Mike Montgomery

Cubs 2018-19 pitching staff coming into focus

Cubs 2018-19 pitching staff coming into focus

Wade Davis still hasn't signed anywhere, but the Cubs have added more bullpen reinforcements while their former closer decides his future.

The Cubs are still looking for another starting pitcher and very well may be open to another reliever — whether that be Davis or not is still to be determined.

But with more than 10 days left until Christmas — a checkpoint for most free agents as they want to kick back during the holiday with family knowing where they're going to play in 2018 — the Cubs' pitching staff is taking shape with Steve Cishek now in the fold.

If the season started today, here's how the staff may look:

2018 rotation

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Jose Quintana
Tyler Chatwood
Mike Montgomery

2018 bullpen

Brandon Morrow (closer)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Steve Cishek
Justin Wilson
Justin Grimm
Dario Alvarez

Montgomery will serve as a starter at some point in 2018 even if the Cubs sign another guy. The team will either go with a six-man rotation at some point or somebody will end up on the disabled list. Injuries happen and the Cubs are hoping to play into the final week of October this year, so rest assured, they will absolutely be conservative with their starters' innings once again.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer admitted if the season started today, Morrow would be the closer. Beyond that, they acknowledged there are very few moves they could make to bump Morrow out of ninth-inning duties (though re-signing Davis would be one such move).

The Cubs will also likely go with eight relievers for much of the 2018 season with a position player group packed with versatile guys that can play multiple positions and switch-hitters. Dillon Maples may be a guy that finds his name in the bullpen mix if he can harness his control.

Cishek is another quality signing, adding even more depth in the late innings and high-leverage situation. The 31-year-old veteran has 121 career saves and can slot in as a closer if need be, though Joe Maddon also thinks Edwards and Strop can do the job and Wilson was one of the game's best closers before he hit a rough patch the final two months of 2017 in Chicago.

The Cubs' moves this winter have helped stablize the pitching staff beyond 2018. Chatwood, Morrow and Cishek are all signed under multiyear deals while Drew Smyly was also inked to a deal through 2019 as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery.

Here's how the 2019 pitching staff looks right now:

2019 rotation

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Jose Quintana
Tyler Chatwood
Drew Smyly

2019 bullpen

Brandon Morrow (closer)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Steve Cishek
Mike Montgomery
Justin Grimm

(Pedro Strop has a team option for the 2019 season.)

Thanks to Quintana's affordable contract, the Cubs only have around $77 million committed to the pitching staff in 2019 (plus arbitraion for Hendricks and Montgomery), so they have the flexibility to add even more depth and talent in the run prevention department.

With Cubs' rotation still in flux, Mike Montgomery reportedly wants to start or go somewhere else

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USA TODAY

With Cubs' rotation still in flux, Mike Montgomery reportedly wants to start or go somewhere else

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cubs' starting rotation has yet to be finalized for 2018. But if they want Mike Montgomery to hang around, they might want to think about putting him in that five-man staff.

According to a Tuesday night report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, Montgomery wants to start with the Cubs or go somewhere where he can start. The Cubs have used Montgomery as a swingman the past two seasons, plugging him in as a starter when another starter got hurt and also using him in various roles out of the bullpen.

The somewhat complex wording of that tweet makes it seem like Montgomery isn't exactly demanding a trade or anything like that, but his desire to be a big league starter seems strong.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was asked about the report Tuesday night and admitted it took him by surprise.

“That kind of caught me by surprise, to be honest with you," Hoyer told reporters after while discussing the team's deals with free agents Brandon Morrow and Drew Smyly. "We view him as a starting pitcher. I know views himself as a starting pitcher. But he’s a good teammate. He’s been willing to do both, and I think he’s done that really well.

"But as far as a dialogue this winter, we’ve had no dialogue with Mike whatsoever about that. Like I said, we view him as a starting pitcher, we know he can do it. But our job is to build up as much depth as possible. As far as the dialogue, there’s nothing going on between us. We just like having him.”

As for what the Cubs will settle on remains to be seen as the rest of the offseason plays out. They lost Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency, creating a couple big holes in the rotation, but they've since added Tyler Chatwood on a free-agent deal and have been connected to other pitchers such as Alex Cobb.

Montgomery started 14 games last season, posting a 4.15 ERA as a starter. As a reliever, he had a 2.49 ERA in 61.1 innings of work out of the bullpen.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has always talked glowingly about Montgomery and has suggested he could be a full-time starter in the past.

Hoyer credited Montgomery's versatility Tuesday, comparing it to the versatility of position players like Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist.

"Like I said, Mike’s a great teammate," Hoyer said. "Obviously we know he wants to start. We know that some of our position players want to just play one position. I think our guys have been really great about doing what’s good for the whole team and sort of kind of the greater good. And our guys don’t complain about it.

