At the beginning of spring camp the Cubs had more starting pitching arms than spots available in the rotation. Now a week out before opening day and the Cubs have just enough arms to fill out a decent rotation: Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Feldman, and Villanueva. That’s a credit to Team Theo.
Had the Cubs failed to sign either Edwin Jackson or Scott Feldman the rotation would be in dire straits entering the season. But despite the injuries to Matt Garza (pulled lat muscle) and Scott Baker (strained elbow), both of whom will miss extended time recovering, Chicago still has a decent chance of contending out of the gate.
As often as we hear ‘you can never have enough starting pitching’, it’s not unusual for teams to fall short when adding starting pitching depth. That’s partly because good starting pitching is hard to find. But I assume another reason is good starting pitching cost good money–and some teams simply don’t want to spend on players they view as insurance policies.
However, if you do need those insurance arms, and don’t have them, you’re in a world of trouble. And the 2011 Cubs under Jim Hendry are a perfect example.
The season wasn’t a week old before the starting rotation ran off the track with injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Wells was sidelined nearly two months and Cashner didn’t return until September, as a reliever no less.
Meanwhile, Hendry was left to fill the holes with 23-year-old Casey Coleman
(3-9, 6.40 ERA) and 35-year-old Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.42 ERA) for a combined 40 starts. And that doesn’t include the drastic desperation move of signing 35-year-old Doug Davis, who lit the mound on fire going (1-7, 6.50 ERA) in nine starts.
Chicago was doomed from the onset without a viable Plan B for the starting staff. That, in combination with other roster shortcoming, put the team on course for a 91-loss season.
The Cubs’ record this season may not be any better than it was two years ago. But we can rest assured it won’t be from a lack of preparation to supplement the rotation with good arms in case of injuries.
Part of understanding the importance of rotation depth is knowing whatever plan you do have in place is only as good as its Plan B.
The Cubs appear to make BuzzFeed’s list of 14 Ways you know your team’s season is doomed. Coming in at No.6 is “Management says they’re building for the future and ask for patience.”
Not breaking news for Cubs fans. We obviously had a pretty good idea the team was doomed since Chris Volstad (3-12, 6.31) made 21 starts last season while the Cubs went on to lose 101-games. And we know you don’t recover from that in one offseason.
Also knowing we’re without staff ace Matt Garza heading into the season, here’s hoping he returns from injury the likes of Henry Rowengartner,
and not Scuffy McGee.
Opening day is 18 short days away. On a more somber note, here’s a look at three Cubs players having a tough go of it this spring.
Two are battling injuries, another can’t seem to make contact. Click here
I’ve never been one to get head-over-heels about spring training, other than it signaling the near-end of a long offseason.
Granted there are some interesting position battles each spring, which I understand the spring statistics can play a part in determining final roster cuts, but mostly I keep my fingers crossed the Cubs’ regulars make it to opening day healthy.
Injuries, however, have been mounting for the Cubs since Matt Garza went down with a sore left lat muscle on Feb. 7. Early indications suggested the injury was not serious and would only sideline Garza one week.
Garza, however, didn’t return until two weeks later, when he again felt discomfort throwing. Although the organization, manager Dale Sveum and Garza insist the Cubs are only playing it cautious with the right-hander, he’s not expected to be available through the first month of the regular season.
Dontrelle Willis pulled up lame with shoulder soreness after throwing his first seven pitches this spring. He immediately left the game and has yet to return.
Ian Stewart, who was expected to platoon with Luis Valbuena as the starting third basemen, has been battling a left-quad strain, which has limited him to light jogging and fielding practice.
There’s no question the untimely injury is putting Stewart, who’s playing on a non-guaranteed contract, in jeopardy of not making the team out of spring camp. He’s yet to appear in a Cactus League game.
Third base prospect Josh Vitters is also suffering from a quad strain and has not appeared in game action.
Super utility man Brent Lillibridge entered camp as a favorite to win an opening day roster spot. But he only saw action in five games before suffering a groin strain in early March. He’s still a candidate to make the team if he’s able to return relatively soon.
