SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Cubs’ rotation was one of their strengths in 2016, and appears likely to be the same in 2017, with Brett Anderson most likely replacing Jason Hammel. (Yes, I think it’ll be Anderson in the fifth spot, with Mike Montgomery taking over the relief/sixth-starter role he had last year.)
In 2018, though, that is likely going to be different. Jake Arrieta is a free agent and the consensus is that he’s headed elsewhere. John Lackey will most probably head off to retirement, hopefully with more jewelry to add to the ring he won in 2016.
So that leaves Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and (probably) Anderson as the only Cubs starters set for 2018. That means the team could be active in the trade or free-agent market as soon as later this summer, certainly next offseason.
But the team has a number of rotation candidates, some already in-house, some brought in this spring training. One or more of these pitchers could be in the Cubs’ rotation in 2018. Here’s a brief blurb on each of them.
Buchanan made 22 starts at Iowa in 2016 and one good start last September against the Reds (OK, so it was the Reds in a meaningless contest). He’s looked pretty good this spring, though he got hit in his right shoulder by a line drive in his last outing against the Padres. He’s 27 and seems like he could be a candidate for Bosmosis.
Butler, to me, appears to be the poster boy for someone who just couldn’t pitch at altitude. Three partial seasons at Colorado produced an ERA north of six, with 28 home runs allowed in 159⅓ innings. Two-plus years in the mile-high Triple-A atmosphere at Albuquerque, same thing: ERA over 5.00, 15 home runs allowed in 157⅓ innings. Perhaps the lower altitude at Iowa will be good for him. He’s a former No. 1 pick (2012) who just turned 26 this week.
Mills’ three relief appearances for the Royals last September probably don’t tell the whole story, as he pitched well in 12 starts in Double-A last year, somewhat less well after a promotion to Triple-A. He’ll need more Triple-A time, but has already progressed far beyond what you might expect from a 22nd-round pick. Mills is 25.
Let’s throw Montgomery into this mix, even though he is likely going to do more bullpen work this year than starting. Another former No. 1 pick (of the Royals in 2008), he will turn 28 on July 1. Will he eventually get his control under control enough to start?
Duane Underwood Jr.
Underwood, the Cubs’ second-round pick in 2012, has been brought along slowly. It took him until last year to get to Double-A, but at age 22, he still has considerable upside. You will see him start against the White Sox Friday afternoon.
"All That Zaz" has had a miserable spring, though in a very small sample size (just 3⅔ major-league innings). In that time, though: seven hits, three walks and six runs allowed. He pitched well down the stretch last summer for the Cubs and is likely headed for the Iowa rotation again. Last year he posted a 4.31 ERA and 1.238 WHIP in 23 starts combined between Tennessee and Iowa.
Which of these men will be in the 2018 rotation? Or will none of them make it? Vote in the poll.