The Cubs have spent much of the offseason collecting arms. They have added 6 arms and have lost 3 in Carlos Zambrano, Andrew Cashner, and Sean Marshall. It's going to be a different looking staff, one that relies on better control and better defense. So who's going to make up that staff? Here are my picks...
1. Matt Garza - He's obviously a lock to be the ace on this team if he's still here. It's looking more and more like he'll at least open the season with the Cubs.
2. Ryan Dempster - Dempster had a bad season in 2011, one in which his fastball just wasn't nearly as effective. Encouragingly most of his peripherals remained constant from his previous years. His FIP, xFIP, GB rates, walk rates, and strikeout rates were all remarkably similar to his previous seasons. The big change was a .324 BABIP. So perhaps some of Dempter's poor year had something to do with a little bad luck.
3. Paul Maholm - Ideally, he's probably more of a 4th starter but the Cubs staff basically begins with a #2 guy and then goes down from there. Maholm is a veteran who can give the team some good innings from the left-side, but we shouldn't expect him to be a front end starter.
4. Chris Volstad - Quite a few baseball people like Volstad as a back end starter. He's no longer that up and coming prospect, but he has a chance to be a solid, cost-controlled starter for the next few years. His xFIP number would actually rank second to Garza on this staff.
5. Travis Wood - Wood is another acquisition that I've heard good things about - again, not as an ace but as a good 4th starter type. He would give the Cubs a second lefty and is a good candidate to rebound after being overused a bit by Dusty Baker in his rookie year. If he can return to his 2010 numbers, he'll have a place on this staff.
Carlos Marmol - The enigmatic reliever returns for another season after a disastrous end to 2011. Marmol really struggled with his command and his slider and he'll likely be one of new pitching coach Chris Bosio's main projects. If he can get him to rebound to his dominant self, however, Marmol may wind up being trade bait at the deadline.
Set-up/late inning relievers
Kerry Wood - The fan favorite returns and while there may be a little sentiment in this signing, he's still a reliable veteran reliever that the Cubs will lean on heavily this season. He'll set-up Marmol and will be first in line to close if the Cubs make a trade.
Jeff Smardzija - The "Shark" had something of a breakthrough season and gradually earned ex-Cub manager Mike Quade's trust. He was used more frequently in high leverage situations than he had in the past and I expect that to continue in 2012. There's an outside chance that he'll crack the rotation, but I consider that an extreme longshot at this point.
James Russell - Russell will likely take over the late inning left-handed role left open because of the Marshall trade. After a disastrous stint as a starter, Russell settled in well last season in relief. The Cubs will depend on Russell to continue his success in a more important role this season as the top lefty out of the pen.
Randy Wells - Wells has a shot at the rotation and will compete with Chris Volstad and Travis Wood for the last two spots. If he doesn't make the starting staff, he could fit as a long reliever/swingman. There's also a chance the Cubs could deal him.
Jeff Beliveau - Another guy who's in competition for a spot, Beliveau will compete with fellow lefties Scott Maine and John Gaub as the 3rd lefty out of the pen. Epstein has mentioned Beliveau specifically as someone he likes, so that and his superior control give him the edge.
Marcos Mateo - He's out of options so all things equal, he'll get the nod unless he is dealt or offered up as compensation. Mateo had some surprisingly good peripherals to go with his above average stuff. His 3.29 FIP and 9.78 K rate have surely caught the Cubs new brass' attention. They certainly seem to want to keep him as they have preserved his spot on the 40 man roster in spite of the recent additions
Others with a shot
Chris Carpenter - At times Carpenter can throw 100 mph, at other times he has a sharp-breaking slider, and he occasionally has good command. If he can do all three at once, he'll make the team. But that's a big if.
Lendy Castillo - The Rule 5 Pick either has to go north with the Cubs or be offered back to the Phillies. His stuff is as good as anyone on this list, but he's raw and hasn't pitched above A ball.
Rafael Dolis - He's like an enhanced version of Carpenter in that he is the same kind of pitcher, only he's more consistent. His slider is also better. He has yet to pitch AAA, so he'll really have to convince somebody.
John Gaub - Good fastball but his best pitch may be his slider. Unfortunately he doesn't always know where it's going.
Scott Maine - Hard throwing lefty with an impressive 12.6 K rate at Iowa last season. Command and control will be the issue. Both he and Gaub will challenge Beliveau for a spot.