposition.

If Lopez can recapture the form that made him one of the league’s most effective relievers in 2022, he could provide a significant boost to the Cubs’ bullpen. His ability to generate ground balls and strikeouts, coupled with his experience, makes him a valuable asset. For Lopez, this opportunity with the Cubs represents a chance to rejuvenate his career and contribute to a team in need of bullpen stability.

Jorge Lopez Signs Minor League Contract with Chicago Cubs (2024)
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