For the first time in years, the Cubs starting rotation is wildly uncertain.
The Chicago Cubs have Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks locked in atop the rotation. Alec Mills seems like a good bet, and Adbert Alzolay is knocking on the door. But the 2021 season will bring a new set of challenges. This year, each guy made about 12 starts in the 60-game shortened season. Now, they’ll be tasked with making 25-30 starts over the course of next year.
That’s a big leap. And to get through it, every team – including the Cubs – will need depth.
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So what does the team’s pitching depth look like?
I already mentioned Alzolay, who was solid in a small sample size. Former PCL Pitcher of the Year Colin Rea is a good candidate (5.79 ERA, 14 IP, 1.214 WHIP), as is Tyson Miller (5.40 ERA, 5 IP, 1.000 WHIP). Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but Miller is just 25, Rea is 30 and both guys have had success in the minors of late.
But that’s not enough. Again, next season will be all about depth. So let’s turn our attention to the free agent market.
There are some intriguing names out there. Jake Odorizzi, Jeff Samardzija and Kyle Gausman could all make some sense? We’ve heard about a potential reunion with Jon Lester, as well. They are all on the higher end of the age bracket. Carlos Rodon, Taijuan Walker and Brad Keller are some younger guys who could be rebound candidates, as well.
I suspect we’ll see only a handful of guaranteed big league deals from Chicago. Otherwise, it’ll be minor league pacts on buy-low candidates looking to re-establish value or coming off injuries. Then, if it doesn’t work, you cut ties and move on.
As things currently stand, I think they’re taking a shot on the internal candidates: Rea, Miller, Justin Steele and others. We will see what they can do. Hopefully we see a normal spring training schedule that will give David Ross plenty of time to evaluate his options in Arizona before the season starts.
"“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Jed Hoyer told MLB.com. “The challenge of competing but also having available innings and available at-bats for people to take those opportunities, right?"
In other words, depth is great, but you have to be able to give guys the chance to see regular action. This is where minor league depth may prove to be particularly valuable – or picking up arms that still have options left where they can be shuttled between Chicago and Des Moines in the summer.
We don’t know if Lester will come back or if Mills and Alzolay are up for the task of locking down a rotation spot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The name of the game is depth – so be ready for minor league deals, reclamation projects and – hopefully – Hoyer can find some diamonds in the rough.