Aside from Garza, the most concerning setback is with Starlin Castro.
He suffered a tight left hamstring while running out an infield hit on Feb. 27. The Cubs, not surprisingly, have been extra cautious with two-time All-Star’s return.
Castro played in all 162 games last season becoming the first Cubs shortstop ever to do so.
“It was more tight than a pull or anything like that, so he’s just day to day. Thank God, nothing real major at all,” said Sveum.
If you haven’t learned already, lat injuries linger, and usually much longer than players, coaches and fans think they will.
Remember waiting for Ryan Dempster’s return near the trade deadline last season? Yep, that was a lat injury.
So when Garza experienced discomfort throwing on Feb. 17 and was diagnosed with a sore left lat muscle, I pretty much ruled him out for opening day, despite the fact the Cubs were suggesting Garza would be out only one week.
Now, two weeks later, Garza still isn’t ready. The Cubs say they’re shutting him down another week…and he’ll likely miss the first month of the season. A big, big, disappointment for sure. But it’s hardly a surprise.
The Cubs must be cautious with Garza, especially if they still have visions of trading him, which can’t happen until he’s healthy. And if the Cubs are leaning towards signing Garza long-term, they’ll need to see for themselves that he can stay healthy.
Either way, those decisions are a long way off…even if Garza’s recovery doesn’t experience further setbacks.
Thumbnail sketch of Cubs’ spring training thus far.
Overall 4-4, Home: 3-2, Away: 1-2.
Cubs have lost 3 of last 4 games.
Couple of split squad games scheduled for this week.
Anthony Rizzo departs Cubs camp tomorrow to join Team Italy for WBC.
Cubs transactions for January 8th:
1992 – Signed Jamie Moyer as a free agent
2011 – Traded Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to Tampa Bay for Zach Rosscup, Fernando Perez and Matt Garza
Would you make the same trade today?
-Carlos Zambrano, Anyone?
Still no takers for Big Z. Not surprising, really.
In years 29, 30 & 31 he’s averaged just 22 starts per season.
Hasn’t pitched more than 200 innings since 2007 (216.1).
Has won fewer than 10-games in 3 of last 4 seasons…(11 in 2010).
Part of Z being a head case wasn’t just his childish behavior and immaturity. It was always a concern of mine Zambrano wasn’t learning how to be a pitcher vs. a thrower.
Miami was suppose to rejuvenate the big right-hander. Instead, he went (7-10, 4.49) while Ozzie, of all managers, demoted him to the bullpen mid-season.
Zambrano had long mentioned he would retire at the end of his 5-year, $90 million contract extension originally signed with the Cubs in 2007. Currently that appears to be his only option.
When Theo shipped Z to the Marlins last January (along with $15 million) it was never a matter of what the Cubs were getting in return. Rather, the Cubs needed to rid the team of a malcontent in favor of revitalizing the clubhouse culture.
Chris Volstad was the return piece of course, but regardless of how poorly Volstad (3-12, 6.31) was last season the Cubs were no doubt better off distancing themselves from El Toro.
My gut feeling, however, is some team will reach out to Z before spring training. What a mistake that will be.
GUEST POST | Josh Helms
How will the Cubs’ rotation shake out now that the team has seven serviceable starters?
Garza and Samardzija are the only pitchers from the 2012 staff who are assured spots in the starting rotation. And let’s assume newly signed Edwin Jackson (4-years, $52 milliom) will be in the rotation come opening day, as well.
This leaves two starting spots left with four pitchers in the mix: Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva and Travis Wood.
Baker, recovering from TJS, is reportedly scheduled to be ready for full-time duty come spring training. But if we proceed with caution on Baker, that narrows the list down to three pitchers for the final two spots.
Wood holds a slight advantage over the field as the only left-hander, which could very well be enough to make him the No.4 starter. Behind Wood is either Feldman or Villanueva. Neither pitched as full-time starters last season, but both specifically signed with the Cubs in the hopes earning a full-time starting role.
So it’s likely Feldman and Villanueva battle it out this spring for the final rotation spot with the loser headed to a bullpen as a spot starter.
