Lots of competition for rotation jobs

Lots of competition for rotation jobs
Chris Volstad

Pitchers and catchers have had their physicals and their first workout.  The first spring training game is about 2 weeks away.  The starting lineup is pretty well established with very little, if any competition among the position player starters.

The pitchers are a different story as there are available spots in both the rotation and the bullpen.  Here's a quick look at all the candidates...

The locks

1. Matt Garza

2. Ryan Dempster

3. Paul Maholm (L)

These 3 veterans will likely hold down the first 3 spots in the rotation.  Garza is the only real difference maker while Dempster and Maholm figure to provide steady innings.  As I've mentioned in past articles, I believe Dempster is a candidate to bounce back and be a more reliable starter this year.

The favorites

4. Chris Volstad

5. Travis Wood (L)

The Cubs two rotation acquisitions figure to have the inside track for the last two spots in the rotation but they are certainly not a lock.  They will have to throw well this spring.  Wood has an option left, but you have to think that the Cubs will want to have a second lefty in their rotation.  That gives Wood an edge and I think he just has to be healthy and throw strikes to win a spot. Volstad had a bad 2011 but finished strong.  His youth and upside make him a fit for the rebuilding Cubs.

The competition

6. Randy Wells

7. Casey Coleman

Wells has a serious shot at the rotation and I probably should have lumped him in with the favorites.  His age and relative lack of upside though probably has him more in the long relief/6th starter plans.  Coleman fits for a similar role but he's had less experience and success at the major league level.  His biggest advantage is youth and low cost.  One of these guys will probably be the Cubs swingman and first in line if there is an injury or if one of the pitchers proves to be ineffective.

The wild card

8. Jeff Samardzija

Samardzija has been told he'll be worked as a starter in spring training.  The Cubs probably expect him to fill an important role in the bullpen, but Samardzija has the stuff and enough pitches to be an effective starter.  The question with him, as always, is command.  He's going to have to throw really well early and often to catch the attention of the new front office/coaching staff.

The depth

9. Rodrigo Lopez

10. Andy Sonnanstine

11. Ryan Rowland-Smith(L)

12. Nate Robertson (L)

13. Chris Rusin (L)

14. Nick Struck

15. Jay Jackson

Lopez was the best of the Cubs replacement pitchers last year after Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells went down.  He has the flexibility to go back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen.  The rest of the guys are extreme longshots to make the team right now.  They are more likely competing for the AAA rotation and to best position themselves for a call-up should disaster strike.  Some, like Robertson, Smith, and Jackson might be fighting just to save their careers.  If they don't pitch well, they may just end find themselves looking for work elsewhere.  I've also speculated that the Cubs may lose Sonnanstine as he could be a candidate to get bumped from the roster when the Gerardo Concepcion signing becomes official.

Unlike last season, the Cubs are well prepared to withstand multiple injuries to their rotation.  They've added some young arms, particularly Volstad and Wood, who may be trying to win more than just a job in 2012.  They're looking to become a permanent part of the Cubs rebuilding process.  The 3 pitchers who are locks for 2012 may not even be with the team in 2013.



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  • Yay! Spring Training! Thank you, John - and all the great commenters - for making this such an enjoyable offseason. First time poster, but I have been following Cubs Den from across the Pacific since late last season as we've entered this exciting new era with the new regime. Sure hope this pitching depth pans out, since I don't see a whole lot of offense in the lineup...

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    Wooohooo! Thanks TokyoCraig for those kind words.

    I think you're absolutely right about the offense. Not a whole lot of punch there. Maybe Jackson and Rizzo can help at some point mid-season, but this team is going to have to do the little things: throw strikes, play better defense, run the bases better, etc. to scratch out some wins.

  • The Cubs do have depth, however thye seen to have a lot of "guys", rather than quality. Hopefully one of two of these guys break thru in spring training.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Those guys don't cost a whole lot and there in camp to see who still has something left and can fill in if there is an emergency. The Cubs don't need them all to pan out, they need someone to at least give them decent innings like Lopez did until the Cubs get healthy or a prospect like McNutt is ready. Hopefully they don't have to use them at all.

  • I hope Coleman is in Iowa-if he is at all an important part of this team then we're screwed. I think the most interesting idea is to put Samardzija in the rotation. You may just catch some fire there. If he is effective, then a rotation with him and Wood anchoring the 4 and 5 spots is fairly solid and could make the Cubs a .500 team. The improved defense this year should allow all the pitchers to have better results.

