Well, Chris Sale and Aroldis Chapman are in the AL East, so we will see them a couple of times this year, Kenley Jansen is back to the Dodgers, but we’ve proved we can beat them with him, so that only leaves the tradeoff with St. Louis over Jason Heyward/Dexter Fowler. We’ll miss Dexter a lot, but if Heyward can add 40 points to his batting and on-base percentage, with his defense, it will be OK. I think you are right about Wade Davis, he’s pretty good in his own right. And, can Tyson Ross really help us? — Jim K.
A healthy Ross could help the Cubs, but the question is how healthy and how soon can he help a team. All indications are that he will be ready at some point, and manager Joe Maddon made a wise observation last season about seeing teams use six-man rotations more frequently in the second half.
But the question is when is the right time to implement six-man rotations? Pitchers like to stay in a normal rhythm, and there were a few Cubs starters who weren’t thrilled about that alignment during the final quarter of the regular season.
You can say the move paid off, since Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks each pitched well in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series. But pitchers need to build strength and endurance over the course of a regular season.
It will be a juggling act for Maddon, who is mindful of the workload his returning pitchers carried last season. It’s also a reason why Theo and Jed Hoyer speak frequently in spring training about the need to have 16 to 20 pitchers to get through a regular season. I think that number increases to a high of 25 if you expect to advance deep in the playoffs.
The six-man rotation is tricky. The White Sox opted for a six-man rotation during a large chunk of the 2011 season because Philip Humber pitched so well early and Jake Peavy was returning from major surgery. But a few starters were restless. At one point they were forced to use Gavin Floyd in relief, and he allowed a game-winning home run.
Which leads us back to Ross. In the case of Ross, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if he wasn’t ready at the start of the season. The Cubs need left-hander Mike Montgomery to build endurance for a starting role for 2017 and for the future. The rest of the rotation is set with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks.
The Cubs didn’t employ a sixth starter until their 84th game in 2016, but we all saw how taxed the rotation was in the final three games of the first half. That’s where a guy like Ross can come in handy. But they also need some wiggle room to pull this off. That’s why it’s important to have pitchers or even position players with minor league options to make the six-man staff work at times.
There were some tough roster decisions last summer, like reliever Justin Grimm being sent down for a brief time, to make room. Grimm wasn’t crazy about the decision but handled it like a pro and pitched very well after returning.
It’s expected that any contract Ross signs would be based on starts and/or innings with an option for 2018.
Now that the Cubs are addressing the pitching issues, what other areas are in need of work? What about catcher where only Willson Contreras remains as a viable player. — Peter S., Cary, Ill.
The Cubs recently shored up their infield and catching depth by signing Munenori Kawasaki and catcher Carlos Corporan to minor league contracts, according to Baseball America’s recent transaction list.
Kawasaki, 35, played in 14 games with the Cubs last season, can play multiple infield positions and possesses an engaging personality that was a big hit with his teammates from the start of spring training.
Corporan, 33, has caught 217 games – most of them with the Houston Astros (2011-14).
It will be a very long spring training, and the search for young starting pitching depth is expected to continue through the entire season – especially since many of the Cubs’ top starting pitching prospects are a few years away.
I hate losing Dexter Fowler. He was good to go for a few more years, and if Cubs think Jon Jay and Albert Almora are going to fill his shoes, forget it. I think Theo Epstein missed this one. Hope we don’t start doing that 1985 Bear tear down! — Carol P.
As for Fowler’s departure, he did what is best for him. I think his teammates understand that and are happy for him and his family. The Cubs have depth to sustain his loss for a few years with Almora’s superb defense in center field. Jason Heyward also is a tremendous defensive center fielder.
The Cubs’ front office and Fowler played the market right last winter. Fowler is only 30, but there’s always going to be some question regarding his range in center in the final years of his contract. The Cubs will have their share of important questions at the same time Fowler enters the final stages of his contract, but he came through often when the situation dictated a big hit.
David Ross was a great influence on the Cubs this year. What do you think about the Cubs hiring him as a catchers’ coach? Have you ever heard any talk about that possibility? — Gary P., Virginia Beach, Va.
It wouldn’t hurt to have Ross serve at this time as a part-time consultant. I say this only because the Cubs are in great hands with their catching instruction from major league coach Mike Borzello to minor league/catching coordinator Tim Cossins, as well as a few minor league managers and coaches who are former catchers.
I’m always leery about players sticking around the game immediately after retiring because I’ve seen where a few players aren’t completely ready for retirement and lurk around the clubhouses and practice fields. I understand the transition after playing can be difficult, but I think it’s essential for nearly all retired players to get away from the game for at least one or two seasons before returning. Assistant Eric Hinske has been an exception, as the players have connected well with him, and that the message under hitting coach John Mallee has been singular.
Ross may be an exception because of his attention to detail that served Jon Lester well in harnessing the running game. It would be wise for David to share his wisdom with Willson Contreras with Lester and first baseman Anthony Rizzo around in an effort to make the transition as smooth as possible.
It also shouldn’t be overlooked that Miguel Montero’s defense in the final month was superb. The relievers showed their full trust in Montero’s ability to block breaking pitching in the dirt with runners on base. Once Montero’s contract expires, I can see him serving as a coach or as a catching consultant.
As for Ross, I know there was some talk a few years ago about him being lined up to because the head coach at Auburn before Butch Thompson took over on short notice prior to the 2016 season. A few of his former teammates believe he can run a major league game right now, and it hasn’t hurt that he has learned from several top-notch managers that include Bobby Cox.