We are now just two weeks until the start of the 2019 regular season with the Cubs facing the Rangers in Arlington, Texas. It’s seemed pretty obvious what the Cubs’ rotation was going to be, given the order the pitchers have been throwing in spring games: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana.
Except Wednesday, Joe Maddon dropped this little nugget on reporters:
The Cubs have decided not to announce their rotation after Jon Lester going opening day . Off day nuances are the reason for the hesitation according to Joe Maddon— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) March 13, 2019
Nuances. Well, Joe always has been a man with words. And indeed, the Cubs have two off days through the season’s first 10 games. Which means they wouldn’t need a fifth starter until Game 9, having gone twice through a four-man rotation. Having such a rotation through nine games would allow the team to carry an extra bullpen arm or bench player through the road trip that goes from Texas to Atlanta to Milwaukee.
There are a number of ways to accomplish this, and they are laid out in detail by roster expert Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter, so I’ll let you read it in its entirety at this link and quote only this portion of it, the most salient part:
The other possibility (and this is really outside the box, but it makes sense if you think about it because it doesn’t requre placing a SP on the 10-day Injured List) would be to option Kyle Hendricks (who has minor league options left and who does not have enough MLB Service Time to decline a minor league assignment) to Eugene on Opening Day, and have him just remain in Mesa when the club leaves for Texas and stay on his schedule and throw in one Extended Spring Training intrasquad “sim” game on Monday April 8 and then be recalled on Sunday April 14 to start the game in Milwaukee, which would be the first game where a 5th starter will be needed. Because he would be optioned for less than twenty days he would accrue a full season of MLB Service Time, and it would just mean staying in Mesa an extra five days (he could rejoin the club in Atlanta after he pitches in the EXST intrasquad game and he could even throw his between-starts bullpen session in Atlanta on Wednesday or Thursday before getting the start in Milwaukee on Sunday).
Phil has the dates off by a week there (the sim game would be Monday, April 1 and the game in Milwaukee, Game 9 of the season, would be Sunday, April 7), but he’s got the basic concept down right. The reason you’d option Kyle Hendricks to Eugene is that the Ems aren’t playing in April, so he wouldn’t be taking up a roster spot from a player who really needs it at one of the other affiliates. Essentially, Hendricks would “miss” one start (though he’d get his work in on April 1, or even April 2) and the rotation would line up this way:
Thu 3/28 vs. Rangers: Jon Lester
Sat 3/30 vs. Rangers: Yu Darvish
Sun 3/31 vs. Rangers: Cole Hamels
Mon 4/1 vs. Braves: Jose Quintana
Wed 4/3 vs. Braves: Jon Lester
Thu 4/4 vs. Braves: Yu Darvish
Fri 4/5 vs. Brewers: Cole Hamels
Sat 4/6 vs. Brewers: Jose Quintana
Sun 4/7 vs. Brewers: Kyle Hendricks
And that would set up Lester to throw the home opener on April 8 vs. the Pirates. Since there’s another off day April 9, everyone in the rotation gets an extra day of rest. It also would have two lefties vs. the Braves, who were 21-26 against LH starters last year, and set up Quintana to face the Brewers, against whom he has a 1.62 ERA in 11 career starts.
As Arizona Phil noted, it’s “outside the box” thinking... but this might be exactly what Maddon was thinking when he mentioned “off day nuances” to reporters Wednesday morning.
In another pitching-related comment from Maddon, he told reporters this:
Maddon said there have been internal meetings about possible bullpen alternatives via waivers/trades. Said free-agent Craig Kimbrel's name has not come up: "We really didn't discuss that. But, I can't tell you that it's out of the question."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 13, 2019
Well, I think you can forget about Craig Kimbrel. It just doesn’t seem like the Cubs would want to meet his price, or anywhere near his price. There also don’t seem to be any decent bullpen options remaining on this free agent list (and a couple of the pitchers listed as unsigned have actually signed, including Boone Logan).
So the Cubs will be scouring the waiver wire over the next week or two, or perhaps they can engineer a trade. Maybe there’s a reliever with a bad contract who the Cubs could swap Tyler Chatwood for — I suggested they look into trading with the Giants for Mark Melancon right here on this very site last October. Melancon hasn’t been very good this spring, but the money matches up fairly well ($25 million owed to Chatwood, $28 million to Melancon) and who knows, maybe the change of scenery would work for both pitchers. Melancon was once a lockdown closer. Even if he can’t recover to that level, perhaps he could help the Cubs bullpen.
In any case, though it seemed a week or so ago that the Cubs’ 25-man roster for March 28 was pretty well set, there are a few factors here that would appear to put a couple of roster spots in flux. As always, we await developments.