I could show you the two lefties’ Spring Training statistics, but those numbers aren’t going to sort out for you which of Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery are going to be the Cubs’ nominal fifth starting pitcher when the season opens.
Sure, if one of the two looked utterly dominant throughout the Cactus League slate and the other looked woefully unprepared, that could have been a deciding factor. But, for the most part, assuming both were healthy, we’ve always known the score when it came to which lefty would be in the rotation and which would be in the bullpen to start this year: it might not really matter all that much.
As I wrote last week:
In an ideal world, the two would not only split up the fifth starter starts, but would also at times work as the sixth starter, giving each other extra time off, as well as the rest of the rotation.
Moreover, even if one of the two were anointed the fifth starter out of the gate, that doesn’t mean he’s got the gig on lockdown no matter what, nor does it mean an injury won’t happen to that guy or elsewhere in the rotation.
So, then, who “wins” the fifth starter job may prove to be mostly meaningless ….
Montgomery has demonstrated definitive success in the bullpen, but not quite yet in the rotation over a long period of time. Anderson, by contrast, has demonstrated definitive success in the rotation (when healthy), but not quite yet in the bullpen over a long period of time. It would only make sense for the “all else equal” situation to be Anderson begins in the rotation, and Montgomery slides in eventually.
Joe Maddon spoke to these questions today and all but said the very same thing.
“It’d be more difficult [to have Anderson in the bullpen], there’s no question,” Maddon told the Sun-Times. “I can’t deny that. You look at the makeup of the player, the pitchers themselves, it’s pretty obvious the one guy’s more suited to start and the other guy’s more of a hybrid, absolutely. We wanted to give it a fair look all camp, and we’ve been doing that I think. And we’re getting close to having to make that final decision.”
In other words, the default right now is that Anderson would be the Cubs’ fifth starter out of the gate, and Montgomery would be in the bullpen. Anderson is coming off of a season lost to back surgery, has a thorough pre-pitching routine, and has not really pitched in relief in his career. As things stand right now, he should be the fifth starter.
But, just as it was last year – more so, even, given Anderson’s injury history – it’s virtually impossible to say with confidence that the Cubs’ rotation in April will match the Cubs’ rotation in May, let alone June through September. There will be starts available for guys who do not begin the season in the rotation, both because of injuries and resting schedules. Montgomery, should he begin the season in the bullpen, will get plenty of starts when all is said and done.
Before then, though, hopefully Anderson pitches well and stays reasonably healthy.
Don’t forget in all of this that Anderson is a free agent after this season, while Montgomery is under team control for several more years. Because the Cubs will have rotation openings after this season, they have an interest in getting Montgomery some starts beyond merely resting their other starting pitchers – namely, they need to know what they have in him as a starter before the 2017 offseason rolls around.
For his part, Montgomery continues to say all the right things (Cubs.com): “After being here awhile, I’m ready for anything. After last year, going through starting and relieving, I kind of like not knowing [what I’ll be doing]. I’ll just be ready [for anything].”