Chicago Cubs: Potential suitors for vacant rotation spots

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Is there a more beautiful phrase than “pitchers and catchers report in (blank) days?” We may be 34 days away, but there are still questions regarding the Chicago Cubs’ rotation.

Let the countdown begin! The World Champion Chicago Cubs (that will never get old!!) are set to defend their title when Spring Training opens on February 15. Moves made to improve the team from last year are completed, but there are still several questions to be answered. Especially with the starting rotation.

After a stellar season in 2016, it is hard to imagine the entire rotation to repeat the stats that ranked them as the MLB’s best. The emergence of Kyle Hendricks and the constancy of Jon Lester led the staff to prominence, even with Jake Arrieta slightly off his masterful level of 2015. However, after a solid start, not even potato chips could save Jason Hammel from faltering at the end of the season. He and the Cubs parted ways.

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We know several things about the 2017 rotation. First, four spots are set with Arrieta, Hendricks, Lester, and veteran John Lackey. Second, the combination of these pitchers – arguably the best starting four in baseball –  is dominant when they perform as expected. Third, health has been on their side. Last year, all four 29+ games, pitching 188+ innings each. That is an average of 6.2 innings per start. That keeps the bullpen fresh. And, finally, their confidence in the team is higher, as the defense and offense improved tremendously.

However, that being said, questions remain. Can Mike Montgomery, who performed well in starts last season, hold down the fifth spot? Does the team consider going after another starter and leave Montgomery in the bullpen? Speculation abounds, but it is possible Cubs Manager Joe Maddon utilizes a six-man rotation all season.

With these questions in mind, who fills the last two spots?