By Bruce Levine--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- With a much different start to the 2017 season than in their 2016 championship campaign, it appears the Cubs will be buyers in the starting pitching market as it develops.
The strength of the 2016 club was a starting rotation that had an MLB-best 2.96 ERA and four members with 15 or more wins. It's been a different story this year, as the Cubs' starters have a collective 4.70 ERA, which was 26th in the big leagues entering Tuesday.
With the way left-hander Brett Anderson has performed as a fourth starter in collecting a 6.23 ERA in five starts, a change might be needed soon.
Left-handed reliever Mike Mongomery was stretched out to 52 pitches on Monday evening, and he's the likely replacement for Anderson if the Cubs decide to pull the plug on his spot in the rotation. Looking ahead, the problem is Anderson isn't viewed as a reliever, so the Cubs would then need to turn to Triple-A for another lefty in the bullpen, perhaps Rob Zastryzny or David Rollins.
The Cubs also plan to utilize a six-man rotation for a turn or two during the next weeks. That sixth spot could be filled by promoting right-hander Eddie Butler from Triple-A or via a potential trade.
The teams with pitching to sell are easy to identify. Getting a deal done is another matter. The Rays have long been in need of offense, and 28-year-old right-hander Chris Archer and 27-year-old right-hander Jake Odorizzi are names often mentioned in trade rumors. Archer is the most enticing, as he's under team control through 2021 on a contract that's cheap by industry standards -- about $17.5 million left through 2019 with club options in 2020 ($9 million) and 2021 ($11 million).
The Athletics are also always open for business. Right-hander Sonny Gray was expected to start Tuesday night after returning from the disabled list with a mild lat strai. He's intriguing to many clubs who was an All-Star in 2015 and has a career 3.42 ERA. The 27-year-old Gray is under contract control through 2019.
Gray was originally drafted by the Cubs in the 27th round 2008 but didn't sign. The Athletics then selected him in the first round in 2011. Like Archer, he has top-of-the-rotation ability.
Athletics baseball czar Billy Beane would like nothing more than to get a couple of top prospects back from the Cubs after he was hit hard in dealing shortstop Addison Russell to Chicago in July 2014 in a deal that returned pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.
There's no panic with the Cubs rotation as it stands, but the front office has been looking to add pitching depth as its first order of business for the last 18 months. The Cubs will continue in that pursuit for the foreseeable future.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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