It made little sense to have Drew Smyly make the start Tuesday in Detroit and it makes even less sense to have him take the bump on Sunday in Pittsburgh, but that’s exactly what David Ross is planning at this point. The Cubs are thin in the rotation with Marcus Stroman‘s extended IL stint, but it’s almost as though they’re not even trying to seek out better options.
“Who takes his spot in the rotation, is the question,” Ross told reporters after Tuesday’s loss. “He’s in there because we’re just a little short-handed right now. It’s his first start back; let’s give him a little bit of grace. And I don’t know that we have anybody waiting in line that we feel like is some dominant force.”
You can miss me with that “dominant force” BS, what the Cubs need is someone who can simply keep the game competitive. Smyly isn’t even the best option among lefty starters in the system Jordan Wicks is starting Wednesday in Indianapolis and would be on short rest for Sunday, but they could just pull him early to account for that.
Update: Wicks has been scratched from his start in Indy and it’s not for injury reasons, so perhaps the front office decided to take control over the matter. Wicks matches up well with the Pirates and could be called upon to start early in the series to give Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks an extra day. Steele is already well past his career high for innings pitched and it makes sense to keep him as fresh as possible.
Wicks is not currently on the 40-man roster, but there are two open spots right now. The Cubs could clear a spot on the active roster by optioning either Rucker or José Cuas, who has displayed serious control issues since being called up.
Another very confusing aspect of all this is that righty Michael Rucker hasn’t pitched for the Cubs since being recalled on August 15 and hasn’t pitched at all since four days earlier at Triple-A. His last two appearances were starts in which he went three innings, so he’s stretched out enough to provide a little length. I don’t understand at all what the Cubs are doing outside of giving Smyly every single opportunity to get right and make more money.
As noted probably too often on these pages, the lefty has already received $250,000 bonuses for reaching 110 and 120 innings this season. He’s in line for another $750,000 once he reaches 130 innings, which could happen if he pitches well on Sunday, then he has an additional $750,000 for reaching 140 innings. The bonus jumps to $1 million at 150 innings.
And just in case you’ve not been around the last several times I’ve written about this, Smyly’s initial 2024 guarantee of $8.5 million increases by the same amount as the total bonuses he earns this season. Oh, the bonuses are also in place for next year. As weird as it sounds, the only explanation I can come up with is that the Cubs are planning to exceed the $235 million CBT threshold next season and are willing to eat Smyly’s deal as part of it.
That’s an expensive parting gift and it doesn’t explain why they’d essentially be punting on those starts, but that’s all I’ve got right now. If this is truly a matter of Ross just crossing his fingers and hoping Smyly rights the ship, I have some very serious doubts about the thought process.