Let me offer you a conversation piece.
The Cubs remain overwhelmingly likely to make the postseason (99.8%) and are still 80% likely to win the NL Central, so, with only a few weeks left in the season, I think it’s fair – and not jinxy! – to talk about possible playoff roster questions.
Today, I want to hit specifically on whether the Cubs can and should carry an extremely specific weapon like Terrance Gore.
Although the 27-year-old outfielder notched the first hit of his career this week, he more frequently showed off where his true big-league-caliber talent lies: super elite baserunner. Gore is not going to make starts for you. He’s not going to register key hits or dramatic defensive plays. But he can be inserted on the bases at key moments late in the game to net you an additional base or two via the steal, and also be incrementally more likely to score from first or second on doubles and singles, respectively. The total value is not huge, but the ability to deploy that value strategically is pretty huge.
Now, then, were you carrying a typical in-season 25-man roster, I don’t think you could use a spot on Gore (which is why the Royals generally didn’t, and why the Cubs didn’t this year either). When rosters expand to the full 40-man roster? Sure. But if you’ve got a bench that consists of just four players, as it has for the Cubs in the Maddon era, you’re talking about a back-up catcher and then three other guys. You simply can’t afford to have one of those three players be a guy you would never consider starting in a game.
But what about the postseason? Sure, the roster is again back down to 25, but the structure of your bench can change significantly thanks to the nature of postseason series.
First of all, you need only four starting pitchers for a postseason series, thanks to the off-days. Similarly, you can get by with just seven in the bullpen if you’ve got the right seven. That opens up two additional bench spots, and makes it far more plausible to carry a super-duper specific weapon like Gore.
But the rub alluded to there is the question of the bullpen. Can the Cubs really get a place where they will feel like they won’t have to carry an extra reliever just in case they have to make frequent switches when guys demonstrate early ineffectiveness?
If Brandon Morrow doesn’t return – as we currently expect, sadly – you’re looking at seven relievers like …
Carl Edwards Jr.
Jorge De La Rosa(?)
Oof. It gets rough there at the tail end, and, barring an unbelievable breakout by another reliever on the 40-man (unlikely), that’s the group you’re choosing from. I tend to think those top seven would be the choice today, and then the question becomes, do you have to add one of the other three to feel comfortable with this group? Does it really improve the bullpen as much as having Gore available would improve the bench?
Having Morrow back and fully healthy sure would make this conversation much easier, but as things stand, I get really nervous about like three of the guys in the group of seven, and it makes it a little tighter to think about going with only seven relievers to accommodate Gore.
I’d love to see Edwards turn the corner in the coming weeks, see Kintzler settle down, see Cishek get back on track, etc. If you have that group of seven looking solid, then you can have that conversation about Gore. I want to have that conversation about Gore. It’s tough right now.
Maybe you can squeeze him in even if the Cubs go with eight relievers, but then you’re talking about choosing four “bench” guys from this group (excluding the back-up catcher, Victor Caratini, who will be carried): Gore, David Bote, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella. Which two are you bumping for Gore? I’m not sure I could do it. (Caveat: If Jason Heyward is still hurt come playoff time, that opens up one more spot.)
But if the bullpen was just seven? I think I could and very well might make it happen. So, get it together, gents.