Any time a player goes down with injury, there are multiple layers of fallout. And in a weird season like this, that’s all the more true.
So, with Jose Quintana going down after surgery to repair a nerve injury in his thumb – caused by a dishwashing accident – we immediately, of course, consider how the Cubs will approach his absence in the rotation. But the impact of his absence will extend beyond just replacing his starter innings for however long he’s out. It’s mostly negative impact, of course, but there are some possibilities it opens up.
There’s also the trickle-back effect into the bullpen as, for one example, Alec Mills moves into the rotation instead of serving as a super utility pitcher in the bullpen. That leaves open a spot in the bullpen for a guy with some length – an Adbert Alzolay or a Colin Rea or Jharel Cotton or maybe even Duane Underwood. Alternatively, the Cubs could just decide to go with the best extra reliever, regardless of the ability to go multiple innings like Mills, because they want to be able to keep another arm in the organization (consider an option-less guy like Underwood or a Rule 5 guy like Trevor Megill). Maybe this situation creates an opportunity for the Cubs to keep depth for the longer term, even as they lost some depth for the shorter term.
That, in turn, takes us to the other layer of fallout when a guy gets hurt in this weird year: the roster considerations.
Quintana currently holds a spot on not one, not two, but three relevant rosters: the expected active roster (though we know he won’t be on it come Opening Day), the 40-man roster, and the 60-man player pool. Every roster has different considerations as they relate to injuries, and each of those considerations will impact how the Cubs replace Quintana on the roster with another arm.
The active roster part is, of course, the easiest one. Quintana goes on the Injured List, boom, another guy is added. The 40-man part is also fairly easy, because it’ll just depend on how long you expect Quintana will be out, and whether you need another 40-man spot. If it’s gonna be a long time, Quintana can go on the 45-day IL (formerly 60-day IL), which will take him off the otherwise full 40-man for the duration of his injury. Then, you can replace his spot with someone who isn’t on the 40-man yet (or use that spot for an NRI guy like Jason Kipnis).
The 60-man player pool, well, that’s the tricky one. A regular Injured List stint does NOT take Quintana off the 60-player list. Instead, only a 45-day IL stint would do it, and obviously if you go that route, you’re locked into not having Quintana back until the season is more than halfway over, even after a little backdating into Summer Camp (usually you’re permitted a few days of backdating). *AND* once you activate Quintana, he’s right back on the 60-man player pool, so if you’ve filled it up, someone else will have to go off – and you risk losing that player forever.
Of course, the flip side to this is if you *don’t* put Quintana on the 45-day IL, then he’s just going to be taking up one of your 60-man spots without actually being able to participate at the big league level OR the South Bend level.
It’s not a great situation however you slice it, no pun intended.
For now, with 10 open spots on the 60-man, and an unknown volume of other injuries/positive COVID tests coming in the next couple weeks, the Cubs are likely to just leave things as they are now. Quintana will rest for two weeks, and then the Cubs will have a better idea of whether he can start throwing right away, or if he’s going to be down for a long time. Until then, expect at least one (likely multiple) 60-man spots to stay open.
But that doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t still add another pitcher to their 60-man group – after all, this situation is precisely WHY you hold open those 10 spots in the first place. Guys show up, guys get hurt, and then you have more information available before you lock a guy into his 60-man spot (remember: once a guy is on there, it’s really hard/risky to take him off).
To all of these points, Sahadev Sharma writes about the replacement considerations underway for the Cubs:
While the Cubs have been clear they’ll look for depth around the league, finding pitching will be a difficult task. That means they’re more likely to add some length via internal options. While nobody is a slam dunk to be added to the South Bend roster right now, four names to keep an eye on are Tyson Miller (who was in camp this spring with the big-league club), Cory Abbott (last season’s Cubs minor-league pitcher of the year after a strong season at Double A), Keegan Thompson (who missed most of last season after a brilliant first start and then tossed 25 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League) and Jack Patterson (an older prospect who broke out last season with a velocity jump).
The external moves will be available – meh depth in free agency, take on a contract in trade – but, like Sharma, those strike me as much less likely than proceeding internally for now.
Among the mentioned names there, I was instantly reminded of Bryan’s tweets yesterday about Abbott:
This is a fitting tweet, because we just missed the anniversary of the last time Cory allowed more than three hits in a start. June 29 of last year.— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) July 2, 2020
Didn’t do it in his final 11 outings. In fact, he struck out more than 3x as many guys (79) as hits he allowed (25).
I do understand preserving flexibility in the initial roster decisions. But it would be surprising if, in a couple weeks, *at least* one of Abbott, Miller, Thompson, and/or Patterson are not there in South Bend as additional depth. Not only might they be needed, but they are legit possible future big league pitchers who could benefit from some added development time this year. Throw in the fact that Miller is already on the 40-man, and Abbott and Thompson would be Rule 5 eligible after this year anyway, and it’s one less hurdle to consider for at least those three.
I’m not happy about Quintana’s injury. The Cubs are still lacking on clear big-league-caliber starting pitching depth at the upper levels, and losing Quintana as an option for some period of time is gonna sting. But, I will say that the vacuum it creates to give Mills some starts (or another guy like Alzolay or Rea or Cotton), while also creating an extra spot in the bullpen to explore many interesting arms that the Cubs might want to keep for next year, while also possibly making it more likely these young guys get time this year at least at South Bend – it’s a silver lining.