For the Cubs, pitchers and catchers report in 3 days which gives everyone hope that spring is coming. Though the pitching roster isn’t final, here is a look at how it is currently built, who might making the starting 5 and how the bullpen is shaping up.
The locks for the rotation are Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly (once he returns from surgery) and Ryan Dempster. Randy Wells seems likely for the 4th spot based on last year’s performance. I wouldn’t rule out his going to the bullpen if he really struggles compared to the other potential starters. Assuming the top 4 are set, one spot remains with Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Silva as the contenders. Silva is one of the highest paid players on the team but I don’t expect that to make him an automatic 5th starter for the Cubs. He was 4-15, 6.46 ERA in 2008 and hurt most of last year so the most we can hope for is the ‘change of scenery’ improvement that teams talk about. The Cubs would be lucky to get 10 wins from him if he was made a starter so I believe one of the other two options is better. Tom Gorzelanny has been considerably average over his short major league career (29-28, 4.87 ERA). He had a career year in 2008 going 14-10 with a sub-4 ERA but hasn’t taken the next step yet. I expect him to have a chance to make the rotation knowing that he has more potential than Silva and more experience than Samardzija. Jeff Samardzija gives me the most hope as a 5th starter. He was given a big rookie contract which brings its own expectations and made it to the major leagues at the young age of 23. If he has developed his second and third pitches to match the strength of his upper 90 MPH fastball, he can transform from a solid bullpen arm to member of the rotation for many years to come. I look for Pinella to choose him for the last spot unless Gorzelanny has a very strong spring training.
There are far fewer decisions to make in the bullpen. The 2010 version of the Cubs bullpen will look much like the 2009 version. The biggest difference going into this year is I expect no competition for Marmol at closer. Kevin Gregg has moved on to the Blue Jays and Hendry hopes Marmol becomes an All Star closer. After all, he did get 15 saves when he replaced Gregg last summer. It’s difficult to guess how the rest of the pen will do. The bullpen will include Grabow, Guzman, Patton and Marshall (along with the losers of the 5th starter competition). Any of these pitchers could have a career year or be the one to implode costing the team 5+ games throughout the season. Overall, my confidence lies more with the starters than the relievers but I believe the bullpen should still be in the top half in baseball.
With fewer expectations than in recent years, the Cubs might surprise some teams but they have a tough challenge ahead. Though most of the NL Central is mediocre, it will be tough facing the Cardinals who bring back Carpenter and Wainwright along with Pujols and Holliday.
As spring training arrives, at least we know warmer weather creeps a little closer to Chicago.