February 15, 2013
Friday, February 15
Now that Michael Bourn has signed and Kyle Lohse is somewhat of a lone wolf on the free-agent market, the rumor mill has grown too cold to sustain a daily Roundup. Not to worry, though—to compensate, I am simply going to stretch the meaning of the word “rumor” to include the mélange of spring training stories, from players who are in the best shapes of their lives to position battles and roster decisions, in addition to the Hot Stove’s last gasps.
To that end, today’s Roundup begins in Mesa, Arizona, where the Cubs’ pitchers and catchers have settled for the next month and a half, as second-year manager Dale Sveum and the front-office crew of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer decide their roles.
Cubs crowded rotation picture gets clearer
The list of competitors includes Scott Baker (one year, $5.5 million), Scott Feldman (one year, $6 million), Carlos Villanueva (two years, $10 million), and Travis Wood (acquired from the Reds last offseason), setting aside the likes of Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin, who earned cups of coffee last season but figure to return to the upper minors. Sveum mentioned on Thursday that the Cubs will be patient with Baker, who is still on the mend from the Tommy John surgery that he underwent on April 17, 2012, and if the 31-year-old righty begins the season on the disabled list, then only one more former starter needs to be culled from the Opening Day rotation to bring it down to five.
Assuming that Sveum has his way, Feldman will not be the castoff. The ex-Ranger has worked in a swingman role throughout his major-league career, making at least one start and one relief appearance in each of the past five seasons, but his new manager told Muskat, “He’s going to be one of the starters.” Feldman has not pitched more than 127 2/3 innings during a regular season since 2009, so it remains to be seen whether he has the durability to handle a 30-plus-start workload. For now, though, it appears safe to write him into the number-four slot on the depth chart.
Thus, as Sveum explained, the last spot will come down to Villanueva and Wood, with the latter entering the competition as the favorite. Although Sveum did not give a specific reason for Wood’s early advantage, one possible factor is his left-handedness, which sets him apart from every other pitcher in the running, excluding Raley and Rusin, who struggled mightily in their 2012 cameos. Wood also has made 61 of his 65 career big-league trips to the mound as a starter, whereas Villanueva has considerable experience in the swingman gig for which he is currently ticketed, and only recently began to see significant rotation time with the Blue Jays.