Someone With the Cubs Finally Said the Word “Opener” … Just in Time for Everything to Change

For all the references to the Tampa Bay Rays (among other clubs) in how the Chicago Cubs have been reworking their pitching staff the last few years, there’s one big Rays thing the Cubs have never deployed: the Opener.

In short, the Opener is a relief pitcher who “starts” a ballgame, but who is expected to go only an inning or two before giving way to a “bulk” pitcher who goes the next three or four innings. The setup is great for the Rays, because it means they don’t have to pay for another starting pitcher. But it would be compelling to other clubs that want to optimize the performance of multiple arms that might not quite be true starting pitchers. Most teams WANT a rotation full of clear six+ inning starting pitchers, but not every club is in a position to actually have that. Current Cubs included.

Still, the Cubs have never really contemplated an Opener the last few years, even as the starting rotation has been in need. Until now? Maybe? Kinda? Did we see it last night with Mark Leiter Jr. and Keegan Thompson?

“[He] gave us two good innings. He’s been pretty good for the first two, three innings of his outings. Towards the third inning is where things just start to tick down,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Leiter. “I think you read and react, but I was expecting six to nine outs from him, trying to get six to nine outs from him …. Keegan, the value that he brings in – you know, it’s almost kind of like a semi-opener type presentation we had today, and it worked out really nicely.”

It *IS* almost kind of like a semi-opener type presentation! And it is almost like that’s the clear best way to use a guy like Leiter, who can get big league bats out with his mix of stuff if he’s using it all immediately and hitters see him only once that day. An Opener! The Cubs see the value in Leiter as an Opener, with someone like Thompson there to bulk out behind him! Finally! They are in the game!

So many exclamation points! I must be going somewhere semi-sarcastic with this!

OK, on the one hand, I love the acknowledgement and the deployment of a guy like Leiter. Clearly, it can work, and it was high time the Cubs recognized it with one of their fringier arms. So no sarcasm there.

But on the other hand, everything is going to change on Monday, May 2, and then again on Monday, May 30. Specifically, teams can carry no more than 14 pitchers on the roster as of Monday, and no more than 13 pitchers on the roster as of May 30.

Having a guy like Leiter in the rotation to go two innings once every five games is perfectly tenable – advisable, even! – when you’ve got nine or ten relievers available behind him. But when the bullpen, by rule, is shrunk down to a maximum of eight pitchers? It becomes virtually impossible to use an Opener in that way. He’d have to be available to give you more.

I still think a lot of folks around baseball – the observers, not the teams – have been sleeping on how major the 13-pitcher maximum change is, and how it could fundamentally re-shape the way teams deploy their pitchers … which, of course, is the point. From MLB’s perspective, it’s not the most entertaining version of the product to have starting pitchers so thoroughly marginalized, and to have four to six pitching changes every night. So by limiting teams to eight-man bullpens – and by changing the length of an option stay in the minors from 10 games to 15 games – the importance of a starting pitcher going deeper into games is going to increase significantly.

That is, long-term, going to be a good thing for the sport, but it’s going to create a lot of challenges in the short-term, especially for a team like the Cubs. The Leiter situation encapsulates it very well, but it’s not as if the rest of the rotation has been going deep every night.

So, even if the Cubs have finally found the right mix of guys to deploy an Opener strategy, it’s kinda too late? Again, unless you can figure out how to make it more of a pseudo Opener situation (or “almost kind of like a semi-opener type presentation,” as David Ross put it). Maybe that is the guy “opens” more than one game a week, or maybe it’s where he consistently goes three innings (but then is he really an “Opener”?), or maybe it’s where you have a four-man rotation full of piggybacks (and both halves of the piggyback can consistently go four innings), or some other thing that I can’t even imagine yet and the Rays will probably figure out by next year.

This 13-pitcher rule change is a topic that is going to require a LOT more attention in the coming weeks and months and seasons. This was a very intentional, widely-discussed rule change idea during the 2019 season, when reliever usage was coming to a head. The rule was passed for the 2020 season, but then the pandemic happened, and the rule got punted for both 2020 and 2021. Then you had the lockout push it back even further, plus we’ve had CONSTANT talk of OTHER big rules changes. So it’s not hard to understand why it has been discussed so little. But don’t confuse that for this being a small change. It’s huge, and its impact goes far beyond the Leiter-Thompson-type discussion offered here. (To that end, more soon!)

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

more cubs news

Cubs Roster Moves: Swanson, Vazquez, Mastrobuoni, Crow-Armstrong

According to the Cubs' transactions page, we now know the corresponding move for infield prospect Luis Vazquez's impending call-up: it's a set of multiple moves, but he's kinda being swapped out for outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong. Weird. I know. The full...

Lukewarm Stove: Who Are the Sellers? Yankees Trying to Extend Soto, Eflin, Alonso, Martinez, More

MLB RUMORS — Even though we've already had one relatively big trade this season (Luis Arraez to the Padres) and even though the Cubs have made a couple of their own (acquiring Tyson Miller, dealing Richard Lovelady), I don't think...