  • In reply to Cuyler:

    I like Samardzija's potential as a starter too. Has the stuff to do it but his command just isn't starter quality. Perhaps that will change this year. If it does, he could be a long term replacement.

    Don't rule out Volstad having a good year yet. I think he's someone the Cubs are hoping can fulfill his potential. He'll throw strikes and that gives him an advantage with this front office.

  • The veterans that don't make the team should not be sent to AAA
    and take some prospects spot in the starting rotation, unless
    they really can help the team later.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    That will probably be the case, although I can see someone like Wells, Lopez, or Sonnanstine sticking as a long man/spot starter. Coleman could also get that kind of role.

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    Yeah, I think this rotation will be loads better than last years, but mostly because the 4th and 5th guys have got to be better than what we had last year. The #'s from our 4th and 5th starters last year were horrible, as we all know.

    I like the youth and upside, but it's time for Volstad to step up. I'm encouraged by his last month and a half - 6 of 7 quality starts to end the season, with one just coming up an inning short of 7 for 7 (5 IP, 2 ER in that one).

    I like Travis Wood a lot, and hope last year was just a sophomore slump. I was excited to draft him in a late round in my fantasy league last year, and he flopped. But I'll probably pick him up again this year.

  • In reply to brober34:

    Agreed. You have two nice young back of the rotation arms in Wood and Volstad and it's nice to have Wells right there as an option in case one of them falters. I think the Cubs realistically go 6 deep and will have 2-3 other guys who can step in and at least fill in part time.

    Spring will be fun with all these new names. The starting lineup is pretty much set but you know there are going to be a few names who will catch our eye. Can't wait!

  • The chances of this happening are probably quite low, but what do you think happens if Wells, Volstad, Wood and Samardzija all have strong SP showings this spring? I have read that Wood still has options left, but what about the others? Could Wells be on the block, and what could we get for him (given a good spring, of course)?

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    That would be a great problem to have. In the end, the Cubs will go with the guys who they feel give them the best long term chance to succeed, so unfortunately that would probably leave Wells as the odd man out, imo. I think a trade would become a possibility at that point. If they keep them all, then I'll guess that Wood and Volstad make the rotation and Samardzija gets rewarded with a bigger role in the bullpen (maybe groom him as the closer?). They'll probably do that to not upset the balance of the team since Samardzjia is a guy they really need in the bullpen. As for Wells, it's possible he makes the team as a long reliever/spot starter.

    If they want to make Samardzija a starter, though, it becomes a bit more complex. You have to figure Garza, Dempster and Maholm are locks. I don't think the Cubs want to use their option on Wood if he pitches well. I think he'll stay with the big league club as long as he has a good spring. I think Samardzija might become more of an option if the Cubs trade Garza or Dempster at some point.

  • John - Do you know what the hold-up is on announcing the Concepcion signing? I thought the only issue was passing a physical but it shouldn't take 4 weeks to schedule it.

  • In reply to Zorb:

    Paperwork, red tape? Not exactly sure myself. At any rate, it would entail having to add him to the roster and the Cubs losing a player. So far they've had good luck with dropping guys and getting them back (with the exception of Jeff Bianchi), but now they're getting to guys who have a good chance of getting picked up. They're probably in no hurry to do that and the signing is a done deal. Making it official is just a formality.

  • Interesting to see how various writers rank this. Everyone has Garza and Dempster as locks. I would assume Maholm as well. But Bruce Miles has Wells as his (quite tentative) number three with four and five open for competition. Sullivan has Wells a questionable four with T. Wood and Volstad competing for five. Arguello seems to have Wells as number six, with a chance to be number five. And then there is Samardzija.

    I think it just shows how questionable the whole rotation behind the top two (or one...) is. My only hope is that the competition is fair and best performers go north.

  • In reply to bruno14:

    I'm not as high on Wells overall stuff and my guess is that they're going on his past success and strong finish. He's a strong candidate. A #3 starter, though, seems like pushing it to me.

  • Coleman and Lopez are NOT major league pitchers.
    Lord help us if they a Cubs starters this year...

  • In reply to eaton53:

    Lopez held his own. Not a guy you hope gets a lot of starts but maybe some depth in case a starter goes down for a few starts. But I agree if those guys start long term, the Cubs are probably in some trouble.

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