"We’re fortunate. We’ve won a ton of games the last three years in part because guys have been willing to move around. In some ways I look at Mike the way you might look at a guy like Javy or like Ben Zobrist. He’s been really versatile, and that’s part of what makes him really good.”

Again, even if the Cubs fill their starting rotation with guys not named Montgomery, it doesn't mean Montgomery won't be in the bullpen next season. But for a guy under team control for another four years, it's interesting to see how both Montgomery and the Cubs react if he doesn't get a rotation spot.

Brandon Morrow shows ways Cubs can rebuild bullpen

Brandon Morrow shows ways Cubs can rebuild bullpen

The Cubs could try to sign Brandon Morrow or find the next Brandon Morrow or maybe pull off both moves as they rebuild a bullpen that got exposed in the playoffs.

After another October featuring short-leash starters, hybrid relievers and managers on the hot seat, super-bullpens will again be a trending topic when the general manager meetings kick off on Monday in Orlando, Florida.

The lottery-ticket ideal is Morrow, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft who didn’t live up to the hype in the Seattle or Toronto rotations, a survivor of two Tommy John surgeries and a breakout playoff star after beginning the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Morrow shut down the Cubs for 4.2 innings during the National League Championship Series, striking out seven of the 16 hitters he faced, working 14 of 15 playoff games out of the Dodger bullpen and generating some free-agent buzz.

Since the Theo Epstein regime took over after the 2011 season, the Cubs have handed out multiyear contracts to only two relievers — swingman Carlos Villanueva and Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa —  and neither deal totaled more than $10 million. Signing a top-tier reliever like Morrow might cost two or three times that amount and require a commitment of at least three or four years.

Even Pedro Strop’s low-risk extension announced in spring training came out of settling at a $5.5 million salary for 2017 before a potential arbitration hearing and then adding a reasonable guarantee for 2018 ($5.85 million) and a 2019 club option ($6.25 million or a $500,000 buyout).

This is more of an overall bullpen philosophy than a hard-and-fast rule, but the Cubs will probably have to get out of that comfort zone, whether or not they bring back All-Star closer Wade Davis.

“You’ve got to keep an open mind,” general manager Jed Hoyer said on NBC Sports Chicago’s Cubs Talk Podcast. “We’ve certainly had offers out there to different guys that have gone elsewhere. Building a bullpen is a very complicated thing, and probably one of the hardest things that we have to do. They come from all over.

“Pedro Strop had a 7.00 (ERA) with the Orioles and was in that (Jake Arrieta) deal and he comes over to the Cubs and he’s been fantastic for us. You can get guys off the waiver wire. You look at Brandon Morrow and the kind of season he had. That was obviously not expected.

“You have to always be vigilant trying to find guys and put guys in opportunities to succeed. Now, that said, having some stability in the bullpen —  and guys with a little bit more of a track record or a little better stuff —  is important as well.”

The Cubs completely rebuilt their bullpen on the fly in the middle of a 97-win season —  picking up Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill and Fernando Rodney from the scrap heap — and made it to the 2015 NLCS.

Despite their postseason struggles, Epstein pointed out that Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery got the three most important outs in franchise history —  the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 —  and will be vital parts of the 2018 bullpen.

Brian Duensing showed the Cubs enough in only 14 appearances out of the Baltimore bullpen in 2016 to get a one-year, $2 million deal that generated zero buzz last offseason —  and the lefty wound up being one of Joe Maddon’s most-trusted relievers.

The Cubs can also take advantage of the supply-and-demand dynamics this winter.

Addison Reed —  a reliever the Cubs have monitored at trade-deadline season —  will be 29 next year and has extensive experience as a closer (with the White Sox) and a setup guy for big-market playoff teams (Mets and Red Sox).

The Cubs showed interest in Greg Holland before trading for Davis at last year’s winter meetings. But that was as a bounce-back Tommy John guy, not someone who opted out of his $15 million player option for 2018 and will probably decline the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rockies.

Bryan Shaw just turned 30 and has made at least 70 appearances in each of the last five seasons for the Indians, plus five playoff series out of Terry Francona’s bullpen. Tony Watson had been a left-handed piece to that lights-out Dodger bullpen in the NLCS.

Steve Cishek and Pat Neshek can offer funky sidearm looks. Jake McGee has the Tampa Bay connection to Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey. Chicago guy Luke Gregerson helped transform the Astros into World Series champs.

“There’s a little bit more depth in the reliever market than some of the other markets,” Hoyer said. “All in all, this is not a robust free-agent class, which may lend itself to some creativity by a lot of teams. But that is one area of the market that has a few more players than some of the others.”