It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. The Chicago Cubs are going to have to deal with a roster crunch on the pitching staff.
Tyler Chatwood is in the midst of a resurgent season with the Chicago Cubs. A year after an abysmal 2018 debut on the North Side, Chatwood has bounced back in 2019, becoming a serviceable reliever and spot starter for Joe Maddon.
The Cubs may need to use Chatwood as a spot starter at some point again this season. However, as things currently stand, they must find a way to keep rookie phenom Adbert Alzolay in the big leagues, no matter his role.
We’ve been here before…
The Cubs’ current “predicament” with Alzolay is quite similar to that with Kyle Schwarber in 2015. The team promoted the rookie slugger in June for a six-game interleague stretch against the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins. Schwarber was tremendous over that stretch, slashing .364/.391/.591, giving the Cubs’ offense a tremendous boost.
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In spite of his success at the plate, the Cubs sent Schwarber back to the minor leagues after those six games. Although he returned to the team for good on July 17, the team didn’t have the roster space for him initially to keep him in the big leagues.
The Cubs called up Alzolay on June 20 to backup Chatwood’s spot start for the injured Kyle Hendricks. Not only did he pitch four innings of one-run ball in relief, striking out five, but Alzolay threw 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a start against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday.
Maddon noted how Alzolay “hit a wall” at the end of Tuesday’s start, throwing 87 pitches and walking the final two batters that he faced. The Cubs are cognizant of Alzolay’s pitch count. He missed much of the 2018 season due to a lat strain, and he hasn’t experienced an MLB season’s workload yet.
Roster crunch imminent
Alzolay is in a similar situation as Schwarber was. Not only did the Cubs have to make room for closer Craig Kimbrel on the roster this week – they demoted Tony Barnette to Triple-A – but Carl Edwards Jr. and Hendricks will return from injuries in the near future, too.
Despite that being the case, they have to find a way to keep Alzolay in the big leagues for the foreseeable future. There’s no questioning that they’re facing a roster crunch with their pitchers, but Alzolay has proven he is big league ready in his brief stint with the Chicago Cubs.
The return of Hendricks and Edwards means that the Cubs have to open two roster spots. Alzolay and left-hander Kyle Ryan are the only two players with minor league options remaining, though Ryan is one of two lefties available in the Cubs bullpen, in addition to Mike Montgomery.
The easy answer to the roster crunch would be to demote Alzolay and Ryan to Triple-A, right? The latter seems more unlikely than the former, as Ryan has a 1.42 ERA in his last 12 2/3 innings. However, demoting Alzolay shouldn’t be considered a given.
Decisions to make
At some point, the Cubs have to roll with their best performers rather than hoping to gain consistency from those not performing as well as the team needs them to. Brad Brach’s stuff has been there, though he knows baseball is a results-driven game.
This isn’t an endorsement for the Cubs to cut Brach or any other pitcher. At the end of the day, though, the Cubs only have a specific number of roster spots available. If someone is struggling while others succeed, the team will have some decisions to make.
More likely than not, the Chicago Cubs will send Alzolay back to the minor leagues as they did with Schwarber. Doing so allows him to continue starting while allowing any of his struggling big league teammates to get back on track.
As we saw in 2015, though, the clock is ticking. Alzolay is ready, and if push comes to shove, the team won’t be afraid to find a roster spot for him permanently, even if it comes at the expense of another player.