Yes, you read that right. The Cubs will need to stock up on potential starting pitchers to start the season to provide the level of insurance necessary to be a 90+ win team. Not only does redundancy protect against injury, but it saves them from having to start a terrible option every five days, which can rack up losses quickly.
Last year, the Cubs had Lester/Arrieta/Hendricks/Lackey as the base. They added Brett Anderson and Eddie Butler, with Mike Montgomery available out of the bullpen. Everybody had starts, including several by Jose Quintana following the trade in the second half and an appearance by Jen-Ho Tseng after promoting him from AAA in September.
They were able to keep Anderson for some time on the DL, Tseng in the minors and Monty in the pen, giving them eight possible starters at any one point. For the most part, anyway. Based on what the Cubs have done in the past, here is what I predict they will do to prep for 2018:
• Start with the base of Lester/Hendricks/Quintana. That’s three.
• Sign Alex Cobb. He’s your lower-dollar Lackey replacement. Substitute with another middle-tier pitcher if they can’t get Cobb for what they are willing to pay. That’s four.
• Trade for the Chris Archer. Substitute Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Michael Fulmer, etc. Give up a proven position player or two for a proven pitcher. That’s five.
• Stash Monty in the ‘pen again. Starter insurance, plus a huge value in his own right. He makes six.
• Stash Tseng in AAA. The Cubs may need an extra pitcher they can call up and send down for spot starts. He’s that guy, unless he’s so dominant that they cannot ignore him. Up to seven.
• Sign a veteran to be AAA depth. He’s No. 8, but depending on what agreements the front office makes with him, he might get a shot before some of the other options, or else they will have to offer him his release.
• The menagerie: Between Adbert Alzolay, Rob Zastryzny, Stephen Perakslis, Seth Frankoff and others, at least one will be having a good year. If it gets to the point that someone other than Tseng is getting major league starts, either a guy is absolutely brilliant in the minors (Tseng’s 1.8 ERA in AAA in 2017), or the core rotation pitchers are in shambles.
That’s the plan. Seems like a lot of of work to line up the guys after the five starters, but when you expect to be a contender, you need all the insurance you can get.