The Cubs have placed an emphasis on versatility throughout the organization. The front office would like its players to have experience at multiple positions by the time they reach the big leagues. But the Cubs not only value position player versatility, the front office also sees the importance of pitchers having the flexibility to perform in different roles.
As the roster is currently constructed, the Cubs starting five will be Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks when pitchers and catchers report to Mesa in February. The Cubs have several pitchers that will prepare as starters and be stretched out in Spring Training.
RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Travis Wood, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Adam Warren and RHP Carl Edwards Jr. are five pitchers currently on the 40-man roster that will be stretched out and compete for a spot in rotation along with non-roster invitee RHP Stephen Fife.
The pitchers unable to crack the rotation will likely begin the season in the bullpen or in the minors for those with options. Joe Maddon is not big on having set roles with his relievers. He’s focused on getting outs and has shown he will use a reliever, like Justin Grimm, as early as the fifth inning if he feels the ballgame is on the line.
Maddon likes having the flexibility to use a reliever in multiple situations. And the front office has provided him with options in the pen that also gives the team depth in the event a starter goes down to injury.
“One of the things that we talked about a lot is versatility. Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill and bring in Adam Warren, the more these guys can be versatile players and pitchers the better,” Jed Hoyer said recently on MLB Network Radio. “It allows Joe to put these guys in good position.”
“The game has changed. Guys don’t go seven innings and go eighth inning guy, closer. Being able to mix-and-match pitchers a lot during the course of a game is helpful. I think we have a group of pitchers that can do that.”
It’s pretty common knowledge at this point among those that follow the game closely how well Trevor Cahill pitched for the Cubs last season in 11 relief appearances. Cahill turned down better opportunities to start from clubs like the Pirates and Orioles to return to the Cubs. Cahill was 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA and 0.76 WHIP (four runs on eight hits with five walks and 22 strikeouts in 17 innings). Cahill was a starter over the first five years of his career and showed in those 11 games with the Cubs he can give Maddon multiple innings and get three outs in the later innings of a game. For his career, Cahill is 62-70 in 173 starts with a 4.16 ERA and 1.36 WHIP and 3-2 in 39 relief appearances with a 3.53 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.
Travis Wood began last season in the Cubs’ rotation. After a rough three-game stretch at the beginning of May, Wood was moved to the pen and really excelled as a reliever under Joe Maddon. Wood finished the year with a respectable line of 5-4 in 54 games, nine starts, with four saves, a 3.84 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. But out of the pen, Wood was 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA and 1.20 WHIP (22 runs, 19 earned, 43 hits, 27 walks, 71 strikeouts). Wood completed 58 innings in 45 games as a reliever.
As the season progressed and the Cubs started the run in August, Maddon preferred to stick with Wood and fellow lefty Clayton Richard as relievers and not use either southpaw in a full-time starting role.
Clayton Richard earned last season the opportunity he has in the spring to be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. Richard is under contract for next year at $2 million, plus incentives, and figures to play an important role on the staff if he’s able to replicate his performance over the four months he spent with the Cubs. Richard was 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 23 games, three starts. Richard allowed 18 runs on 47 hits with seven walks and 22 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. As a reliever, Richard was 2-2 in 20 games with a 4.44 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.
The front office set their sights on Adam Warren last summer and was able to work out a deal with the Yankees during the Winter Meetings. Warren has a very good shot at breaking Spring Training in Maddon’s rotation. Warren had an excellent season as Joe Girardi’s swingman. In 43 games, 17 starts, Warren was 7-7 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Warren allowed 51 runs, 48 earned, on 114 hits with 39 walks and 104 strikeouts in 131 1/3 innings.
As a starter last year, Warren was 6-6 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. In the 26 games he appeared out of the pen, Warren was 1-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. For his career, Warren is 7-6 in 20 starts with a 3.98 ERA and 1.27 WHIP and as a reliever, 6-9 in 127 games with a 3.05 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
Until last season, Carl Edwards Jr. was called C.J. and was a starting pitcher. Edwards Jr. has excellent stuff but there are concerns about him being able to hold up as a starter. Edwards Jr. moved to the bullpen and put up good numbers while learning how to pitch and prepare as a reliever. Edwards Jr. was 5-3 in 36 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa with a 2.77 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Edwards Jr. completed 55 1/3 innings in the minors before he spent September in the big leagues.
Stephen Fife could be an intriguing option if he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Fife has mainly been used as a starter but has experience pitching out of bullpen. Fife owns a 4-6 record in 18 games, 16 starts, in the majors with a 3.66 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Fife seems to fit in the Trevor Cahill–Clayton Richard mold in that he could give Maddon options if he’s able to pitch his way back to the big leagues.
The Cubs see the value of pitchers being able to record outs in multiple roles. Run prevention is just as important as run scoring but is often overlooked. Having a good bullpen is essential to a team’s success and pitchers willing to enter a game in any situation and perform well until their manager comes and gets the ball are becoming increasingly valuable throughout the game.
“You can have impact pitching without necessarily having all household names, sort of bona fide, top-of-the-rotation guys,” Theo Epstein told the Sun-Times. “We still have to go out and accomplish it, but if you have a staff where there’s no negative contributors, no replacement-level pitchers, but all solid, contributing pitchers who throw strikes and can follow a game plan and miss bats and be effective, that in and of itself can make you one of the best pitching staffs. I like to think if everyone pitches up to their potential next year we’re getting close to that ideal.”