Earlier, I was able to look at the pre-spring training roster and the reliever depth chart for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. I probably came to the same conclusion most of you did, in that the Cubs were pretty much set at every roster spot, and that they had plenty of depth to cover most emergencies.
I thought I would look at the way the rotation might line up today, both to ensure maximum efficiency and performance as well as to maintain health and minimize strain for another deep playoff run. With the signing of Yu Darvish, Mike Montgomery has been relegated again to the sixth starter/swingman role:
Montgomery might be decidedly less excited to return to his job as a long reliever/spot starter. He handled the split role well during the 2017 regular season before running out of gas in the playoffs, when he posted an ERA over 16.62 in just 4.1 innings of work. Then came the offseason, when Montgomery publicly stated he wanted to shed his hybrid role and become a full-time starter.
There have been rumors about other teams checking in on Montgomery’s availability in trade, but the Cubs are better off keeping him for now given his versatility (not that he has much of a choice in the matter), and the possibility of a six-man rotation either throughout the entire season or during certain stretches to give the top five an occasional breather. The trick is in avoiding excessive wear and tear on Montgomery’s arm in shuttling him back and forth between the rotation and a multi-inning bullpen role. Since he has no options left, the Cubs can’t really replace him on days he’s not starting if they even wanted to try some roster finagling. But if Brian Duensing does what he has shown he can last year and Justin Wilson remembers he’s supposed to be good, that part of Montgomery’s role would be taken care of anyway. And then you could see a situation where Montgomery could sit back as just a stretched out sixth/emergency starter without having to yo-yo him between roles.
In my previous speculation piece, I suggested that the top four in the rotation could arguably be deployed in any order depending on matchup, so we see something like this:
Top Four in the Rotation
Number five starter
There seem to be off days built into the early parts of the 162-game regular season schedule anyway to make up for home opener rainouts and what not. A six-man rotation typically allows each starter to have at least five off days, so those early season off days could allow them to skip Montgomery or even Chatwood depending on what the Cubs feel about matchups. There may even be potential for a Chatwood/Montgomery piggyback system, similar to what had to happen with Eddie Butler last year when he had to be pulled early due to either design or perceived ineffectiveness, which would be an extreme for Chatwood but a happy medium for Montgomery to stay stretched out.
There are also many more off days built into the schedule per the new CBA, which gave the players a bunch of perks but kind of screwed them on everything else (read: money), so a six-man rotation may not be as needed. However, having six starters on the active roster is a luxury that few other teams have, so I’ll take a look at how things line up once I get back from Black Panther since I’m procrastinating from doing my teacher stuff anyway.