With pitchers and catchers reporting to Arizona in just a couple of weeks, combined with Jed Hoyer’s comments on Sirius/XM Radio a couple days ago, the Cubs list of rotation candidates is now apparently set. Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Travis Wood represent the trio of names returning from last season. Combined with the early off season signings of Scott Feldman and Scott Baker, and the assumption that 2013 was going to be another year chalked up to the rebuild, by the end of November I had figured these names would represent the lead candidates to fill the starting staff. This of course barring an injury or two, a prospect that may break out in Spring, and the handful of minor league signings typically seen in the weeks leading up to Spring Training.
Boy was I wrong. The same front office that preached patience during construction work on the roster and farm system was suddenly in serious pursuit of Anibal Sanchez. After getting played by the Tigers pitcher, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer set their sights on Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva before eventually landing not one, but both pitchers. And while waiting for the Villanueva deal to be made official due to the 40 man roster limit, the front office came out publically to state that the Cubs would be pushed to contend in 2013.
While even the most realistic Cub fans know that just avoiding another 100 loss season would be improvement enough, Epstein and Hoyer’s decision to spend some cash on the likes of Jackson and Villanueva shows that the team will pursue the free agent route while building up the foundation that is the farm system. The 100 plus losses from 2012 is starting to represent the rock bottom that the team had to endure and even these mid tier signings are a signal that the organization expects improvement from the existing cast for 2013.
So with that said, the question now turns to how the rotation projects out. Yes it is a bit early to do so considering the calendar still reads January, and how these pitchers look as Spring Training progresses will more accurately determine the rotation contenders, but the Cubs are currently looking at more guaranteed contracts to pitchers than there are rotation spots.
The off season had murmurs of Garza being discussed in trade scenarios, but as we know the former Ray is still planning to head to Arizona with the Cubs in a couple of weeks. The same Sirius/XM interview mentioned earlier also referenced a surprisingly candid Hoyer regarding Garza’s future with the Cubs, considering number 22 is free to walk at the end of the 2013 season. However, I do not expect a trade of Garza prior to Opening Day. This is based on the fact that the starter is coming off of an injury that caused him to miss much of the 2012 season, not to mention the front office’s chance to deal him for prospects this past July.
Even a solid Spring from Garza does not figure to boost his trade value from its current state. With Garza in the final year of team control, he will not bring back a return close to what Jim Hendry gave up to pry him from Tampa Bay a couple years ago, but a swap for a couple of quality prospects would not be out of the question in the weeks leading up to the July 2013 trade deadline. With that in mind, and assuming Garza remains healthy, I see the goateed one projecting as the Opening Day starter and ace of the rotation.
After a break out season in 2012, Samardzija would be logical choice for the second spot in the rotation. This season would represent The Shark’s second full year as a starting pitcher, and the point to look out for will be how the former Notre Dame wide receiver will adjust to the league adjusting to him, a typical challenge for all sophomore players.
Following close behind Samardzija would be new Cub Edwin Jackson. After the multi year, multi million dollar contract dished out to the former White Sox (among other teams), it would certainly be hard to imagine Jackson not being included in the rotation, barring a Carlos Silva like melt down that would be out of character for Jackson. The journey man, but consistent starter has the resume and experience to capably bridge the top and bottom of the rotation.
The remaining two rotation spots is where the picture becomes a bit gray, especially when there are four arms in the competition. Feldman and Baker are the new guys on the block that signed with the North Siders earlier in the off season under the impression that they would be given a fair shot at a rotation spot. As mentioned above, then you have the returning Wood and the latest new signing Villanueva.
Assuming the competition ends up neck and neck amongst the four, I would have to think that Feldman and Baker would get the nod over the other two, under the assumption that there was some level agreement (aka verbal or handshake) that both would start for the Cubs as opposed to being sent to the pen to be a reliever. Under this scenario, Villanueva would get bumped to the pen, along with Wood who could represent the second lefty in a relief corps that currently only figures to feature James Russell. While Villanueva also signed with the Cubs with the desire to start, the former Blue Jay surely knew the arms race he was getting into seeing that he was the last of the four free agent starter signings.
In short, the rotation chart would appear as below:
- Matt Garza
- Jeff Samardzija
- Edwin Jackson
- Scott Feldman
- Scott Baker
Injuries of course always throw a wrench in the plan, which is where the front office’s desire for depth comes in handy. With Feldman and Baker’s health history, along with the possibility that any of these names could go down with a physical mishap in Spring, one or more of the rotation spots could open back up for the candidates originally left off above. My personal preference would be for Wood to earn a spot, as I feel every rotation should feature at least a token lefty to break up a typically right hand dominant group. Prospects like Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin, both of whom we saw get spot starts last year, along with minor league invitees such as Dontrelle Willis would also have a window of opportunity open if injuries occur.