With another embarrassing outing – his words – in the books for Brett Anderson, and a departure with the trainer, it’s safe to suggest that he wasn’t going to be making his next start with the big league team no matter what the physical evaluation revealed. Anderson is expected to head to the disabled list now (Cubs.com), with his return to the big league team very much TBD. After the game, he said that he felt fine in warmups, and that field Aaron Hicks’ bunt was a “weird play” and his back stiffened up after that. He hopes it’s not a serious issue, but felt it in a different spot than he’s been feeling it before.
For Anderson’s and the Cubs’ sake, I think we have to hope that lingering back issues were impacting his performance pretty much all season – even if unknown to him – and that some time to rest and get some additional distance from his surgery last year will help turn him around. It was easy to dream on the upside of a healthy Anderson – he was always effective when healthy. But, after so many injuries and a year lost to back surgery, serious struggles were always a risk. That’s why he was able to secure only a modest one-year, $3.5 million contract, with incentives based on games started.
Of course, if we’re being completely honest, in an ideal world, it might not matter how or when Anderson is ready to return.
As the Cubs look ahead to the 2018 offseason, when three-fifths of the rotation might be a black hole, there’s no argument that it would be ideal if someone like Mike Montgomery or Eddie Butler or Alec Mills stepped up right now, grabbed a rotation spot strongly and convincingly, and then never let go. I don’t wish ill on Anderson, mind you – but he’s under control for this year only. Were he going to be his usually solid self, then it would be excellent to have him in the rotation to help out the 2017 team. But if that’s not going to happen for Anderson, then you’d hope to see it happen for a guy the Cubs can keep next year anyway.
With two off-days coming in the next eight days, the Cubs could simply go without a fifth starter for a couple weeks if they wanted, or they could turn to Montgomery – who is already semi-stretched out after two lengthy relief appearances this week – or Butler, who threw six strong innings yesterday for Iowa. Mills is currently on the disabled list at Iowa, and other Iowa starters include Seth Frankoff, Jake Buchanan, and Aaron Brooks, with Frankoff the only one with an ERA under four.
Me? I would most like to see the Cubs use this as an opportunity to get Montgomery or Butler into the rotation. I understand the temptation to use the off-days to delay the decision, but it’s not as if the front four in the rotation couldn’t use some extra rest themselves. Further, you’re not going to know what you have in these guys until and unless they get some big league starts on the regular. Anderson’s injury and ineffectiveness is unfortunate, but the Cubs may as well view it as opening a window to something they couldn’t do previously.
In any case, you can expect a roster move of some kind as soon as today, with Anderson heading to the DL and the Cubs adding someone. With nine in the bullpen already after the very-unfortunately-timed Matt Szczur DFA before yesterday’s game, maybe the Cubs decide to bring back Tommy La Stella. If I had to guess, I’m thinking the plan was to bring up a short-term bullpen arm for Szczur and then bring back La Stella anyway once the Szczur DFA was sorted out. Now perhaps the second part of that is accelerated if Anderson goes on the DL immediately.
You might also see Justin Grimm return (optioned players can come back sooner than the 10-day required stay if they are replacing someone who goes to the DL), in conjunction with Rob Zastryzny and/or Felix Pena heading back to Iowa after their lengthy outings last night (thanks, guys!).
I’d tentatively expect a flurry of roster moves today, then, unless the Cubs just try to get through the day and recalibrate on Monday. In the interim, though, tonight’s game now comes with a little extra urgency after a blown loss on Friday and a blowout last night.