What a difference a year makes. Last year as we headed into spring training, we thought that the Cubs had seven potential starters: Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, and Jay Jackson. With today’s announcement that Rodrigo Lopez has signed a minor league contract and will be invited to spring training, I think the Cubs have nearly twice that many potential starters lined up.
While Garza, Dempster, and left hander Paul Maholm have the top three slots in the rotation all but locked up, there will be quite the battle for the fourth and fifth starter positions. Wells is one candidate, but he will be competing with Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, and Jeff Samardzija. Those who don’t make the rotation will likely wind up in the bullpen.
But that’s not all. Lurking in Iowa the Cubs will still have Jackson and Coleman as options, but you can add Chris Rusin and Ryan Searle to that list. Trey McNutt likely needs more seasoning, but he could be a candidate by the All-Star break.
Lopez is more likely to win a job in the bullpen than on the starting rotation, and is more likely to join Iowa than hold either position in the majors. Still, as we all learned in painful detail during the 2011 season, there is absolutely no such thing as too much pitching. The 2012 Cubs have taken that lesson to heart.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Cubs are done. Garza continues to come up in trade rumors and could easily be dealt before the start of spring training. Dempster is more likely to be dealt at the trade deadline, but there are no guarantees he will start the season with the Cubs. The Garza deal in particular could bring the Cubs another starting pitcher candidate or two. There is also the possibility of the team signing a few more minor league deals before they open camp.
Regardless of any future moves, I don’t think we need to worry about the Cubs running out of pitching this season. The greater challenge may be finding innings for all of the candidates in spring training.