I know you’ve probably been wondering, but yes, I am still alive. The cold winter and slow free agent market haven’t killed me (yet). Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, Yu Darvish has signed, and spring training is underway, Ryan Says is ready for its 2018 revival. To kick things off, here are three things I’m keeping my eye on in Cubs camp.
• Barring some injuries, which are always possible, it’s a safe bet that 24 of the 25 men heading east to Miami in late March are already set in stone. The one final spot is a toss-up, and it really depends on whether Joe Maddon wants to carry eight relievers or not. I’m of the belief that seven is enough, especially with the versatile Mike Montgomery back in the ‘pen.
The Cubs went with seven relievers to open the 2017 season, with Wade Davis, Koji Uehara, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Justin Grimm, and the aforementioned Montgomery holding spots (Brian Duensing opened the season on the DL). But within two weeks, Duensing was back and Tommy La Stella headed down to Triple-A Iowa.
If the Cubs do go with eight relievers, Grimm likely has a leg up on the competition. He’s out of options, which means the Cubs either have to keep him on the roster or designate him for assignment. The Cubs won their arbitration battle with the 29-year-old reliever, leaving Grimm with a 2018 salary of $2.2 million – not too much money to eat if the Cubs think it’s not going to work out.
It’s no secret among Cubs fans that Grimm has great stuff, but his inability to command his pitches led to some ugly overall numbers last year. If he struggles in spring training, it could be electrifying relief prospect Dillon Maples who ends up on the roster.
• Kyle Schwarber is the early frontrunner for spring training’s “Best Shape of His Life” award, having lost over 20 pounds this offseason. I’ve lost 30, but ya know, no big deal. I don’t smash baseballs for a living, so *Jay Cutler voice* whooooo caaaaaares. At any rate, it’ll be worth watching how Schwarber’s new slender physique changes his production the plate, if at all.
In theory, it should be a good thing. Who among us couldn’t stand to trim some of the fat and add a little muscle? But despite the notion to the contrary, Schwarber was never out of shape in the first place. His stocky build created this idea that he was a fat guy, but he was more fit than most fans realize. Putting Schwarber in a category that should be reserved for the likes of Bartolo Colon, Pablo Sandoval, and Prince Fielder would be a mistake.
What I’m most curious about is not how Schwarber has changed what he puts on his plate, but with his habits at the plate. Most notably, I’d love to see if he has figured out how to shorten up with two strikes and go with the pitch. He has heaps of natural power, so a focus on driving an outside pitch to left field rather than whiffing while trying to yank it to right would be just dandy.
• Although there have been teams calling the Cubs about the availability of Montgomery in the wake of the Darvish signing, Chicago has no interest in a trade at this time. That can change, of course, especially if another team comes in with an offer that Theo Epstein can’t refuse. But given Monty’s cost and control (he’s not arbitration eligible until next season, giving him four more seasons before free agency), such an offer would need to be immense.
As for this season, the Cubs will work Montgomery as a starter in spring training, per usual, and transition him to the ‘pen when the season starts if all five starters are healthy. That means we’ll probably get our fair share of “Montgomery and Chatwood rotation competition” think-pieces this spring, and that’s fine because it’s the nature of things. Remember back in 2016 when Kyle Hendricks was battling for a rotation spot? He was never in danger of losing his job, and neither is Chatwood.
It does kind of suck that Monty seems doomed to the bullpen without a chance of proving himself as a starter. Chatwood and Hendricks are locked up for the next three years, while Jon Lester is under contract for three plus an option for a fourth. Jose Quintana has very team-friendly options for 2019 and 2020, and Darvish is just starting his six-year deal. The writing is on the wall for Montgomery, unfortunately.