Even if Dale Sveum isn’t saying it, the Cubs Opening Day start was Ryan Dempster’s to lose.
That’s the only way to explain Sveum’s ‘open’ competition for the rotation’s No.1 spot between Dempster and Matt Garza.
Otherwise, Sveum has a no-brainer decision selecting Garza, a 28-year-old stud who was the Cubs best starter in 2011, vs. the soon to be 35-year-old Dempster coming off a career-worse 14-loss season.
In what can only be explained as a show of respect, Sveum put Dempster, the second longest tenured Cub, in the running for the April 5th opener.
That’s not to say Dempster is undeserving of the top nod. He’s a solid veteran capable of handling the Opening Day jitters and putting the Cubs in position for its first win of the season.
But it also acknowledges the fact Sveum needs to put himself in the good graces of the club’s few veteran leaders who he’ll lean on as his roster is certain to gain more inexperienced and younger players as the season progresses.
Dempster, a key figure in the clubhouse, is one player Sveum can’t afford to lose the way Mike Quade did last year.
In my mind Dempster has been Sveum’s guy all along, especially considering the prolonged hang-up with Garza’s contract extension and the real possibility he could be traded before the start of the season.
In such a case, explaining the loss of your Opening Day starter would not only be a chore, but a serious buzz-kill to a spring camp immersed in positivity and optimism.
This makes Dempster the safer bet for Sveum to avoid any trade distractions surrounding Garza and build his own respect within the clubhouse–even if Garza is clearly the better pitcher.
Garza must wait his turn as the Opening Day starter, given he remains a Cub, the way Dempster did for several years behind Carlos Zambrano.
Only this time around, the decision makes far more sense than it ever did for the Cubs, its players, its fans…and Ryan Dempster.