With so few position battles in this year’s Cubs camp, despite the rebuilding effort underway, much of the focus this spring has fallen on the pitching staff. More specifically, on the starting rotation.
The Cubs come into the 2012 season with possibly just two pitchers returning from the five that started the 2011 season in the rotation: Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster.
When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the front office, one of the more talked about issues was what they would do with Carlos Zambrano. That question was answered when they shipped him to South Beach in exchange for Chris Volstad. They also sent Andrew Cashner to the Padres, viewing him as an arm in the bullpen and not in the rotation.
Garza returns despite an incredible amount of trade rumors this past summer, and could now be in line for a contract extension. Dempster heads into the new season in the last year of his contract, and is hoping to rebound after a difficult 2011 season.
Beyond that, it’s a big cloud in the rotation, with the exception of the no. 3 spot. That was already decided before the Cubs opened camp a couple of weeks ago when Dale Sveum said that Paul Maholm was virtually a lock for a rotation spot.
Maholm was one of many of the Cubs’ additions to the pitching staff, signing him away from the division rival Pittsburgh Pirates. Maholm is coming off of a decent season in which he pitched to a 3.66 ERA and becomes the first lefty in the starting rotation for the Cubs this season. But he might not be the only one.
We can pretty much narrow the final two spots in the rotation down to a few names. Travis Wood, the other lefty, Volstad, Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Rodrigo Lopez, Andy Sonnanstine, and Casey Coleman.
Okay, so it’s not just a few. But Lopez, Sonnanstine, and Coleman are likely bound for either the bullpen or a spot in Iowa. And no matter what the Cubs say, Jeff Samardzija is much better off in continuing to work at the back end of the bullpen. That just leaves Wood, Volstad, and Wells.
Volstad was acquired from the Marlins for Zambrano, while Travis Wood was the return that the Cubs got for Sean Marshall, who now takes his setup talents over to Cincinnati. Wells returns to fight for a rotation spot for the second consecutive year, after struggling throughout the 2011 season, both physically and statistically.
Of the three, Volstad is the most likely to get the next spot. He has great upside and should benefit from that all important “change of scenery”. And he’s still just 25.
Assuming everything shakes out as planned, the last spot will likely come down to Wood and Wells. Both struggled last season, but the situation seems to favor Wood, who is younger and has a better upside. It’s obviously going to come down to what happens in the spring, but Wells is going to need to be strong in the spring games and then start strong in April if he hopes to hold down a spot or end up in long relief or in Iowa.
We could very likely imagine that the top four spots in the rotation are sealed. Garza, Dempster, Maholm, and Volstad should start the first four for the Cubs in 2012. But for the last one, we’ll have to wait to see how things shake out in the spring, though as of right now, Wood could have an edge over Wells.