Cubs entertaining idea of rolling Mike Montgomery into six-man rotation

Cubs entertaining idea of rolling Mike Montgomery into six-man rotation

Mike Montgomery will always be known as the guy who got the final out of the greatest baseball game ever played to secure the Cubs' first championship in 108 years.

But now he's moving onto the newest chapter of his life: Starting pitcher.

Well, for one day at least.

Montgomery got the call Friday to start in place of the injured Kyle Hendricks and gave up two runs in four innings in the Cubs' 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies

Montgomery threw 73 pitches in the outing, his most since his final start of the 2016 season on Sept. 15 before moving back into the bullpen.

The Cubs hope Hendricks will only have to miss the one start due to inflammation in his hand and when he returns, Joe Maddon left the door open for Montgomery to stay in the rotation.

"[Friday's start] gives him an opportunity to truly get stretched out as a starter with a different routine, a different role, that kinda stuff," Maddon said. "It will definitely give us something more to think about.

"We've been thinking about it anyway, but now this really puts it actually in the front of your mind again."

The Cubs have toyed around with the idea of going six starters for a while to ease some pressure off the rest of the rotation that endured the wear and tear of a long postseason run and pitched into November last fall.

They're also in a stretch of 30 games in 31 days, with the only off-day until July 3 coming next Thursday (June 15) in the midst of a road trip out east.

Montgomery's presence makes the idea of the Cubs going with six starters easier. 

"I believe in this young man," Maddon said. "I think he's going to be a good major-league starter. ... Now, out of necessity, we're getting a chance to stretch him out more."

The Cubs went with six starters at various points last season, inserting Adam Warren and Montgomery into the rotation to ensure the starting rotation was fresh going into the stretch run and playoffs.

When they acquired Montgomery late last July, the long-term vision for the lanky left-hander was as a starting pitcher.

But it was hard to move him into that role full-time given his success as a multi-inning option out of the bullpen. Entering Friday, Montgomery had posted a 2.52 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 75 innings for the Cubs to go with a 3.14 ERA in 11 postseason games.

He proved his value Monday, entering the game in the sixth inning and getting the final 10 outs for his second career regular-season save.

Starting pitchers are typically extreme creatures of habit, having a specific plan for each day in between taking the ball every fifth game. 

Maddon points to Montgomery's mental makeup that makes him uniquely suited to swinging back and forth between everchanging roles. 

"He accepts it," Maddon said. "He doesn't fight it. He's a really good team member. I think people that are willing to accept his role like he has and then you go ahead and do it, you're gonna get good results.

"People that fight it are always looking for another method, another way. Sometimes that could impact or get in the way of their own success. He definitely doesn't get in the way of his own success.

"He accepts it, he understands it, he's a great team member and I think he knows deep down that his chance to start is coming. We keep telling him that and it's true. 

"But he's so valuable in that other role; it's such a hard thing to run away from. But his future is as a major-league starter, I believe."

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.