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CHGO Cubs Weekly: How Jameson Taillon's injury could affect the Opening Day roster

Ryan Herrera Avatar
March 12, 2024

Hello, everyone!

And welcome back to the CHGO Cubs Weekly newsletter.

The news regarding Jameson Taillon over the weekend is obviously tough.

Battling a calf issue that delayed his first Cactus League start, Taillon was scratched from what would’ve been that start on Saturday. Cubs manager Craig Counsell told reporters in Arizona then that Taillon felt tightness in his lower back.

The update Counsell gave reporters Sunday was worse: Taillon was still feeling the same way he did Saturday, and now, his status for the beginning of the season is in question. Though Counsell noted the injury isn’t a long-term concern for now, it’s up in the air how many turns through the rotation he might miss.

It’s a shame for Taillon, because after a rough first season with the Cubs that ended on a more positive note, he came into camp feeling “refreshed” and ready to attack season No. 2. Now, attacking the new year may have to be pushed back.

So how could this affect who the Cubs break camp with? What does it mean for the rotation? What does it mean for the bullpen?

Before we try to answer those questions, let me remind you about our newest Diehard-exclusive perk: A database of every player currently on the Cubs’ 40-man roster with recaps of their 2023 seasons and previews of their 2024 seasons. From prospects you might not know as well to the biggest names on the roster, we have the info for every 40-man guy.

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How could Taillon’s injury affect the rotation?

Obviously, if he misses the start of the season, that means the Cubs are down to three locks in the starting pitching group: Steele, Kyle Hendricks and newcomer Shota Imanaga.

Could they just go out and sign a free agent (Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell are still out there) to replace Taillon? Sure, but it would’ve already made sense to do that before the injury. With this not being a long-term concern for the Cubs at the moment, plus considering where they are in terms of the luxury tax, it doesn’t seem there’d be any more urgency to sign a starter. So, you’re likely looking at internal options to step up.

When it was a battle for just the fifth spot, the competition consisted of Jordan Wicks, Drew Smyly, Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski. All have continued to stretch out this spring — Counsell has talked often about needing more than the Opening Day rotation to get through the season anyway, saying “we can’t survive with five starters” — and now that Taillon’s injury leaves his early-season status in doubt, two of them could be in the rotation to start the year.

Smyly took the ball Sunday against the Rangers and covered 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Wicks didn’t start the game but added 4 1/3 innings of relief, giving up one unearned run. Wesneski had a couple tougher outings to start Cactus League play but was solid Thursday against the Reds, allowing just one run on a solo homer over three innings. Assad has pitched two innings of relief his last two times out, but with 2 1/2 weeks left until the regular season, he certainly has time to build up even more.

So, those are the most likely options to replace Taillon. Depending on how much time he may have to miss, any of those two could slot in. It’s also worth noting the Cubs do have three off days in the two weeks after Opening Day. Those could help them juggle things in the rotation.

How could Taillon’s injury affect the bullpen?

Taillon being out would allow another guy to join the rotation for the time being, and as a result, change the bullpen mix.

If it’s Smyly, well, the bullpen is losing someone who was otherwise set to be a left-handed relief option. That would seem to give Luke Little an even better shot at the Opening Day roster, considering he’s the only other lefty reliever on the 40-man. Also, maybe someone like Edwin Escobar, in camp on a spring training invite, becomes more likely to make the team to add another lefty to the ‘pen.

Then you think about the other three guys. If, say, Smyly and Wicks get the spots, it’s unlikely both Assad and Wesneski start the year in the bullpen, so at least one is probably headed to Triple-A to stay stretched out. Switch either of those two with Wicks, and that idea still works.

If it’s two of the three between Wicks, Wesneski and Assad, that keeps Smyly in relief along with Adbert Alzolay, Julian Merryweather, Héctor Neris, Mark Leiter Jr. and Yency Almonte, leaving two more of those spots up for grabs (while probably needing at most only one more lefty).

A Wicks-Wesneski rotation combo leaves Assad out, but considering his success as a reliever last year, there’s certainly a case for him to still make the team (that might’ve been his role with a healthy Taillon, anyway). If Assad starts the season in the rotation with one of those two, it feels a bit more likely the other kicks things off in Triple-A, staying on a starter’s schedule as rotation depth.

So, that’s how Taillon’s injury could have a bit of a domino effect on the rest of the pitching staff. Of course, Cubs fans want the team to go and grab the free-agent starter of their choice, but unless something changes in the team’s approach, it seems filling Taillon’s potential absence (however long it could last) would come from some combination of the group already in place.

That’s it for now. Catch y’all again next week.

PS — A friendly reminder that this newsletter will be a Diehard exclusive during the regular season. Sign up now to ensure they’ll keep coming plus get access to our 2024 CHGO Cubs season guide and your choice of a CHGO t-shirt, including the ones in our new Chicago collection!

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