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
Epstein and Hoyer did the adding this winter, but it was Sveum who did the talking in the early days of camp. The skipper told reporters, including MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, that Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija are healthy and locked into Opening Day rotation roles, leaving three vacant spots for a bevy of newcomers. Since Edwin Jackson, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract in December, is also assured of a starting job, the rest of Epstein’s pickups will effectively be fighting over two spots, with a bullpen gig awaiting those who stumble in Cactus League action.
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.
Villanueva’s contract, which calls for a $5 million paycheck this season and next, may seem like a steep investment in a one-win pitcher with an undetermined role, but given the fragility of Chicago’s other starters, he can expect to earn a healthy dose of starting assignments. In addition to Baker’s laundry list of ailments, Feldman is only two years removed from microfracture knee surgery, and Garza missed 69 games with a stress fracture in his throwing elbow last season.
The Cubs can afford to cross the excess-starter bridge when they come to it, because there is a strong chance that they will never reach the river. And, since each of the newcomers can be traded after June 1, in the most-crowded scenario, Epstein will have abundant summertime trade bait with which to continue stocking his farm system.
Lohse “almost certain” to reach deal in coming days
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal kicked off his spring training tour in Glendale, Arizona, where he featured new Dodgers ace Zack Greinke in a column that shed light on his off-the-field baseball acumen. Along the way, Rosenthal mastered the art of burying the lede—within the introduction.
Greinke, perhaps concerned for a fellow free agent that he long ago left in the dust, asked Rosenthal whether Lohse could benefit from waiting until after the First-Year Player Draft to enable teams to sign him without surrendering a high draft pick. The answer to that question was affirmative, and the anecdote shed light on Greinke’s passion for all aspects of the game. More importantly, though, it gave Rosenthal an opportunity to drop this nugget:
That’s big news for Lohse and his agent, Scott Boras, who has already found homes for his other compensated free agents, Rafael Soriano and Michael Bourn. And it comes just two days after the right-hander’s market seemed so dormant that the Nationals were considered a potential suitor on the off chance that Gio Gonzalez might face a suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic.
Unless general manager John Mozeliak was dishonest with reporters, Lohse won’t be back with the Cardinals. He’s not likely to join the Red Sox. He’s drawing little attention from the Angels. And the Brewers are not involved. So, where is Lohse going? If none of the aforementioned teams are quietly operating under the radar, another big surprise could be on the way.