I’m totally good with being told a tall tale. One of the best ways to tell a tall tale is to spin the yarn without much of an introduction. A popular tall tale on Facebook the last week or so is how the Cubs can work around their seeming Trevor Williams problem. He’s struggled as much as any starting pitcher, most of the relievers, and a bunch of the Cubs hitters. Today’s question: If not Williams, who is currently scheduled to start Wednesday’s game against the Pirates, then who is the Cubs’ fifth starter?
Through the off-season, regardless how much anyone wants to hoot or howl, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer had a budget limit. Just before the new year, Hoyer made an unpopular trade to part with Yu Darvish and payroll space. Whether you approve or I did is wholly immaterial. Room was made, and a bit later, more room was suddenly available. Joc Pederson was added. Jake Arrieta was added. And, Williams was added, and spring training started.
As we are now approaching June, a reasonable trade could be made. It seems a few more actual trades have been made than usual in this month. The Brewers sent the Rays two moderately good relievers for a potential shortstop upgrade. Realistically, I doubt much has changed Hoyer’s resolve between late-February until now to plunk down future value for a stab at the title. Perhaps six weeks from now, but late May would seem a bit unlikely.
As such, any current answer is likely internal. Ideally, Hoyer would like to see Williams figure it out. If he doesn’t, expect him to be non-tendered in November. However, for people that want to feign an injury or designate Williams for assignment, the answers are relatively few.
Starting pitchers of high-end quality aren’t usually available on waivers in late May. Since the big-league Cubs don’t have anyone good to go four or five innings, the look begins in Des Moines. On Sunday, Alec Mills made a rehab start for Iowa. He went fewer than two innings and threw 51 pitches, and likely needs at least one more rehab outing. Mills would be a bad fill-in, as of now.
Joe Biagini made his fourth start for the I-Cubs on Saturday. It ended after three innings, with the right-hander being monitored by the trainer. That’s a weaker idea than Mills.
Cory Abbott is on the 40-man roster. He’s starting to put together a nice start to the season. Given a chance, he’d accept the challenge, and give his best. But with his lack of MLB experience, it probably won’t be Abbott.
Which leads to the two realistic options if late May is the timeframe. Kohl Stewart has started three times and thrown 16 innings. He’s allowed 11 hits, walking four and fanning 17. Stewart is doing exactly what’s desired for him to eventually claim a spot is anything is needed. The popular term is “getting extended to a starter’s length.” Stewart’s ERA is 3.38 and he has previous big-league experience, 17 games and 62 innings for the Twins in 2018 and 2019.
The real answer, in my view, is Shelby Miller. Miller is exactly who many Cubs don’t want to see, because he struggled mightily this season. When a player is injured, he often pitches in an entirely unrepresentative fashion. In Des Moines, Miller has made three starts and thrown 10⅓ innings. Results: Six hits, four walks, 15 strikeouts, and an ERA of 1.74.
If Miller isn’t who you want, it might be best to have patience with Williams. I doubt Hoyer is ready to call off the experiment, yet. If I’m wrong, I’d admit it. And it would still be a contest between Miller, Stewart, and Mills. Eventually, Abbott. At some point, other players from Triple-A. That’s how it’s usually done.
If the Cubs decide to move on from Trevor Williams as the fifth starter, who should be the replacement?
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Someone else (leave in comments)