Not About Jon Lester’s Elbow – Cubs Rotation Shakedown

Okay, the headline lied. The subject of this article is not Jon Lester‘s elbow, but it was the catalyst. For health information that’s been known for a couple of years, it’s funny that it’s all of a sudden a “thing” – but until it’s an issue, it’s not (and it’s not). Then there is the suddenly rampant conversation about Lester’s issues with throwing runners out. Obviously, it has not held him back significantly, though it is an issue. If it makes any Cubs fans feel better, I sent Jon a note on Twitter to let him know that my dog, GizzyMomo the Rally Dog, believes in him, and is watching.

Source: David N. Wilson

Source: David N. Wilson

Still, this is not about Lester; it’s about the proliferation of discussions over the lack of depth in the Cubs starting rotation. Yes, there are still people who believe this is a problem. Here is why they are wrong, and it’s actually pretty simple.

Jake Arrieta is solid, in peak physical condition, and a lock. Lester is pitching well this spring and has been a workhorse for years, pitching at least 20 games every single year since 2008. He was no better at throwing to first when he won games in the World Series, but he got that job done just fine. John Lackey is strong, reliable, and a fierce competitor, and he’s also a workhorse. Jason Hammel, though moving down the rotation to make room for Lackey, is pitching this spring like a slightly better version of his 2015 spring self, which means there is a number-three pitcher in the fourth slot, unless that falls apart. Kyle Hendricks is actually pitching as well as, or better than, anyone on the staff this spring. He is stronger and committed to conditioning. Hammel is leaner and in better shape physically and mentally. Bottom line: this is a better rotation than started for the team in 2015.

Behind that are long relievers Travis Wood, Trevor CahillAdam Warren, and Clayton Richard, all four also capable starters. I heard someone this morning on the radio question if they would have to be stretched back out if they were needed in May as starters. No, probably not. They are long relievers. They are going to see action for multiple innings, and are unlikely to be popped in to face one batter – it’s not their job. All four are familiar with this swing role. If one of them needs to step into the rotation for a while due to an injury or an unforeseen slump, there are plenty of arms that can be called up to bolster the bullpen. That is the standard, everyday plan.

That’s not why depth is not an issue. Depth is not an issue because there are still teams rebuilding. The Cubs have so many valuable pieces in their system that could be moved to bring in a strong, starting arm, that it’s bordering on the ridiculous. Depending on how the starting lineup is built, there are three or four All-Star-quality hitters, fielders, and defenders, not to mention some very hot prospects, who could easily bring home one or even two starting arms if needed. I have never seen a team so packed with talent, and I’m certain Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon are well aware of that situation – even looking ahead and ready to embrace it if the need arises.

We are trying too hard to find stories this spring, I think – looking for drama that isn’t there. Lester comes through spring training looking strong, and someone finds a medical report from a couple of years ago and it’s suddenly headline news despite his strong showing. The bone chips have been there. He is aware, Theo was aware, and now everyone is aware. They should also be aware it’s not the first time a pitcher has had bone chips with no ill effect. There are plenty of real stories to cover, I think, without speculation like this. I’ll be first in line to see how they address the problem if and when it is ever actually a problem, but so far it’s barely enough to hit the interest meter, let alone the headlines. I’d rather read about Madison Bumgarner‘s haircut.

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