— Mariners (@Mariners) January 6, 2017
If you were as confused as I was, I don’t blame you, as the consensus for this trade appears to be “what the…?” Gallardo has been…well, not good. Smith, on the other hand, is not exactly expensive, nor is he bad at baseball either. So on the surface, this trade makes no sense. The trade also engendered some discussion for how someone like Gallardo could be considered a “best fit” for anyone, while certain other free agents (who would only cost money rather than another player) did not fit.
For example, we have former Chicago Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel. The Cubs (rightly) allowed Hammel to test free agency, and so far, despite a solid resume (h/t Nick Stellini), he has received very few offers, with some suggesting that he should only expect one-year offers, perhaps even something on the cheap end as players who have market difficulties end up settling for. This led me to think about the Cubs’ own rotation scenario, in which they would line it up as such, assuming health and stuff:
The Cubs have been known to sprinkle in a sixth starter here and there to give their main guys a breather, which helps a lot with the expectedly long season plus postseason runs at this point in this window of contention. Depending on who you talk to, Montgomery (despite being a very shrewd pickup at the time) does not invoke a ton of confidence, even if we are intrigued by his potential. They have also been linked to rehabbing pitcher Tyson Ross, who will have his pick of jobs once the dust settles.
Source: Before visiting the Texas Rangers today, Tyson Ross met with the Chicago Cubs. They are the two favorites to sign the right-hander.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 5, 2017
Ross is rehabbing from thoracic outlet surgery, so may not be ready for spring training. The Cubs may also wish to go easy on him after recovery. Many folks have suggested that any deal with Ross may involve a second-year option, so the first year is for rehab purposes while the second would pay him what he would normally expect if he were healthy.
Based on what I noted in the last ramblings, the Cubs have plenty of financial freedom, despite having paid the luxury tax for the first time…ever. Keep in mind that I only offer these as options that the Cubs could take, and am aware that the Cubs allowing Hammel to bug out, for example, is indication that they don’t want or need him back.
However! If we assume that grabbing both Ross and Hammel would cost about $20-25MM for next season, which would push Montgomery to the bullpen where he was pretty good in 2016, that would create depth with only money having been expended. A cheaper option might be Travis Wood, who has started for the Cubs before (and was even an All-Star) before being moved to bullpen duty. This would depend on whether Wood is happy with being a swingman again. This would also knock a few of the relievers out of the pitching staff on the 25-man roster, which would open up another can of worms.
The Cubs would remain under the luxury tax threshold (see new CBA thresholds & penalties here), would allow their in-house pitchers to get more seasoning in Iowa, and could ride out whatever storms brew up, knowing that they have plenty of options. Given how creative Joe Maddon is (plus the quick hooks we have seen of pitchers like Hammel anyway), there could be opportunities to try piggyback outings with the guys who are good in short spurts, but will tire out after a couple times through the order.
Anyway, it’s just something to think about, as I’m not sure the Cubs are willing to throw away a few relievers just to set up an elaborate piggyback system at the back of the rotation. I believe the Cubs are, at the least, showing that they’re perfectly happy to have Montgomery as the fifth starter. But it’s certainly nice to have viable options and the flexibility to act on those options.