MLB.com Columnist

Mike Petriello

Adding rotation depth final piece of Cubs' puzzle

Montgomery set to be No. 5 starter, barring a move

Adding rotation depth final piece of Cubs' puzzle

It may seem like the Cubs have absolutely nothing to worry about, and that might actually be true. After all, 2016's best regular-season team also proved to be the best postseason team, and they'll open '17 as everyone's overwhelming favorite to do both of those things again.

Of course, the Cubs' front office is simply kicking its feet up and expecting last year to repeat itself. That being the case, there's still one more issue they need to worry about, and it's this: Where are they going to find some starting pitching depth?

This isn't new or controversial, because the Cubs have been pretty open about wanting to add a starter all offseason. We know, at the least, that they attempted to sign Tyson Ross before he went to Texas. Last year, five starters made 152 of the team's 162 starts, and not only has Jason Hammel (30 starts) gone off to free agency, you can't simply assume the other four will stay whole all year. John Lackey (29 starts) is 38 years old and missed time in 2016 with shoulder soreness. Jake Arrieta (31 starts) has thrown a whopping 468 1/3 innings, including playoffs, the past two years.

Right now, along with Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, the No. 5 starter is Mike Montgomery, who has started just 23 of his 65 career games, along with a career 4.23 ERA as a starter as compared to 2.10 out of the bullpen. If he falters, or if any of the veterans miss time, Theo Epstein has said that Rob Zastryzny, Jake Buchanan, Aaron Brooks and Seth Frankoff are next in line. That group has combined for a 5.58 Major League ERA and 14 starts, most by Brooks in 2015 -- and he put up a 7.71 ERA for Triple-A Iowa in 2016.

Is that enough? Well, if it were, the Cubs wouldn't be trying to add another starter. So what can they do? It's not as easy as it sounds. Let's see what we can do to help them out.

1. Sign a free agent
This is the easiest path -- find a pitcher and give them money. Of course, the 2016-17 starting pitching class was remarkably thin even when names like Rich Hill and Ivan Nova were out there, and what's left isn't that appealing. However, perhaps that works for the Cubs, who are potentially considering a six-man rotation for part of the year. If you don't care about getting 30 good starts, then someone who could maybe give you 15 good starts fits just fine here.

That probably rules out the return of Hammel, who is likely to want a more regular rotation job. It may do the same for Travis Wood. But there are veteran options, like Brett Anderson, who has been good when healthy (3.69 ERA in 31 starts for the Dodgers in 2015) yet is so rarely ever healthy (fewer than 50 innings in four of the past five seasons). Or the return of Scott Feldman, a 2013 Cub who went to Baltimore in the Arrieta deal and has been excellent at limiting exit velocity. Or, perhaps, Jorge De La Rosa, the longtime Rockie who has said he'd pitch as a starter, reliever or both.

Along with names like Yusmeiro Petit, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Doug Fister, there's not a ton of upside here. But worth taking a low-risk flyer on for the hope of a few good starts? Sure.

CHC Arrieta Lester handshake 071915

2. Make a trade now
While there's some merit to the idea of moving Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez for a controllable ace pitcher, there's also just about no chance that actually happens. That being the case, making a trade this offseason seems far-fetched, because teams that think they can contend aren't moving a starter, and teams that know they can't contend either generally don't have decent starters to spare (think San Diego) or aren't about to trade young starters they want to build around (think Philadelphia). Could you pry Matt Garza from the Brewers or Christian Friedrich from the Padres? Sure, probably. Is it worth it? Probably not.

3. Do nothing, make a trade later
If the Cubs don't add anyone, they can still count on a few things in 2017. First, they're still likely to crush the National League Central, as the latest projections see them as being 10 games better than St. Louis, even though the Cardinals improved this offseason by adding Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil. Second, a bullpen that added Wade Davis and Koji Uehara to Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and others ought to provide plenty of cover for the starters. And third, more pitching ought to be available this summer as teams decide that it's not their year and that they're ready to sell.

Last year, that meant Hill, Matt Moore, Hector Santiago, Nova and Francisco Liriano. It's hard to look into the crystal ball for 2017, but it's easy to see veterans like Ervin Santana, Matt Shoemaker or Bartolo Colon available, assuming their teams can't stick in the race. The Phillies would surely move Jeremy Hellickson or Clay Buchholz. Could you dream big on a Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke or Sonny Gray, if he shows he's back? Might the Rays finally trade Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi?

Those names aren't all necessarily stars, but that's also not what the Cubs need. In Lester, Hendricks and Arrieta, they have their aces. What they need is depth. They can get it now, later or both. Either way, they'll still be dominant. It's good to be the Cubs.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.