Over the past season and a half, Mike Montgomery has made 19 total starts for the Cubs, 14 of which came last season. But while I’m sure he’s happy about the increasing number of starting opportunities, he’s probably a lot less happy with how infrequent and unpredictable those starts have been.
In 2017, for example, he made a substantial number of starts overall, but never made more than six in a row, and his first start didn’t come until June 9th.
Indeed, after making six starts from June 9 – July 6, Montgomery returned to the pen for a single game, made two more starts in a row after the break, returned to the pen for eight relief appearances, made four consecutive starts, hit the pen for one game, made a start, hit the pen for two games, and finally made his last start of the year on October 1 … before heading to the pen for the postseason.
Needless to say, the Cubs leaned heavily on his versatility, and Montgomery was acutely aware of that fact.
As we know now, Montgomery doesn’t necessarily mind being used as a swing-man in general (even if his preference is to start), but he did think that the constant back-and-forth took an extra physical toll on his arm (and, thus, career). And given that he’s 28 years and still hasn’t hit arbitration yet, that’s not something he can really afford. He also has suggested that it might not leave his arm at its most effective for the Cubs, so it’s not entirely about looking out for himself.
Over the offseason, you might recall, Montgomery went public with his desire to start more consistently in 2018, and the Cubs did acknowledge his plea. However, they also signed Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to multi-year deals, adding them to a rotation that already contains Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana (each of whom is under control for at least three more years).
Basically, yes, he wants to start, but he wants to win more. Montgomery continued to discuss his usage at NBC Sports Chicago, and added “At the end of the day, if I’m good, I’m going to need to throw some innings for this team and help them out. And I think there’s plenty of ways to do that and still maintain my physical health to keep me at my best.”
What does that mean on a more granular level for 2018? Well, according to Montgomery, he’s still ready to swing back and forth between the rotation and the pen, but he hopes both stretches are a little more planned-out: “One of the things I was talking with them about,” Montgomery said via NBC Sports Chicago, “was bouncing back and forth in the middle of the season and how to maybe be a little smarter about those transitions. Like not coming out of the bullpen right after I just threw six innings two days before. I think maybe those transitions are something we can work on.”
To me, that means that Montgomery prefers to step into the rotation if there’s a greater need – someone hits the DL, goes on leave, the Cubs want six starters for a month, etc. – as opposed to becoming a spot starter here, or the extra guy during a double-header that. That could mean that when the Cubs have one of those spot start opportunities, they may actually give it to someone like Alec Mills, Eddie Butler, Jen-Ho Tseng, etc., instead of shifting Montgomery back and forth that rapidly.
That also means, however, that we’re likely to see more roster moves than last season, which could sap the Cubs of that patented Montgomery-advantage (having your sixth starter hanging out in your bullpen is huge for a team’s planning purposes). But keeping Montgomery both happy *and* healthy might trump the competitive/strategic edge.
The one downside I see for Montgomery in all of this is not knowing when a spot start might turn into something more. In other words, if he effectively “gives up” a start to one of the Triple-A depth arms, and the original starter’s absence extends more than expected, Montgomery would’ve probably preferred to get the chance in the first place like he would’ve last year. But now, it’ll be more of a gamble in each of those situations, and it could lead to fewer starts overall for Montgomery this year unless there’s a serious, and obviously long-term, injury.
But again, keeping this valuable, inexpensive, 28-year-old southpaw healthy might just be the Cubs’ main priority, with everything else falling to the wayside. And as of now, it seems they’ve struck a compromise that could keep everyone happy for at least another season.