Good luck projecting what the Cubs roster is going to look like when the season starts next year.
Especially when it comes to who you can pencil into the starting rotation.
“That’s a good question,” manager David Ross said before Tuesday’s game against the Twins.
The Cubs roster will obviously change between now and next season, and the starting rotation will certainly be a point of focus this offseason.
But as the 2021 season winds down before the focus shifts to 2022, the current rotation could offer at least a partial glimpse into next season’s starting staff.
“I would pen in Kyle Hendricks,” Ross said. “I think Alec Mills has made a pretty strong case for a guy that you can count on and a reliable starter.”
Hendricks has scuffled of late (9.08 ERA, last seven starts) but has a reliable track record of success and durability. Before the recent stretch, he went 16 starts without a loss from May to August, going 11-0 with a 2.79 ERA.
Mills has also run into trouble recently (7.08 ERA in four September starts), most recently allowing seven runs in four innings Tuesday.
However, the right-hander has been one of the Cubs’ most consistent starters since joining the rotation full-time in June. He posted a 3.68 ERA in 13 starts from June through August and has made a career-high 17 starts this season.
That obviously leaves several openings, and the Cubs will look outside the organization this winter. They also have several homegrown arms as options in Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson.
“Maybe one of those three guys can fit in there somewhere,” Ross said.
Alzolay, Steele and Thompson have shown flashes this season. Alzolay made the Opening Day rotation and made 21 starts (5.16 ERA) before shifting to the bullpen this month so the club could monitor his workload.
Steele and Thompson impressed in relief before having ups and downs after joining the rotation in August.
“That value of the experience they’ve gained this year,” Ross said, “and having an offseason to work on things, and coming in and make an impression will be a nice thing we’ll have going into next year’s spring training.”
Two-fifths of the 2021 Opening Day rotation are no longer with the Cubs. They released Jake Arrieta in August after he struggled in his second stint with the team. They traded Trevor Williams to the Mets with Javy Báez at the trade deadline.
Zach Davies, another member of the Opening Day rotation, is set to become a free agent.
Even before those moves, the Cubs saw the importance of having pitching depth. Steele, Thompson and Mills provided valuable multi-inning relief stints earlier this season when the Cubs were not getting length out of their rotation.
"Starting pitching is definitely important," Ross said. "Pitching depth, I think we get in this mode of starter. If you don't have true starters, you can find depth in other areas.
"And that's a front office, where you find the value, and where all that is. Starting pitching is really expensive. I think you can find value in a lot of different areas."