Now that we’re just about a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, let’s take a look at the Chicago Cubs pitching staff. With the departure of Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies, the Cubs have the 5th slot in the rotation open for competition.
The front-runners are believed to be either lefty Sean Marshall or right Chad Gaudin. The Cubs would love to keep Marshall in the bullpen as the 2nd left-handed reliever to go with Neal Cotts, but he is still going to get a good look as a starter. Marshall made 24 starts during the 2006 MLB season and 19 starts during the 2007 MLB season. He made 34 appearances during the 2008 MLB season, including 7 starts. Marshall has reduced his ERA and WHIP in each of his last 2 MLB seasons.
Chad Gaudin pitched mainly out of the bullpen for the Cubs and A’s in 2008, although he did make 6 starts for the A’s at the beginning of the season. Back problems limited his effectiveness with the Cubs down the stretch, as his ERA ballooned to 6.26 and his WHIP sky-rocketed to 1.43 after a string of several good appearances in August right after he was acquired by the Cubs. During the 2007 MLB season, Gaudin was exclusively a starter – making 34 starts for the A’s. Gaudin went 11-13 with a 4.42 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. He struck out 154 batters and walked 100 batters in 199 1/3 innings pitched. Assuming he can rehab properly from his back issues, it is clear that Gaudin has what it takes to be an effective starter in the big leagues.
Two other options are Jeff Samardzija and Angel Guzman. Samardzija erupted on the scene during the middle of the 2008 MLB season and became one of the Cubs most dependable relievers during July and August. His numbers dipped in September, but he still ended up with decent numbers – 26 games, 27 1/3 innings pitched, 2.28 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 25 strikeouts. He was 1-0 with 1 save. Guzman made 6 appearances for the Cubs during the course of the 2008 MLB season, but was largely ineffective. It is believed that Samardzija will remain in the bullpen as a set-up man to new closer Carlos Marmol, while Guzman will return to the minor leagues for additional work.
One wild card is the Cubs pursuit of a 5th starter via trade or free agency. The Padres Jake Peavy is also an enticing commodity, but it is unclear if Jim Hendry and Kevin Towers have what it takes to re-open discussions for the Padres ace. Hendry has also been rumored to like Randy Wolf, a free agent who made 33 starts with the Houston Astros during the 2008 MLB season. Wolf pitched 190 1/3 innings, going 12-12 with a 4.30 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. Wolf would make a nice end of the rotation starter, and give the Cubs the flexibility to keep Marshall in the bullpen for one more year. It will be interesting to see if Hendry can work some magic to acquire either Peavy or Wolf this off-season. If he did, that would relegate Gaudin and Marshall back into the pen.
In any event, the Cubs have the luxury of being patient this off-season. They have depth with several pitchers that can pitch on the big level. They also have 4 solid top of the rotation starters in Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden. It should be another exciting 2009 MLB season at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.