The starting rotation for the Chicago Cubs has been one of the few pleasantries this season for the team that boasts a record of 12-20 and sits in the basement of the National League Central division. With the return of Matt Garza coming as soon as May 17-19, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, finding the odd man out of the five-man rotation is not as easy as many thought it would be before the season started.
When healthy, Garza is a top-of-the-rotation starter, and he had a successful rehab start Monday. He would slot in as the team’s No. 2 starter behind Jeff Samardzija and in his absence, Edwin Jackson assumed that role and has failed miserably.
After signing a four-year deal for $52 million this offseason, Jackson has compiled an 0-5 record, 6.39 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP. Awful numbers to be sure, but I don’t think he will be bumped to the bullpen when Garza returns. The primary reason is his salary. You can’t have a pitcher making $13 million pitching long-relief.
The options to be demoted to the bullpen include Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman. Each of the three starters has an ERA below three and have been the team’s three best pitchers this season. Villanueva and Feldman pitched out of the bullpen last season with varied success, but I don’t think you can take them out of the rotation based on their performance this season.
That leads me to wonder if a six-man rotation could be a possibility for Dale Sveum’s team, at least temporarily as Garza rounds into shape and builds his pitch count up. An extra day of rest would be beneficial to Garza to ensure that he doesn’t suffer any setbacks in his recovery, because the Cubs have to trade him before the July 31 trade deadline.
Garza is a free agent at the end of the season and with his injury history, it will be difficult for the Cubs management to pony up a contract of 4-5 years at $15 million per. This decision may have been easier to make without the contract given to Jackson, which looks like a colossal mistake five weeks into a four-year deal.
However, pitching coach Chris Bosio can make a six-man rotation work. I would keep Samardzija on his normal five-day routine because he’s the ace and you don’t want to disrupt his preparation. In the case of Wood, Villanueva and Feldman however, their performance may be extended if they have an extra day of rest to avoid dead arm.
The extra day on the side could be beneficial for Jackson as well as he tries to find the stuff that earned him the contract from the Cubs this offseason.
A six-man rotation may be scoffed at around the league because it’s outside the box, but when you’re floundering the way the Cubs have, thinking outside the box isn’t just an option, it may be a necessity.