Joel Sherman of the NY Post writes that the Cubs are among 4 finalists for the services of former all-star starter Tyson Ross. The main pursuers appear to be the Cubs and the Texas Rangers.
What's especially interesting is that the Cubs intend to use Ross or any other starting pitcher they may sign as part of an occasional 6 man rotation.
The reason stated by Sherman is that the Cubs want to rest a rotation that saw a lot of innings as the the Cubs played into November during their World Series title run. Another reason may simply be that it will provide them with instant depth. If a pitcher should get hurt, the Cubs would have a ready-made 5th man rotation, rather than having to recall an unproven minor league pitcher in the heat of a pennant race. They could also call up Jake Buchanan, Rob Zastryzny, or another AAA starter to keep the 6 man rotation going.
Six-man rotations have not been popular for the simple reason that your 6th starter generally gives you a lesser chance to win than any of your top 5 starters. Assuming all 6 starters stay healthy and the rotation is used all year. that amounts to 27 starts per pitcher. Each pitcher would average 32 starts in the same scenario with a 5 man rotation. Essentially that means 5 fewer starts for your top arms such as Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta.
The Cubs, however, are eyeing the big picture. They believe their team is talented enough to win the NL Central even with fewer starts from their top 3. And after winning the division by 17 games last season, it's hard to argue with them.
It would also give the Cubs some flexibility to move a pitcher such as Montgomery into the bullpen for a stretch if the bullpen needs help.
It's an interesting strategy and the Cubs or Joe Maddon have never been shy about using their roster creatively to maximize their flexibility and versatility. We have certainly seen that happen with their position players, perhaps they can extend that to their pitching staff as well.
As for Ross, both the Cubs and Rangers have spoken to him recently and the Rangers don't seem to want to go beyond a year. That may not necessarily be a bad thing for Ross, as he could rebuild his value and enter the free agent market as a healthy, talented 30 year old. The Cubs, meanwhile, are said to be looking for more cost control and may be willing to go the extra year, perhaps in the form of an option.
If not Ross, it seems the Cubs may want to lengthen their staff anyway and Sherman mentions a familiar name in Travis Wood, though Wood hasn't really been an effective starter since 2013. Jason Hammel is still available as the market has been disappointing for him. It seems teams are unwilling to go for more than a year with the big RHP. It has caused some to speculate that he may return to the rotation after the Cubs declined his option for 2017. Sherman said the Cubs may also want to look at Rule 5 Caleb Smith to that 6th starter mix. MLBTradeRumors also adds Yusmeiro Petit, Scott Feldman, Vance Worley, Dillon Gee, and Jorge De La Rosa to the list of options.
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