The Rundown: Mapping a Pitching Staff Blueprint, Small Window to Make Roster Decisions, Story Signs With Red Sox

“Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.”The Scientist by Coldplay

Due to a shortened spring training, roster decisions loom and get closer each day as baseball chugs toward its April 7 Opening Day. Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins have given David Ross nearly 50 players with a chance to head north with the Cubs, the bulk of them relief pitchers and middle infielders. A trade or two could be in the works, or the front office may have to cut some of the younger players that have remaining options. Most certainly there will be a DFA or two in the next 15 days.

Yesterday I worked through position players that are most likely to make this year’s final roster, and today I’ll take a look at the team’s boatload of pitching options. Tomorrow I’ll dive into prospects and bubble players. As I mentioned in my previous column, Ross has some tough decisions to make because it will be difficult to gauge which way players are trending with limited innings and at-bats available for so many of the camp invitees.

Hoyer promised us some big arms when baseball lit the hot stove, and perhaps a trade for Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, or Tyler Mahle is in the works. More likely, the president of baseball operations really believes 90 mph is the new 100.

Marcus Stroman – A marquee signing just before the lockout, Stro has been a vocal leader and someone the younger players already look up to. I know he’s only pitched one spring inning wearing the blue pinstripes, but I already wish Hoyer would extend his deal.

Kyle Hendricks – I don’t think he will be traded, but he may be Chicago’s most tradeable asset. The Professor is the longest-tenured player on the club and the team’s most consistent starter since Greg Maddux. He got roughed up a little last year, especially during the first month and the last two. Bet the house that he turns it around and returns to his reliably outstanding self.

Wade Miley – He pitched to a 6.1 WAR and 141 ERA+ last year, which screams top-of-rotation starter. Miley was nearly as good in 2019 and was lights out in 2018 despite missing two months with a strained oblique. On the flip side, the 35-year-old was nothing to write home about in 2020 when he battled groin and shoulder injuries. The groin has been problematic throughout his career, but maybe Miley is a late bloomer. He could be a trade candidate at the deadline since he is on a one-year deal, or Hoyer could lock him up for an extra year or two.

Adbert Alzolay – He’s got a bad wing and his future should be in the bullpen. Once he’s healthy, he will do well in high-leverage relief situations.

Alec Mills – Baseball’s softest tosser somehow manages to get a lot of outs. I still like him better as a swingman, but he will probably work more as a starter this season.

Justin Steele – Breakout alert. I’ll say no more.

Keegan Thompson – I like Thompson a lot better in the bullpen, and it’s a plus that he can be ready to go as a starter at a moment’s notice. He’s a 45-grade pitcher who can handle almost any role. Those guys can be keepers, but especially so on Chicago’s hodgepodge staff.

Drew Smyly – It’s a long journey from Milan to Minsk, but Smyly returns to the Cubs after he was traded to the Rangers in 2018 for nothing. Actually, the trade was Smyly and a PTBNL for a PTBNL, with both mystery men canceling each other out. The Cubs got to keep Cole Hamels once the dust settled, which I suppose was a small win for Theo Epstein. Smyly is on a guaranteed deal and should be among the team’s top six starters.

Rowan Wick – Is he the closer? I think he is though Ross has yet to commit or, using a word I hated when Joe Maddon was here, “anoint” Wick as the closer. Maybe he has to prove he can respect 60’6″ or something. All I know is he has the best stuff on the staff to be a late-inning stopper, though I bet Rossy misses Craig Kimbrel and Codi Heuer.

Brailyn Márquez – He also has the stuff to be a closer, but he’s been a mystery due to injuries since the ChiSox lit him up at the end of 2020. Márquez has yet to report to camp because of visa issues so nobody’s really seen the dude in about 18 months. Sounds like a caper for Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and the blonde guy with the neck scarf whose name nobody knows.

Daniel Norris – I hope he makes the team, I really hope he still lives in a van, and it would be the height of amazingness if he still shaves his beard with an ax. I’m banking on a breakout year in which Norris ascends to the rotation, replacing Mills. As a bonus, Scoob and the gang can borrow his VW van to find Márquez.

Manny Rodríguez – I like to think of the squat Rodríguez as the next Fernando Valenzuela, but I’d settle for a facsimile of Dodgers’ cult hero Brusdar Graterol. Rodríguez could be closing by the end of the season, and I’d have no problem with that.

Chris Martin – It’s a long journey from rockstar to relief pitcher, but once the scientists in the pitching lab get done with Martin, he could be more than just a hymn for the weekend. Chris, don’t panic if you run into a little trouble early in the season because Tommy Hottovy will fix you. I can run the Coldplay references all day long, by the way.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Visa issues drive me batty, and Márquez and Harold Ramírez are both absent with Opening Day a little over two weeks away. Spring training starts at about the same time every year. Let’s get our house in order, please and thank you.

Climbing the Ladder

“Five-year plans and new deals, wrapped in golden chains, and I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain. – John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival

A tie is like a never-ending rain delay, and in a game that can be best described as mundane, there are few standout performances.

  • Pete Crow-Armstrong was 1-for-2 with a stolen base.
  • The Cubs were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners. Shades of 2017-21.
  • Clint Frazier had another hit and is batting .667 in Cactus League action.
  • The Cubs are now 2-2-1 on the spring season and are no threat to wrest the NFC North from the Packers.

Spring Training News & Notes

Free-agent shortstop Trevor Story signed a six-year deal with the Red Sox that will pay him $140 million. The deal includes an opt-out after the fourth year.

Apparently, a drug trafficker who felt disrespected by David Ortiz is responsible for the attempted shooting of the Hall of Famer back in 2019.

Go figure – George Steinbrenner was no fan of the show “Seinfeld” and Larry David’s impression of him.

Buck Showalter said he’s still losing money off of his “Seinfeld” cameo.

George Costanza teaching Derek Jeter and Bernie Wiliams about launch angles is still the best bit ever from the acclaimed comedy series. “Hitting is not about muscle, it’s simple physics. You calculate the velocity “V” in relation to the trajectory “T,” and gravity, of course, remains a constant. It’s not complicated.”

Extra Innings

Tito, pass me a tissue.

They Said It

  • “Just being a short spring, there could be times where maybe we piggyback off each other. But there [are] plenty of options that I’m sure it’s gonna be a unique first few months of the season for sure.” – Mills
  • “We did a five-year deal for a reason. This is an investment in [Suzuki] and his future. If there are some growing pains or some assimilation challenges, that’s fine with us because we believe that once he gets used to it, we’re really excited about what we’ll get. We will have to be a little bit patient.” – Hoyer

Monday Walk-Up Song

It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy (Uncensored) – No mystery there, I suppose.

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