Considering Randy Wells has been a part of the Cubs starting rotation since 2009, today’s news of him being optioned to Triple A Iowa almost overshadowed the news of the Cubs starting rotation now being set with about a week to go before Opening Day. The former minor league catcher confessed that a sophomore slump in 2010 was a bit of a wake up call entering Spring Training in 2011. While he backed the talk with a solid performance in Mesa, Arizona, his rookie season did not translate into the 2011 regular season.
While Wells did not necessarily pitch himself out of his rotation spot this Spring, the demotion is certainly a louder wake up call this time around. With his name already being whispered as a rumored trade candidate, GM Jed Hoyer was quick to comment today the Wells being sent down should not be a negative reflection on the right handed pitcher. It really came down to Jeff Samardzija and Chris Volstad just outshining the competition this Spring.
Samardzija and Volstad will fill in the middle of the rotation respectively between aces Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza at the top, and Paul Maholm at the back end. Many assumed that the lone free agent signing (not counting minor league deals with Spring invites) in Maholm would be penciled into the third spot with a decent Spring, but it was announced earlier this week that the lefty had been placed in the fifth spot. It was also figured that his lefty arm would be a nice way to break up the otherwise right hand dominated rotation.
Many Cubbies Crib readers may recall my stance on Samardzija being a better fit for the pen in my player profile earlier this month, and I still stand by that argument, especially considering the fact that the Cubs bullpen has gone from an area of strength to an area of weakness even before the decision was made to include Samardzija in the rotation. In addition, it should still be a valid concern as to whether the former wide receiver can actually translate a solid Spring as a starter into the 2012 regular season. But to be fair, he has gone above and beyond expectations as a starter this Spring, and he has fully earned his shot at proving himself to be a Major League caliber starting pitcher.
It is also great to see Volstad seize a rotation spot considering his production this season will be compared to Carlos Zambrano all year long. Fair or not, the front office and fans alike will want to make sure that the 6 foot 8 inch righty proves to be more than just a throw in for the salary dump move that was the trade of Zambrano. I for one will not be surprised if Zambrano makes a push for Comeback Player of the Year with the change of scenery and the understanding his friendship with manager Ozzie Guillen will bring. Despite that real possibility, as long as Volstad can put up decent numbers in 2012, Cubs fans will agree that the deal was a success.
Travis Wood joins Wells as one of the odd men out of the rotation, but unlike Wells, Wood has no reason to complain, as he has struggled all Spring. Hopefully some time in the minors will help Wood get himself back on track. He comes to the Cubs with a little more pressure on him, considering the front office traded away arguably the best left handed set up man in the Majors in Sean Marshall for him. At the very least, these moves work out in terms of the numbers since both he and Wells had options left.
Wells figures to be the first man off the bench, as they like to say in the NBA, if any of the back half of the rotation starters come stumbling out of the gate in April. While no one can say for sure how the 2012 season will wind up for our beloved Cubs, the certainty is that the front office duo of Hoyer and Theo Epstein have surely built up the rotation depth they preached when they arrived, and the innings will get eaten up one way or another this season.