The Cubs intend to deploy a six-man rotation at times throughout the life of the 2017 season as they look to lessen the workload of a rotation that shouldered a considerable burden in the postseason, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Chicago’s interest in right-hander Tyson Ross — Sherman, like Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and FOX’s Ken Rosenthal, calls the Cubs a finalist for Ross — is tied to this thinking. However, he adds that even if Ross ultimately signs elsewhere, the Cubs will pursue additional rotation depth to ease the workload on its current starters.
As it stands, the Cubs project to have Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey and Mike Montgomery in their Opening Day rotation. Arrieta had never thrown more than 170 innings in a full season (between the Majors and minors) prior to joining the Cubs, but he’s now thrown 468 1/3 innings between the regular season and the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Lester, similarly, has taken on a high workload, tallying 457 1/3 frames between the postseason and regular season dating back to 2015. Hendricks, meanwhile, posted a career-high 190 regular-season innings and added 25 1/3 more in the playoffs, bringing his year-long total to 215 1/3 (up from his previous high of 180). Significant workloads are nothing new for Lackey, but the grizzled vet is now 38 years old and missed a couple of weeks with a shoulder strain late in the season.
If the Cubs aren’t able to land Ross, Sherman writes that Chicago could look to bring Travis Wood back into the fold as a swingman and spot starter. Wood obviously brings plenty of familiarity to the Cubs, having spent the past five seasons with the team. Wood was pushed out of the Cubs’ rotation after a rough 2014 season and poor start to 2015, but he did throw 200 very good innings for Chicago in 2013 and average 30 starts per year from 2012-14. From my vantage point, he’d be an interesting option as a starter for teams with more clear-cut rotation vacancies, though perhaps a return to the reigning World Series champs would outweigh the opportunity to have a definitive rotation job elsewhere. Sherman notes that Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith (selected out of the Yankees organization by the Brewers and traded to Chicago) also intrigues the Cubs and may get a look in a swingman role this spring.
If Chicago wants to look elsewhere for someone to fill that role, there are a number of options remaining on the market with recent starting and relief experience. Yusmeiro Petit, old friend Scott Feldman, Vance Worley, Dillon Gee and Jorge De La Rosa are just a few low-cost options that could potentially fit the bill. Jason Hammel, whose option whose market has surprisingly not developed much after Chicago bought out his option, makes some logical sense as a candidate to return if he’s willing to accept a one-year offer (at a higher rate than the other listed names). And, of course, the trade market can never be ruled out. (It is, after all, where the Cubs procured Montgomery this past July.)
Ross brings the most upside of the free agents, but one has to wonder his thoughts on potentially being in a six-man rotation as opposed to receiving the opportunity to rebuild his stock by taking the ball every fifth day. Then again, as mentioned with regard to Wood, the notion of pitching for a clear-cut World Series contender carries allure for any free agent.
The Cubs’ desire to incorporate a sixth starter with more regularity isn’t exactly new. Manager Joe Maddon utilized Montgomery as a starter late in the season last year and has voiced a belief that more teams will begin to look to six-man rotations in the season’s second half in the years to come (as the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales wrote last September). While the April schedule will present plenty of off-days and allow the Cubs to organically incorporate some extra rest into their starters’ schedules, that luxury is long gone by midseason as many teams deal with pitching injuries both minor and major.