Chicago Cubs: Is Montgomery the best option to complete rotation?

The Winter Meetings are come and gone, and the Chicago Cubs made several moves. While the bullpen appears solid, the rotation still remains incomplete. Is Montgomery ready for the role?

The best-starting rotation in Major League Baseball in 2016 remains mostly intact for 2017. With two Cy Young finalists, a former Cy Young winner, and a bull doggish veteran, the Chicago Cubs rotation is formidable. However, the loss of a 15-game winning pitcher with a top-20 ERA remains a large hole.

The questions of who will fill the role remains unanswered. Enter Mike Montgomery. The pitcher who closed out Game 7 of the World Series is the odds-on favorite to land the fifth starter position. That is unless a move brings another starter into the fold.

Pro-Montgomery

It is easy to see why Montgomery is capable of filling the role left when the Cubs declined Jason Hammel‘s option. First of all, his addition would provide a second left-handed arm in the rotation. In 2016, batters hit for a .219 average against Montgomery, comparable to the rest of the rotation and better than Hammel’s. Right-handed batters hit for a .236/.325/.366 split when facing Montgomery. These numbers compare well versus other fifth starters in the league.

Secondly, unlike many other pitchers making similar transitions, Montgomery possesses a four-pitch arsenal. With a fastball that in the mid-90s and a curveball that averages 72 miles per hour, his ability to pitch to batters is not in question. Additionally, he pitches around the plate well. He is able to come inside of righties with success.

Finally, Montgomery has experience. During the 2016 season, Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon called upon Montgomery to start six games. This move served two purposes. Initially, creating a six-man rotation allowed starters to rest before the playoffs. Maddon learned for the 2015 season that fresh pitchers are better pitchers when it comes to the playoffs. Montgomery’s starts meant less innings on the arms of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Furthermore, the move provided a chance for the team to see if they have another starter for 2017. With the decline in performance for Hammel, the front office knew that the rotation spot was going to open. Montgomery showed that he could start, and, therefore, the team was not pressed to make a move.

Bullpen rebuild

With that said, Montgomery is valuable to a bullpen that is being rebuilt. The likelihood of Travis Wood leaving via free agency, a lefty with the ability to come in for long relief is crucial. That role may be left to newly signed Brian Duensing. The Chicago Cubs also added Caleb Smith through a trade. This gives the team two options for left-handed arms in the bullpen, though it is somewhat unproven.

The overall ability of the bullpen does appear better than how it started the 2016 season. The three pitchers to get the last out in the last three World Series are all on the team. Wade Davis, the potential closer for the team, and Koji Uehara both come to the Cubs after successful postseasons. Their veteran presence will only solidify a bullpen that boasts Carl Edwards, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop.

One more piece

The off-season has just started, and we know moves can be made. It is possible that Montgomery stays in the bullpen. Speculation is swirling about potential moves to bring a starter in from (maybe) Tampa Bay or Oakland. That may or may not happen. We do know that the Chicago Cubs have sent Rob Zastryzny to Triple-A Iowa to stretch out and become a starter. After an impressive 2016 campaign after being called up, the Cubs know Zastryzny is able to perform. If no more moves are made, and Montgomery falters, do not be surprised if Zastryzny returns as a starter.

One more piece is needed, but the Cubs are built to adapt to any situation. Right now, Montgomery is the best option for the fifth starter role. That only changes if the team makes a move to bring in someone, or he does not perform. Until that happens, it is his spot to lose.

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