We're all assuming Jeff Samardzija has a spot in the rotation all but wrapped but that may not be the case. According to Dale Sveum,
“Performance is everything. We have decisions to make tonight and part of his performance today will have something to do with those decisions.”
It's no coincidence that the Cubs have waited until Samardzija makes one more start before making their final decision. It's also no coincidence that Randy Wells is scheduled to start this weekend in an effort to get his pitch count up. If Samardzija has another bad outing, Wells is the guy who's likely to step in and fill that role.
It's worth noting that the Cubs are a bit worried about their bullpen, enough to bring in Shawn Camp and make some minor inquiries around the league. Tom mentioned the other day that they may have interest in Texas RH reliever Koji Uehara. While the Cubs may have been hoping they could find a solid starter in Jeff Samardzija, there must be a part of them that would be relieved to have him back in their bullpen.
Sveum hopes to have 21-22 of the spots decided on today with the other 3 or 4 being decided shortly afterward. It's likely that two of the decisions that will go down to the wire are backup catcher and the final bullpen spot or two.
The catcher's spot will be between Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. Both have made strong cases and both appear to be major league ready, so both of these guys may be with the Cubs until the final day before one of them gets sent to Iowa.
The bullpen situation is a bit more complex than a two man race with one spot open. As many as 6 pitchers are already in: Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, James Russell, Rafael Dolis, Casey Coleman, and the loser of the Smardzija/Wells derby.
Marcos Mateo's injury takes him out of the equation but there is another RP who is out of options in Frankie De La Cruz. The Cubs have said they like his changeup and I was told that his fastball was clocked at 95 mph in his last outing. That kind of stuff would make it hard to waive him because there's a good chance he won't clear, especially because teams always look to be filling in the back of their bullpen this time of year.
The other big decision is with Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo. The Cubs cannot send him back down to the minors without offering him back to the Phillies. It's unlikely the Phillies would refuse to pay the $25K required to take him back and allow them to send him back down to the minors. The Cubs have been impressed with Castillo's fastball and his poise, but he could probably use a little time in the minors to refine his command and breaking pitch. It's a tough call but if the Cubs are looking beyond 2012, then it's hard to see them giving up a good 22 year bullpen arm.
Also factoring in is recent veteran acquisition Shawn Camp. Camp is low on upside but pretty high on reliability. He'll throw strikes and he'll keep the ball down, two things the organization is looking for. In the end we'll probably see a guy with an ERA in the mid to high 3s at best. Camp isn't on the 40 man roster, however, so it's questionable that the Cubs would want to add him at the risk of losing a younger arm they can use long term.
It could well be those 3 guys left for one spot, but as Dale Sveum said, nothing is etched in stone. The Cubs manager loves what Casey Coleman and Rafael Dolis have done this spring but admitted that you can't always get what you want,
“Some people are attached to somebody and that means a lot but sometimes you have to put your feelings aside when it comes to these decisions and what’s best for the 25 guys in the organization.”
Dolis and Coleman have options and if the Cubs like De La Cruz and Castillo enough to keep them, then despite their great springs, Dolis and Coleman may find themselves in AAA to start the season so that the Cubs don't risk losing two younger power arms for nothing.
Wouldn't it be nice to be a fly on the wall tonight as the Cubs talk through those decisions.