By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) As promised by the Cubs front office, adding starting pitching depth was and remains the goal for now and the next few years. On Wednesday, the team traded for right-hander Eddie Butler in its latest move to acquire pitching.
Butler, 25, was previously a highly touted prospect. He was selected with the 46th overall pick in the 2012 June amateur draft by the Colorado Rockies, who last week designated Butler for assignment and then traded him to the Cubs for right-hander James Farris on Wednesday.
In adding Butler to the mix, the Cubs hope their minor league pitching instructors and big league pitching coach Chris Bosio can work their magic with him.
Butler has a composite 6.50 ERA over 28 starts during his big league career in Colorado. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was was poor becasue of his inability to throw strikes in his starting appearances. He will most likely start the season at Triple-A Iowa.
Adding Butler is just the tip of the iceberg for Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who are in hot pursuit of controllable pitching. The plan to upgrade the pitching options will also take an international focus, with Japanese ace Shohei Otani likely to be posted for American teams to bid on in 2018. Otani is a pitcher/outfielder who won 10 games in 20 starts with a 1.86 ERA in 2016. A 6-foot-3 phenom, he also hit .322 in 104 games, with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs.
The battle for the Cubs’ fifth starter role will be between left-handers Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson. The perception is that Anderson, if healthy, will be ideal for the team as the No. 5 starter. In that scenario, Montgomery can go back to becoming the primary set-up man for the team from the left side. He would also be available to be a swing man and handle dual roles.
Manager Joe Maddon indicated recently that his club and others may follow suit in using a sixth starter midway through the season and the last two months of 2017 as well.
The Cubs employed this philosophy in 2016 in order to cut back on starters’ innings. This method was successful after an extended innings run for Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks in 2015. As usual, the Cubs’ pitching theory in early spring will be a stretch-out plan for all would-be starters and relievers.
Using this method, all pitchers on deck are ready for the regular season in either role, protecting the team from injury or lack of production from any individuals.
Butler is the right type of gamble for the Cubs. He will cost them only the minimum salary if he makes the 25-man roster. The club will also have five years of contract control on him if he pans out.
Both Arrieta and John Lackey are on track to become free agents this November. Adding pitching depth will continue to be the Cubs’ focus for the time being.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.