A couple days ago Andrew updated us on the progress of Scott Baker’s return to pitching after injury. Not much to be concerned about. It has been known that Baker is coming off of injury and taking gradual steps to get back on the mound is the smart play. It is also one of the reasons that the Cubs front office continued to pursue starters in the form of Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva, despite those around baseball chalking up the North Siders to finish similarly to how they did last season.
Matt Garza should also be given some similar slack, as he himself is trying to bounce back from an arm injury that sidelined him for much of 2012. Sure, there is probably no tougher task than to climb back onto the mound after Tommy John surgery, which Baker is trying to do. But there is concern over Garza after he strained his lat muscle. The set back ended his live BP session short on Sunday, and news came out yesterday that the right hander will be going in for an MRI.
The immediate concern regarding the rotation is the question as to whether this will delay Garza’s return to regular season game action come April. The worst case scenario would see Jeff Samardzija being bumped up to the ace slot, followed up Jackson behind him. It is not to say that The Shark and Jackson are not capable of leading a staff, but if this Cubs squad is going to back up their front office’s grand claim to contend in 2013, the North Siders are going to need every piece of the 25 man roster puzzle, and that includes Garza. There is also the long term concern regarding Garza’s fading trade value, when compared to what the Cubs gave up to obtain him from Tampa Bay, as well as the possible plans of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to deal him come July.
The good news is that there is still plenty of time, as Spring Training games have not even kicked off yet. But Cubs starters should be put on notice. Samardzija had to dodge a come backer off the bat of Darwin Barney, with the Cubs second baseman later joking that tagging The Shark with a liner would be the last thing this team needed in the wake of the Garza news.
How would the Opening Day rotation look sans Garza and Baker? As mentioned earlier, Samardzija and Jackson would have to lead the way. Scott Feldman, who was recently penciled into the fourth spot by manager Dale Sveum before the live BP sessions even began, figures to be promoted to the third spot in the rotation. That would leave two open slots at the back end of the rotation. The assumed front runners would have to be Travis Wood and Villanueva. With Trey McNutt not quite Major League ready and the couple of arms that were given a cup of coffee last season not quite impressing, the early bet would be that the rotation jobs would be Wood and Villanueva’s to lose.
Unfortunately for Cubs fans, there is a bit of a shadow creeping in of yet another injury riddled season for the Cubs rotation; something that the North Side seemingly hasn’t been able to shake since the days of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.