Lester, Hendricks lead motivated Cubs rotation
Chicago could still add another arm to starting unit
CHICAGO -- The Cubs have made it no secret that their primary goal this offseason has been to add starting pitching, and there is still time to do so before Opening Day on March 29. What if they don't? If the season opened today, what would Chicago's rotation look like?
There is one new face in Tyler Chatwood, who signed a three-year, $38 million contract before the Winter Meetings began.
The Cubs did make an elaborate presentation to Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, but he chose the Angels. They've met with free agent Yu Darvish, who has yet to decide. The Cubs also have stayed in contact with free agent Jacob Arrieta in an effort to bring the right-hander back, and there have been reports linking Chicago to free agent Alex Cobb.
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With six weeks remaining before the start of Spring Training, MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams. Here's how the Cubs might stack up:
ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Jonathan Lester, LHP
Kyle Hendricks, RHP
Jose Quintana, LHP
Tyler Chatwood, RHP
Eddie Butler, RHP
This is a motivated group. For only the second time in the past 10 seasons, Lester did not total 200 innings in the regular season (he finished with 180 2/3). Hendricks (7-5, 3.03 ERA) wasn't happy about missing time because of a hand injury. Quintana is eager to see what happens in his first full year with the Cubs after posting a 7-3 record and 3.74 ERA in 14 starts in 2017. Chatwood can show what he can do now that his home games won't be at Coors Field. The right-hander had a 6.01 ERA in 17 games (12 starts) in Denver and a 3.49 ERA in 16 games (13 starts) on the road.
As of now, Butler (4-3, 3.95 ERA in 13 games with Cubs) is one option for the fifth spot, and so is Alec Mills, who missed time last season because of ankle injury and finished the year with six starts in the Arizona Fall League. As much as lefty Mike Montgomery wants to start, he's projected for the bullpen.
The biggest issue is depth, which is why the Cubs are still shopping for another starter. They have young pitchers on the horizon, but they're not quite ready. That list includes Adbert Alzolay (Chicago's No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), Duane Underwood (No. 17 prospect, 13-7, 4.43 ERA at Double-A Tennessee), and Jen-Ho Tseng, the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year and No. 13 prospect.
Tseng won't forget the 2017 season. He came to Wrigley Field to receive his award and was asked to start the Sept. 14 game against the Mets. The right-hander gave up five runs on five hits, including two home runs, but he did not get a decision as the Cubs won, 14-6. He picked up his first Major League win in relief in his next outing Sept. 28 against the Cardinals.
If Butler is going to stay with the big league team, he needs to be more consistent. In his first start with the Cubs on May 12, the right-hander held the Cardinals to two hits over six scoreless innings. In Butler's next outing, he walked five Brewers over three innings. Butler spent most of the season at Triple-A Iowa, where he compiled a 2.17 ERA in eight starts.
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
The Cubs want one more starter before pitchers and catchers report in February. Who will it be? That depends on the price. Manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey know Cobb from their days with the Rays. Last season, Cobb was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts.
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Maddon didn't want to interfere with the Cubs' talks with Arrieta, who was 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA in 128 starts over five seasons with the Cubs.
"I want the best for Jake Arrieta," Maddon said of the right-hander. "When it comes down to negotiations, I don't get involved in that stuff."
In a perfect world, the Cubs would find another starter without having to part with any of the young core of position players.
"Anytime you trade a player who's accomplished a lot of things in your uniform or been a big part of the mix, it's difficult," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "You have to focus on what's in the best interest of the organization as a whole. Our loyalties are to the team and to the organization."