From this perspective the Cubs would break spring camp with the following rotation (not necessarily in this order): 1.Garza, 2.Samardzija, 3.Jackson, 4.Wood…5.Feldman/Villanueva, and 6.Baker as the wild card depending on his recovery.
Meanwhile, the speculation of the Cubs trading Garza is alive and well, but a trade is unlikely until Garza can prove he’s healthy after suffering the elbow injury that ended his season last July.
If that means the Cubs are stuck showcasing Garza for a few months, it’s all the better for the rotation. And as a nice change of pace the Cubs should actually have enough pitching depth to replace Garza with a quality arm (not an ace arm) if he’s dealt.
Potential trades and unforeseen injuries are certain to alter the pitching landscape as we get closer to the regular season. But it’s a reassuring sign the Cubs will be better this year knowing they have more good arms than available rotation spots.
- Josh Helms is a husband and father of two. He has served in the US Army since 2002 and is currently stationed at FT Carson, CO. Josh originally hails from Byron, IL. His favorite player as a child was Ryne Sandberg, and by default, he became a Cubs fan/sufferer.
Happy 29th birthday to Matt Garza!
Will the fiery right-hander celebrate his next birthday as a Cub? It’s hard to say given the Cubs’ decision to hold-off signing Garza to a long-term deal and his pending recovery from a stress reaction in his right elbow.
I don’t have any predictions on whether Garza remains in Chicago. He could be dealt this offseason or next July. Who knows?
I do know quality pitching is hard to find and trading a proven top of the rotation arm like Garza’s would come with plenty of risk. Like any potential trade, it’s largely a matter of what’s coming back in return…
As for the b-day celebrations, Garza shares his birth date with a number of current and former MLB players, most notably:
Chuck Finley – 1962
Harold Reynolds – 1960
Jeff Torborg – 1941
Lefty Gomez (HOF) – 1908
Hugh Duffy (HOF) – 1866
-Jeff Samardzija: (9-13, 3.81). Pitching far better than his record indicates, Shark led the team in starts (28), innings pitched (174.2) and strikeouts (180).
Had it not been for the club’s decision to cut Samardzija’s season short in September it’s likely he would’ve finished the 2012 campaign with 30-starts, close to 200.0 innings pitched and double-digit wins.
In his first full season starting, however, the soon-to-be 28-year-old proved he can be a reliable top-of-the-rotation arm entering his sixth season with Chicago.
Honorable mentions: Matt Garza (5-7, 3.91) and the departed…Ryan Dempster (5-5, 2.25) in 16-starts, Paul Maholm (9-6, 3.74) in 20-starts.
The Baltimore Orioles have made preliminary trade calls on Bryan LaHair according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.
The Cubs would seem inclined to trade LaHair given he’s looked the furthest thing from an All Star hitter since early June.
Although LaHair quickly squashed the notion he wouldn’t hit at the major league level the way he did in the Pacific Coast League, he’s just as quickly failed to prove he can produce consistently over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule.
Consider the following: since June 1 LaHair’s average has dipped 35-points, his OBP is down 44-points, and he hasn’t homered over his last 38 at-bats (July 4).
Furthermore, LaHair has but 10 RBI vs. 47 strikeouts during his last 40 games while continuing to struggle against LHP (.070)–3-for-33, 1 HR, 1 RBI & 26 Ks.
Matt Garza, for heaven’s sake, has two hits against southpaws for a .125 average, and Anthony Rizzo is 7-for-33 against lefties.
MAKING THE ADJUSTMENTS
It’s obvious opposing pitchers have made the necessary adjustments against LaHair since his blazing hot start to the season.
But it begs the question if LaHair is able to make his own adjustments to get back on track?
LaHair, as we know him, has been a late bloomer, which his tenuous minor league career suggest. So it’s not inconceivable to think he could bounce back and finish the year strong given the opportunity.
“Most scouts believe Bryan LaHair has legitimate late-blooming power like Nelson Cruz and Jose Bautista, according to Jim Bowden of ESPN.”
This, however, poses two problems.