McGraw: Options piling up for Cubs' 2023 starting rotation

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The futures market for Cubs starting pitchers has been changing daily.

Javier Assad had a tough outing Sunday. Keegan Thompson is coming back from the injured list soon, but is expected to work out of the bullpen. Hayden Wesneski deserves another start after throwing seven strong innings against Colorado.

Veteran Wade Miley gave up 7 runs in 3 innings at Miami on Monday. The Cubs are likely giving him a chance to audition for other teams, but it’s conceivable they could bring him back in 2023.

“I think the things we know going into right now, Justin Steele’s done a really nice job of putting himself in a position to be in the rotation,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Marcus Stroman has obviously has done a really nice job.

“We need to get Keegan back and then I don’t know after that. I think we could have a lot of good options, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Here’s a rundown of the numerous candidates to form the Cubs’ starting rotation next year, which doesn’t even include potential free agents or trade candidates:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

• Kyle Hendricks: His season ended July 5 with a right shoulder strain, but he’s hoping to be 100% by the spring. The Cubs don’t have much choice but to plug him in the rotation if he’s ready to go, since he’s signed for $14 million next year.

• Stroman: He probably cemented a spot by posting a 2.95 ERA since the all-star break. For good measure, he’s made a point of raving about the Cubs’ bright future. Stroman Is under contract for $25 million next year.

• Steele: He has an argument as the National League’s best starter in the second half with a 0.96 ERA. It would be a better argument if he wasn’t sidelined by sore back. Imagine if the Cubs had kept fellow 2014 draft pick Dylan Cease.

• Thompson: There were some lapses, but 9 wins and a 3.97 ERA in his second major league season earned priority consideration for a starting spot.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

• Drew Smyly: The Cubs have an option to bring him back next year, and why wouldn’t they? Smyly, 33, has posted a 2.82 ERA in 10 second-half starts. With continued success, the Cubs could keep him in the mix or have a nice trade piece.

• Wesneski: The trade-deadline acquisition has a 2.30 ERA in his first 15.2 innings of action. It would be nice if he gets a couple more starts before the end of the season to see if he can keep it up.

• Assad: The minor-league pitcher no one was talking about delivered four solid starts before Sunday’s dud. With three primary and three secondary pitches, he might have the tools to succeed.

• Adbert Alzolay: After missing most of the season with elbow soreness, Alzolay’s future is likely in the bullpen, but he had some nice moments as a starter last year.

• Alec Mills: A back injury ruined his season, but he’s still got three more years under team control.

• Caleb Kilian: Looked great in his debut back in June. The pitching development staff will try to iron out some wrinkles by the spring.

• Matt Swarmer: Did OK as a starter, but might need more variety to his pitch mix.

• Ben Brown, Jordan Wicks: Trade acquisition and 2021 first-round pick might be the Cubs’ best pitching prospects. Both finished the season at Double A Tennessee.

The Cubs can wait to see how their young and injured pitchers look in the spring, but they’ll also need to decide during the winter whether to pursue a free-agent starter like San Francisco’s Carlos Rodon or maybe use their deeper farm system to trade for a proven starter. Anyone not in the rotation is a candidate to join the bullpen.

The above list of candidates includes 13 names for five spots, without Miley. So whether to even pursue any starting pitchers in the offseason is a legitimate question for Cubs management.

“I think the key word is ‘could,’ right?” Ross said. “It’s hard to hang your hat on ‘could’ or ‘should’ or ‘might.’ I don’t know if Smyly will be here, I don’t know if Miley will be here, I don’t know if Kyle will be healthy. I think there’s some question marks and some uncertainty.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports