Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery looks like next man up in Cubs rotation

Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery looks like next man up in Cubs rotation

"It's still my goal to make this team out of camp," Eddie Butler said near the end of spring training, sounding very confident and a little delusional, or the type of attitude needed to make the leap from prospect and survive in this game. "I'm doing everything I possibly can to try to force their hand."

The Cubs talked up Butler as the next great hope for their pitching infrastructure, an ideal change-of-scenery guy to get out of Coors Field in a minor deal with the Colorado Rockies. But the entire fifth/sixth starter conversation revolved around Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery — and the Cubs hoped to get through more than 19 percent of their schedule before the rotation became a problem.

Anderson forced the issue during Saturday night's 11-6 loss to the New York Yankees at Wrigley Field, exiting in the first inning with a back issue that will likely put him on the disabled list for the 10th time in his career. The injury-prone lefty is 1-for-6 in quality starts with an 8.18 ERA as a Cub. 

Now what? 

"You got Montgomery right here," manager Joe Maddon said. "Butler down in Triple-A, I hear, is throwing the ball really well. We definitely have good options."

Montgomery, the lefty swingman who got the final out in last year's World Series Game 7, might have more value at the moment out of the bullpen, where he's put together 14 consecutive scoreless innings.  

The Cubs could eventually trade for pitching from their surplus of hitters at Iowa — Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario, Victor Caratini — but three weeks out from Memorial Day weekend isn't the time to make deals.

Remember when the Cubs "jumped the market" as sellers in 2013? Flipping Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles in the Jake Arrieta/Pedro Strop heist didn't happen until July 2 that summer. 

It says something about the state of the farm system - plus the nonlinear nature of developing arms and the difficulty in pitching through mile-high altitude — that the Cubs could pin their hopes on a guy who's 6-16 with a 6.50 ERA across parts of three seasons in the big leagues.     

But Butler does have pedigree as a supplemental first-round draft pick (2012), All-Star Futures Game selection (2013) and Baseball America's No. 24 overall prospect (2014). 

That sense of momentum in Arizona carried over to Des Moines, where Butler threw six scoreless innings on Saturday night against the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, slicing his ERA to 1.17 through five starts.

Sooner or later, the Cubs are going to get another look at Butler, but they will ultimately need Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks to kick-start a 16-14 team with a 4.79 rotation ERA. 

"My biggest concern is always health (and) if they're trying to pitch through issues," Maddon said. "None of them are. With Anderson right now, maybe he has been. But we're going to eliminate that for now."

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an interesting revelation Wednesday about negotiations between MLB and the players union. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Manfred said the 2020 season was never going to be more than 60 games given the spread of the coronavirus — at least by the time they got to serious negotiations two weeks ago.

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games, no matter how the negotiation with the players went, or any other factor," Manfred said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day: We’re trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

"I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were gonna do for our fans given the course of the virus."

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Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game season after the two sides couldn't come to terms. The union rejected the owners' final proposal, retaining the right to file a grievance against the owners for not negotiating in good faith.

Whether Manfred's comments become a point of contention in any grievance the players might file is unclear. The league would likely argue Manfred was referring to negotiations after his face-to-face meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on June 16. Manfred's comments to Patrick's follow up question — if the league would have been willing to go to 80 games, had the players agreed to all their terms — also points to this.

"It’s the calendar, Dan. We’re playing 60 games in 63 days. I don’t see — given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks — how we were gonna get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now, no matter what the state of those negotiations were.

"Look, we did get a sub-optimal result from the negotiation in some ways. The fans aren’t gonna get an expanded postseason, which I think would have been good with the shortened season. The players left real money on the table. But that’s what happens when you have a negotiation that instead of being collaborative, gets into sort of a conflict situation.”

The players' final proposal called for a 70-game season. At this point in the calendar, 60 games in 69 days (Sept. 27 is the reported end date for the regular season) leaves room for a couple more games, not 70 (or more).

So, Manfred's right that 60 games on the current timetable was probably the most MLB can fit in amid the pandemic. But you have to wonder if the union will use those comments in a potential grievance. 


Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

When you wait more than 100 years for a championship, you must maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your favorite team. 

Cubs fans have done that, supporting the club through thick and thin, from the mediocre years to the curse-breaking 2016 World Series season. They pack the Wrigley Field stands, consistently ranking in the top 10 in attendance season after season.

That devotion led to Forbes naming Cubs fans the second most loyal fan base in Major League Baseball, second to only the Red Sox.

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Per Forbes, the rankings are based on "local television ratings (per Nielsen), stadium attendance based on capacity reached, secondary ticket demand (per StubHub), merchandise sales (per Fanatics), social media reach (Facebook and Twitter followers based on the team’s metro area population) and hometown crowd reach (defined by Nielsen as a percentage of the metropolitan area population that watched, attended and/or listened to a game in the last year)."

All that science aside, does the 108-year wait for a championship warrant the Cubs being first on this list? In fairness, the Red Sox waited 86 years before winning the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918. Plus, in terms of attendance, the Cubs have only out-drawn the Red Sox in six of the past 10 seasons, a near-equal split.

Two historic clubs. Two historic ballparks. Two historic championships. In a loyalty ranking, you can't go wrong with either franchise. Here's how the list's top 10 panned out:

10. Braves
9. Phillies
8. Indians
7. Giants
6. Brewers
5. Dodgers
4. Yankees
3. Cardinals
2. Cubs
1. Red Sox