The positional previews return after a bit of a delay, but some clarification as to how the starting rotation is going to stack up when the Cubs break camp and head north.
While this preview is going to be the rotation as a whole, when injuries are settled, the start of the season, with the injury to Matt Garza and the delayed return of Scott Baker, is going to show off whatever depth the front office was able to assemble this winter. Between a challenging schedule and the rotation not being at full strength to start the season, there is some real likelihood that this is going to be the rotation until the end of July, and no longer…
1. Jeff Samardzija
This differs from the division preview only in the manner that Jeff is taking the ball on Opening Day. As hard as he’s worked, he’s earned the opportunity to start in Garza’s absence. This season figures to be a step forward for “Shark,” after posting some solid numbers in his first season in the rotation and improving as the season wore on. The most impressive improvement came in the walks department, issuing 56 free passes in 174.2 innings last season after walking 50 in 88 innings in 2011. Samardzija has all of the tools to be an ace caliber pitcher and this season is going to be the first step toward that.
2. Matt Garza
Look, I know he’s starting on the DL. I also know he might be back for a couple of months, then packing his bags for good. I also know he is going to be a vital starter for the team when he gets back. He’ll either display that he is healthy and the team will trade him for pieces for the future, or he will show that he is worthy of the extension that has been talked about since he got to Chicago. This is a big year for Garza professionally, and I would expect that he shows it. I love the guy and think he would be worth a deal similar to the one Edwin Jackson signed…but that’s not up to me.
3. Edwin Jackson
The aforementioned Jackson signed a 4 yr/ $52M deal this winter, which finally gave him some stability. He’s been with five teams over the last three seasons, but he’s seemingly always been around winning teams. His numbers aren’t jaw dropping, but he eats innings, and doesn’t walk very many. At the tail end of his deal, the Cubs expect to be a contender, and are hoping he’s in the back of the rotation. They also hope that some piece of mind about where he’s going to be and some stability in coaching and messaging helps improve his numbers. He was a top prospect coming through the minor leagues, but his career has never quite matched that potential. He’s been around for a long time, but is still young enough that he may improve some, yet. It seems, though, that with Jackson, what you see is what you’re going to get.
4. Scott Feldman
Feldman, like Scott Baker is on a one year contract to prove that he can be an effective starter. His numbers make you cringe a little bit, but the man was pitching in Texas, where ERAs go to die. His career has been spent swinging back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, and again, here, with some certainty that he will be taking the ball every fifth day may help him pitch better. He’s out to prove that he can be a major league starter, so I would expect him to come to work everyday because he’s going to be a free agent again next winter.
5. Travis Wood
Travis Wood is likely going to be the one sent to Iowa when Scott Baker returns. The reality is, Wood is young and has minor league options remaining, so he’ll be the one to go. That being said, Wood was solid at times last season for the Cubs, and showed some real growth in his first season after coming over from the Reds. His future, either as a back end starting pitcher or a long reliever in the ‘pen, seems to be pretty bright at the moment.
As a reader was kind enough to point out, Travis Wood is out of options. Thinking he had one more is a fine illustration of my ability to count. That said, it doesn’t change that he is likely the odd man out of the rotation when Baker joins the club. He will then probably join the cluster of pitchers in the bullpen. **
Other Contributors: Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva
There is no doubt that Scott Baker will be in the rotation when he returns to the team in May. The cautious approach to bringing him back from Tommy John surgery is being applied, and while Baker made it clear at the Cubs Convention that he feels good and is ready to go, the team is making sure he is 100% when he returns. I can’t say I blame them. That’s probably a wise move for a guy who is going to be trade bait at the deadline. Carlos Villanueva is on a two year deal, and will be mostly used as a long man out of the bullpen, but he’s a very good spot starter. He’s a guy who can be leaned on for a start without massacring the bullpen, which is an asset that nearly every team would love to have.