Tyler Chatwood

Why Kyle Hendricks is excited to have Tyler Chatwood in the Cubs' starting rotation

Why Kyle Hendricks is excited to have Tyler Chatwood in the Cubs' starting rotation

Everyone wants to know when the Cubs are going to add another starting pitcher. Fewer folks want to talk about the one they've already signed this offseason.

Kyle Hendricks, though, is happy to talk about Tyler Chatwood.

Chatwood might not be a big name like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb, and the former Colorado Rockie wasn't brought on to fill the Arrieta-sized hole in the Cubs' rotation, instead projected to slide behind the current top three of Jon Lester, Hendricks and Jose Quintana.

But whether he's the fourth starter or the fifth starter — depending on what kind of starting pitcher the Cubs add to the roster before spring training — how Chatwood performs could go a long way in determining what kind of season it is for the Cubs.

Hendricks, talking Friday during the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, thinks Chatwood will thrive on the North Side.

"Chatwood, I think, is going to be really big for us," Hendricks said. "We grew up in the same area, so I played summer baseball with him senior year, and he wasn't even pitching then, he was a shortstop, great hitter. But he's just a baseball guy, baseball mind, and that's kind of what this team's about. It's a bunch of guys who love playing the game, love being together. I think he's going to fit in great, personality-wise.

"And the stuff he has, I know it's going to play really well. He's only had a couple starts at Wrigley, but he's obviously pitched well there. That's going to bode well for him in the future. And being able to pick guys' brains, like Lester and these older guys that have been around. I think they're going to help him like they've helped me."

Depending on how much they trust Hendricks' scouting eye, that might ease the concerns of Cubs fans nervous about the prospect of replacing Arrieta and John Lackey with Chatwood and Mike Montgomery in the starting rotation. Last season, Chatwood's 15 losses were the most in the National League, and he finished the season with a 4.69 ERA. But the numbers were dramatically different thanks to Coors Field being his home ballpark. In Denver, his ERA was 6.01. On the road, it was a far more respectable 3.49.

"It's not easy. I'll leave it at that, it's not easy," Chatwood said Friday of pitching in the Mile High City. "I enjoyed my time there, but I'm excited to be here."

As Hendricks mentioned, Chatwood's transition to Wrigley seems promising. Chatwood has started a pair of games on the North Side and fared really well, surrendering just one run with 11 strikeouts in his 13 innings of work.

The Cubs have made it to three straight NL Championship Series — and won that curse-smashing World Series championship in 2016 — thanks to elite starting pitching. Arrieta was the Cy Young winner in 2015. Lester and Hendricks were Cy Young finalists in 2016. And Quintana has extraordinary promise if he can replicate what he did on the South Side in a Cubs uniform. If Arrieta lands anywhere but the North Side by the time this slow-moving offseason finally wraps up, Chatwood will be leaned on to help keep the Cubs' starting staff among the most formidable in the game. If he does, then 2018 could end like 2016 did. And that's what Chatwood wants.

"Obviously it's a great organization and a great team that I want to be a part of. I want to be on a winning team, so it was a pretty easy decision," Chatwood said. "I want to win one of those and be a part of that parade they had two years ago. I'm excited and hoping we've got a chance to do that."

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.

Cubs trying to stay flexible amid slow-moving pitching market

Cubs trying to stay flexible amid slow-moving pitching market

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Even if the Cubs pack their bags and head back to Chicago with just a guy rehabbing from Tommy John surgery as their only haul from the MLB Winter Meetings, the week has not been in vain.

Technically, the Cubs also reached terms with Brandon Morrow on Tuesday night, but the report of the agreement between the two sides was released Sunday night before the Winter Meetings kicked off at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.

Don't blame fans for being anxious with a slow-moving market. The Winter Meetings are later than normal this year, and many free agents prefer to know where they're going to end up before Christmas so their families can kick back and enjoy the holidays.

The Cubs are also in an enviable position where they don't have to do anything. They already reeled in their big fish before the meetings (Morrow and starter Tyler Chatwood, signed to a three-year deal last week). That allows Theo Epstein's front office to be selectively aggressive and not reactionary or desperate, which is right where they like to float.

The Cubs could be just fine heading into 2018 with Mike Montgomery as their leading candidate for the fifth starting spot (which would clearly make the southpaw swingman happy). But they would prefer to add another arm to help mitigate the usual wear and tear pitching staffs face throughout the year.

They also can slot Morrow in at closer and piece the bullpen together from there.

"We're not still looking (for a closer)," Epstein said Wednesday evening. "If we go in with the complete status quo, Morrow would be closing.

"There's a very small number of potential acquisitions that would cause us to restructure that. Wade Davis is certainly one of them."

The Cubs have made no secret they would love to have Davis back for the right price and Epstein confirmed Wednesday he has met with Davis' agent throughout the Winter Meetings.

The Cubs loved the veteran closer's impact on the field, and he was clearly their most trusted reliever from Day 1 of the 2017 season. MLB Network's Dan Plesac even classified Davis as the Cubs' MVP last year.

But the organization also loves Davis' quiet leadership and steady presence off the field, how he took control of the bullpen and helped make everybody around him better with his astute insight into pitching.

That being said, the Cubs are trying to stay nimble and don't want to get backed into a corner by locking up too much of their resources to a closer and not leaving enough bandwith to add more rotation depth.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league is gobbling up relievers in a hurry and everybody seems to be getting around $9 million per year, even if they're not closers.

"It goes fast," Epstein said. "Once some guys come off the board, there's momentum to it. The agents want to make sure their guy doesn't get left out in the cold, so it's — get in at that value point.

"And then the team starts seeing guys come off the board and get a little bit more proactive themselves. Part of our balancing act with the finite amount of payroll flexibility and multiple needs, we need to make sure we balance those accordingly.

"In other words — not sign a reliever just because they're going off the board now. That might preclude us from getting the starter we want later on and vice versa."

At the time Epstein spoke those words, the Cubs still had the largest free-agent deal in baseball, with the $38 million handed out to Chatwood last week.

Once that changes, that might help bring some clarity to the Cubs' pitching situation, though the team is also still talking to other organizations about any potential impact pitching trades.

Epstein said Wednesday evening he didn't think the Cubs would make another move before they packed up and headed back north for the winter, but, "things could change with one phone call."