MLBits: MLB Investigating David Fletcher, Giants Lose Jung-Hoo Lee for the Season, More

MLB Notes — Major League Baseball is reportedly investigating former Angels infielder—and current Braves' minor league player—David Fletcher regarding allegations that he placed illegal sports bets with the same bookie that former teammate Shohei Ohtani's interpreter Ippei Mizuhara placed bets...

The Cubs Have Signed YET ANOTHER Minor League Arm

Once again, because the Cubs have signed so many in-season pitcher deals, I have to start with the same intro: The Chicago Cubs are seriously going off on the minor league pitching signings here after the start of the season....

Cubs Farm Report | May 20, 2024: Tough Day for the Cubs Affiliates

Cubs Farm Report — It was a rough afternoon for the Cubs affiliates, who were swept in four games and scored a combined 10 runs. However, Ethan Roberts made his first appearance with Iowa since 2022 and tossed a scoreless...

Ever See a “2 RBI Walk” …?

I've seen versions of this play first hand ... back in my little league days. But even then, it was saved for our fastest player, and it usually involved him immediately stealing second base after a walk, when everyone's guard...

Cubs Set a Target Date for Dansby Swanson’s Return, Daniel Palencia Also On His Way

First, a quick update I kept out of the headline: Nico Hoerner is not in the Cubs lineup today, as he continues to deal with left hamstring tightness. The Cubs have now blown past the maximum IL backdate optimization, which...

Drew Smyly Reportedly Set for a Rehab Outing at South Bend

[ankin_law] Chicago Cubs lefty Drew Smyly has been out on the Injured List with a right hip impingement since April 23, but he's getting much closer to finally returning. After throwing multiple bullpens and facing live hitters, it looks like...

Site News! Welcome to Our New Official Legal Sponsor, Ankin Law!

My friends. It’s time for a big announcement. Something very important to us here at Bleacher Nation, and something we’ve never really been able to do before. We have had a lot of great partners over the years, but we’ve...

18 Years Ago Today, Michael Barrett Kindly Disagreed with A.J. Pierzynski

With the Cubs having lost three of four against the Pirates this weekend, and with the offense listing along and injuries continuing to mount, I would understand if you're not in the mood for "hey, today's an anniversary"-type post. BUT!...

Latest News

Atlanta Dream vs. Dallas Wings: Start Time, Streaming Live, TV Channel, How to Watch

A game after putting up 35 points in an 83-74 loss to the Sky, Arike Ogunbowale leads the Dallas Wings (1-1) on the road against the Atlanta Dream (1-1) on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The matchup tips off at 7:30...

Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks: Start Time, Streaming Live, TV Channel, How to Watch

On Tuesday at 10:10 PM ET, Mookie Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers (32-17) take on Ketel Marte and the Arizona Diamondbacks (22-25) at Dodger Stadium.Keep reading to see how to watch the Los Angeles-Arizona matchup below.When is Dodgers vs....

Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves Series May 21-23: Odds, Starting Pitchers & Predictions

A three-game series between the Chicago Cubs and the visiting Atlanta Braves will start on Tuesday, May 21 at 7:40 PM ET.Cubs vs. Braves Series Info Braves @ Cubs Time: Tuesday, May 21 at 7:40 PM ET Cubs Starting Pitcher:...

Oakland Athletics vs. Colorado Rockies Series May 21-23: Odds, Starting Pitchers & Predictions

The Oakland Athletics are hosting the Colorado Rockies for a three-game series, with the first matchup getting underway at 9:40 PM ET on Tuesday, May 21.Athletics vs. Rockies Series Info Rockies @ Athletics Time: Tuesday, May 21 at 9:40 PM...

Athletics vs. Rockies: Start Time, Streaming Live, TV Channel, How to Watch

The Oakland Athletics (19-30), with Aaron Brooks on the mound, host the Colorado Rockies (15-31) who will counter with Cal Quantrill, at 9:40 PM ET on Tuesday in a series opener.If you're trying to watch this game, keep reading for...

How to Watch Astros vs. Angels: Live Stream or on TV

On Tuesday at 8:10 PM ET, Kyle Tucker and the Houston Astros (21-27) face Taylor Ward and the Los Angeles Angels (19-29) at Minute Maid Park.Keep reading to see how to watch the Houston-Los Angeles matchup below.When is Astros vs....

How to Watch Blue Jays Games: Full 2024 Schedule, Live Stream and More

If you’re a Toronto Blue Jays fan and looking to catch their games on TV, most of them can be found on Sportsnet but there are a few more options available too. Let’s break down the cable and streaming options...

Cubs Roster Moves: Swanson, Vazquez, Mastrobuoni, Crow-Armstrong

According to the Cubs' transactions page, we now know the corresponding move for infield prospect Luis Vazquez's impending call-up: it's a set of multiple moves, but he's kinda being swapped out for outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong. Weird. I know. The full...

Timberwolves vs. Mavericks Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats and Best Bets for Western Conference Finals Game 1 – Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Dallas Mavericks square off to start the Western Conference Finals. The Timberwolves are favored by 4 points in the matchup, which will be broadcast on TNT at 8:30 PM ET. The point total is 206.5...

Celtics vs. Pacers Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats and Best Bets for Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 – Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Boston Celtics are massive 10-point favorites heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers at TD Garden on Tuesday, beginning at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN. The matchup's point total is set at 222.Celtics...

more cubs news