Cubs plan on being flexible with rotation

February 16th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Jake Arrieta is still going through the intake and physical processes, but his reunion with the Cubs will be official soon enough. And once his one-year pact with Chicago comes to fruition, he will inject a much-needed layer of experienced depth into a rebuilt rotation.

"I know he's excited to get back to being a Cub," president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said via Zoom on Tuesday. "And I know we're excited to have him."

Hoyer declined to discuss Arrieta further, as there are still steps to complete before he receives a uniform. What Hoyer was willing to talk about was the rotation picture, which is less rigid than in years past. For a variety of reasons, the Cubs are not sticking to a traditional view of the starting staff.

"The idea of a set five-man rotation is not going to be a real thing," Hoyer said. "I just think you're better off getting your mind around that. We're going to have to be flexible. We're going to have to think about things a little bit different than in the past, and there's nothing wrong with that."

Manager David Ross said on Tuesday that the team is not considering a six-man rotation. One concept under discussion is having pitchers who can move between the rotation and bullpen as a way to manage the innings-limit realities of the 2021 campaign.

Coming off a 60-game season, all 30 teams will be working through the jump in innings for their respective staffs this year. The Cubs, who already have questions about their starting options, face another set of challenges in that regard.

Rotation leader Kyle Hendricks averaged 177 innings across the 2015-19 seasons and was third in the Majors with 81 1/3 frames in 2020, so there is not much worry about his workload. The addition of Arrieta (154 innings on average in '18-19 and 44 1/3 innings in '20) lengthens the list of arms behind Hendricks.

Zach Davies hit a career high in innings in 2017 (191 1/3), but has logged fewer than 70 in two of the last three years. Trevor Williams averaged 156 innings from 2017-19 and had a 6.18 ERA in 55 1/3 in '20. Alec Mills (119 2/3 career MLB innings) and Adbert Alzolay (33 2/3 career MLB innings) have limited resumes.

Beyond that cast, the Cubs will be looking at righty Kohl Stewart (62 career innings and none in 2020) as a swing man and Shelby Miller (82 total innings across '18-19 and none in '20) as a comeback candidate. Then there are prospects Brailyn Marquez, Tyson Miller, Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele.

"You're not going to have a 200-inning guy this year," Ross said. " I think this is going to be something that we're going to have to adjust to and see whether health or performance, there's going to be a lot of factors into who's taking the ball, as well as innings and protecting these guys."

Worth noting

• After a rough start to the 2020 season, Craig Kimbrel settled in and spun a 1.42 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings over his final 14 appearances. Ross said on Tuesday that the expectation right now is that Kimbrel will reprise his role as the closer.

"He worked his way back into being himself," Ross said. "The videos he's sent in, he looks really polished already. He's a veteran guy -- knows how to prepare himself for Spring Training. We'll give him a pretty long runway to get ready. As long as Craig is who we know he can be, he's going to be our closer."

• Hoyer noted that relievers Rowan Wick (intercostal) and Kyle Ryan (going through COVID-19 protocols) are expected to be behind the rest of the arms as camp opens. Hoyer also mentioned that the Cubs could be adding a reliever on a Major League contract in the coming days.

• Ian Happ not only earned the everyday job in center field last season, he took over as the leadoff man. Ross does not see that changing. "In my mind's eye right now, I still have Happer at the top," Ross said.

• The Cubs are likely done making major moves ahead of Opening Day. Said Hoyer: "By and large, I would expect this is what our team's going to look like."


"These guys are kind of anxious to get back to a little bit of norm, right? Last year was so crazy. I think that's exciting for them. I think [one of] the challenges for me, I found last year that maybe I was a little too patient. Now that we've got 162 [games], I think I can actually put that in place." -- Ross