In between the very impressive showing by the Chicago Cubs rotation and their bullpen brethren so far, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have built an enviable pitching staff with depth and redundancies across levels. We have already seen guys like Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler get extended outings in games to keep them stretched out in the event that a multiple-inning reliever or a spot starter is needed, and of course I did talk about trying a hybrid five-plus-one rotation to keep everyone fresh, healthy, and productive.
Having said goodbye to Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Justin Grimm, and Wade Davis this spring, the Cubs had to reset their rotation and bullpen to sustain this current run of contention. Manager Joe Maddon and his staff have been on record as saying this pitching staff is deep and exciting (huh huh) and it will be intriguing to see how they are employed. I imagine that this bullpen will be more experienced and reliable than last year assuming everyone remembers how to throw quality strikes, but the uncertainty and potential inconsistency is the rub with relief pitching.
We did establish the taxi squad philosophy that the Cubs and other teams use to keep able bodies in the bullpen throughout a grueling regular season. Having the luxury of so many capable options who actually HAVE options remaining is a great fallback in the event of ineffectiveness and injury. As expected, many of the relievers who can be optioned have already been cut from camp, including Dillon Maples, who would presumably be one of the first guys to take the shuttle from Iowa to Chicago if the need arises. Others on the roster, such as Adbert Alzolay, may see time in September when rosters expand and guys need a breather assuming the division is already well in hand.
We still have a little less than two weeks of spring training left, and most of the pitching spots are set:
The order might change due to off days and matchups and what not, but having four presumptive number one level pitchers to lead the charge plus a not-so-number-five guy in the last spot gives me an indescribably positive feeling. Add to that the potential of slipping in a Mike Montgomery to spell the top five here and there and the Cubs have a luxury not afforded to most teams. The bullpen is also capable of stepping in when the starters have to leave after five or six innings, which I hypothesize won’t be very often:
In this top six, you have five guys who have “closer” potential and another in Montgomery who recorded the greatest save in our lifetime, so that is certainly something to be confident about, bullpen volatility be damned. The only question is who will be the seventh (and now eighth, too) man in the bullpen, and it sounds like there are some preferences:
Eddie Butler, Randy Rosario, A. Bass, Hancock all are in the mix for final bullpen spot. Butler may have edge based on no options and Maddon said they wanted more than 1 long man
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) March 16, 2018
Now that Grimm is gone, I believe Eddie Butler is that second long man to complement Montgomery, and while he’s had his issues, he did have a decent spring so far with a couple of hiccups, including on Saturday when he left the bases loaded before the guy who relieved him gave up a grand slam. My thought is that Butler can probably do what Montgomery does and go mid-to-max effort over three innings. It’s after those three innings that he may tire or lose consistency, but that seems to be the pattern with Butler and that’s why I believe he might be much better as a reliever given the kind of stuff that he has.
Sounds like Joe Maddon will be lobbying for Justin Hancock when #Cubs decide last bullpen spot:
“He’s got a lightning bolt for an arm.”
“He’s got A-lister stuff.”
Hancock was acquired from #Padres in last year’s Matt Szczur deal.
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) March 17, 2018
Hancock is a non-roster invitee, but since the Cubs have an open spot on their 40-man roster at the moment, he could be added easily. That also depends on whether the Cubs want to add Chris Gimenez as a veteran backup catcher to give Victor Caratini daily playing time in Iowa, but I imagine they would try to sneak another reliever on the roster through waivers to outright to Iowa, or perhaps even put somebody on the 60-day disabled list (i.e. Shae Simmons, who left a game more than a week ago with a shoulder issue and whom we haven’t heard much about since).
The next Cubs off day is on Tuesday, March 20, so I think we might know something by then. Most of the bubble guys should have gotten an appearance or two by that point, so we will see who is most likely to make the final roster coming out of spring. On the whole, though, it is looking very good on the pitching side for the Cubs.