Chicago Cubs: Options for the fifth starter
With only two months left, until Spring Training finally begins, little is left unknown about the 2016 Chicago Cubs squad.
We’ve already highlighted the high profile moves like signing Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist this offseason, and now begins the season of offering speculation on what the 2016 season could look like.
Not many spots on the team are up for grabs this year, but possibly the most important one is the fifth starting pitcher spot. Last year it was a combination of Clayton Richard, Dan Haren and many others that filled the spot.
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With the signing of free agent John Lackey, the last spot in the rotation seems to be even more log jammed.
The predicted order right now would start with Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, former World Series champs Jon Lester and Lackey, followed by the solid Jason Hammel.
After that is when things start to get interesting. Last year’s fourth stringer Kyle Hendricks got booted down in the rotation with the addition of Lackey, and his spot is less than secure.
There’s also the option of going with the newly rejuvenated arm of Trevor Cahill or the new guy Adam Warren.
No matter what option Joe Maddon chooses for the season, we won’t know for a long time. But because we’re nice people here at Cubbies Crib, I decided to break down Maddon’s options to make it a little easier for him.
Kyle Hendricks was a promising player that came to the Cubs from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster. Hendricks started a good number of games in 2014 and finished with 7-2 record, although in his first full season he finished 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA. Now it’s not necessarily bad, but that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t be improved.
His lack of speed tends to turn a lot of fans off on him. He relies on a mix of placement and break for his pitches to be effective.
Another off-putting part of Hendricks’ game are his short starts. His first game that lasted longer than six innings was in his eighth start and first win.
It seemed as though Hendricks may never get past the fifth inning in every game he started in.
There’s still some upside with Hendricks, though.
He is just 26 years old and has room for growth. The Cubs core is already very young, so keeping another young gun around just for the sake of being young most likely won’t be the case.
It may be a knee-jerk reaction to remove him from the rotation so soon. Although, a team built to win now may want a more sure thing to end the rotation on.
So if Hendricks isn’t the option, let’s bring the next man up.
A long time ago, Trevor Cahill was an All-Star starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. Between 2009 and 2012, he started 128 games for the Athletics and Diamondbacks.
More recently Cahill has been an inning a game type of pitcher to get the Cubs to the primetime pair of Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon.
His first playoff appearance was with the Cubs in the playoffs last year and posted a 3.38 ERA in 5 1/3 innings pitched and eight strikeouts.
While that was all in relief, it leaves one to question whether or not Maddon believes Cahill can stretch that out into a full game.
If Cahill can replicate his relief success in the fifth starter’s spot, he would have a slight advantage over Hendricks.
Cahill is entering his age-28 season, meaning he’s only slightly older than Hendricks. Entering his eighth year, though, a lot of experience is hidden underneath his age.
Can Cahill find his All-Star form again? Will the Cubs risk trying to stretch him out in Spring Training? Will he even be better than Hendricks?
Lots of questions surround Cahill. If you don’t like what you see so far, we got more options.
The Cubs acquired Adam Warren this offseason when they dealt Starlin Castro to the Yankees.
Through his first four years in the MLB with the New York Yankees, Warren started a combined 20 games with 17 coming last season.
He also had his most innings ever last season when the Yankees stretched him out for 131 1/3, which is about 25 innings more than his previous high.
Going into his age-29 season, Warren has a career 3.39 ERA which is almost identical to what Cahill produced last season in the playoffs.
It’s hard not to worry about Warren when most of his career was spent as a reliever. Stretching a pitcher out can be difficult, but is it even possible when that player is 28 years old? Well, the Cubs might find out.
Warren seems like a longshot for the fifth spot, given his value in the bullpen, though Maddon won’t leave any stone unturned this Spring.
Besides, baseball has seen weirder things happen than a 28-year-old reliever turned starter. Remember a player by the name of Jeff Samardzija? In 2012, the Cubs turned that reliever into a full-time starter and he never turned back.
His age? 27.
So it’s plausible, just not probable.
Outside the Organization
If none of these options tickle Theo’s fancy, then there’s still the option of going out and trading for a starter.
A lot of MLB sources believe Theo and Jed have a thing for San Diego’s Tyson Ross. The 29-year old had 212 strikeouts in 196 innings pitched last year over 33 starts.
Getting Ross may cost the Cubs a Javier Baez or a Jorge Soler but most likely not both.
The Cubs have been in talks with the Cleveland Indians for one of their starters. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco were the names thrown around but talks seemed to have subsided. Other options are possible but at this point they are unlikely.
What’s going to happen?
After studying the situation and the players, I personally believe Hendricks has an advantage given his starting status last year. Cahill and Hendricks seem like they are locked in a two-horse race but I don’t believe the Cubs will settle until all options are looked at.
It’ll be interesting to see who emerges as the frontrunner for the fifth starter spot in the Spring as all options are still on the table. Most likely Hendricks will begin the Spring as a starter but look for Hendricks, Cahill, and Warren to all get a few starts.