Joe Maddon's former team — the Tampa Bay Rays — is planning on going with a four-man starting rotation in 2018.
But Joe Maddon's current team may be better served by going the opposite route.
The Cubs are in a completely different place than the retooling Rays and with World Series expectations on Chicago's North Side, the season turns into a seven-month-long marathon, not just the six months of regular season.
Theo Epstein's front office has built a team with an eye on playing all the way through the end of October and will need Maddon's coaching staff to keep everybody healthy and peaking at just the right time.
A six-man rotation could be the best way to accomplish that.
The Cubs are always trying to stay ahead of the curve, setting new trends instead of following. Maybe the way the Rays are thinking of things will ultimately be the newest fad, but that also places a lot of pressure on the bullpen to fill more innings than ever before.
The bullpen bubble burst — at least partially — last fall when every team struggled to get consistent outings from their relievers. The World Series was riveting and intense, but part of the reason it went that way was the inability of almost every Astros and Dodgers reliever to consistently get outs.
Cubs relievers faded down the stretch, too, struggling through a couple of rocky months before a rough October. Part of the reason for that was fatigue.
In 2017, the Cubs were coming off a season that stretched past Halloween and featured career highs in innings for several players. They were hoping to ease that burden and in turn, inadvertently put too much on the plate of the bullpen.
Maddon let his starting pitchers throw more than 100 pitches just 46 times last season and only nine times did a starter toss more than 110 pitches. The season high was 116 by Jose Quintana on Sept. 24 in a complete game shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The thought process was simple: Keep your starters fresh and feeling good in hopes of making another World Series run.
But that didn't quite work out for multiple reasons, including the bullpen issues.
Moving to a six-man rotation could be the best of both worlds in 2018. It would give the Cubs a chance to rest their starters more than normal, giving them an extra day in between outings.
And with that extra day of rest, that could mean Maddon may feel more comfortable unleashing his starters for 115 or more pitches when their performance warrants it, thus taking some of the burden off the bullpen.
The Cubs also have the personnel to do it, with Mike Montgomery ready to step into the rotation at any time. He gives the team six good options in the rotation and even if any starter goes down to injury, they're in a fine position to simply move back down to a five-man turn.
Thanks to the versatility of the Cubs position players, they don't have to carry as many bench bats and can subsequently roll with 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster. So even with a six-man rotation, the Cubs could still have a normal seven-man bullpen.
There are a couple of issues with the whole six-man rotation, however.
For one thing, starting pitchers are extreme creatures of habit and they plan their bullpens and workouts in between starts around the fact they are throwing every five days. It's tough to see a seasoned veteran like Jon Lester easily adapting to getting an extra day in between outings.
When the Cubs have gone to a six-man rotation in the past, Lester and the other starters have been unhappy with the move. If the players won't buy in, obviously there's no real advantage to going against the grain with an unconventional rotation.
There's also the numbers, which indicate nearly every MLB pitcher struggles when facing the opposing order a third time through. The reasoning is simple: Each hitter in the big leagues is the best of the best and the more often they see a guy's stuff or arm angle on a given day, the easier it is to make adjustments.
However, this Cubs rotation may be the bunch to try something new.
Lester, Montgomery, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish all get better as the game goes on and Jose Quintana's jump is hardly worrisome — .690 opponent OPS first time through the order, .675 OPS second time through and .754 OPS third time.
If ever there was a team and a time to move to a six-man rotation, the 2018 Cubs could be it.