Buried in Gordon Wittenmyer's article in this morning's Sun-Times, ostensibly about how the Cubs do or don't miss Kerry Wood, are these very good clues about exactly who will and won't be in the 2009 bullpen, after expected closer Carlos Marmol:
Kevin Gregg, who has impressed with his fastball and command as he gains strength after a knee injury last year, is the other certain late-inning reliever. Fifth-starter combatants Jeff Samardzija and Aaron Heilman are in the mix for the two other setup jobs Piniella wants to fill, along with hard-throwing Angel Guzman and young Kevin Hart.
Neal Cotts, who pitched out of a seventh-inning jam Tuesday against Oakland, might wind up the only left-hander in the pen. Chad Gaudin probably will be there, too, as a middle reliever and/or spot starter. Piniella said Luis Vizcaino, who threw a 1-2-3 sixth Tuesday, fits in middle relief, and he said he has been impressed by prospect Marcos Mateo, while calling lefty prospect Jason Waddell "interesting."
Not only does that represent massive turnover of a 97-win team's bullpen, but do the math: That's 11 names for seven spots.
OK, let's do the math, presuming there are seven spots: Gregg, Marmol, Heilman, Cotts and Gaudin are locks, either because they're good at what they do, lefthanded, or having been acquired in high-profile trades. Essentially, that leaves six pitchers for the other two spots.
Mateo -- brother of former Cub Juan Mateo, and who was acquired from the Reds as the PTBNL -- hasn't pitched above A ball yet. He may have talent, but Double-A is his likely destination. Waddell spent eight years in the Giants organization without ever moving above Double-A, so "interesting" to Lou or not, his best-case scenario probably has him at Iowa. Samardzija is probably being stretched out to start (he'll start the game against the White Sox at Las Vegas tonight), so he's probably also headed to Iowa, given how well Sean Marshall has thrown and how he's changed his approach to increase his chances of being a full-time starter this spring.
So that, essentially, leaves three pitchers for two spots -- Vizcaino, Guzman and Hart. Vizcaino has a contract that the Cubs had to take in exchange for Jason Marquis, so he might have a leg up on one of the slots -- unless the Cubs can flip that deal somewhere before the end of spring training. That leaves Guzman and Hart for the final spot. (Hey, Gordo: Hart isn't "young" -- he's 26.)
Despite Guzman's bad outing over the weekend, I'd like to see him get it. He could, assuming Marmol eventually winds up with the closer spot, become what Marmol was to Kerry Wood last year. I like Guzman's arm and now that he's no longer a starter, similar to Wood, that ought to take stress off his arm and he can stay healthy. Touted as "the next Zambrano" after an outstanding 2002 season, Guzman spent much of the next five years on the DL. He's 27, and I think now is his time.
So that, really, nails down all 12 spots on the pitching staff. The only real decision is whether that 12th spot is even needed for the first few weeks; the problem is, if Guzman is the 12th guy, he is out of options (Hart isn't), and might wind up having to be kept for that reason alone. The only question mark left for the 25-man roster is likely the last bench spot; current competitors are Micah Hoffpauir, Jake Fox and non-rostered Corey Koskie, who won't be in a Cub uniform until Canada finishes its participation in the WBC.
It's nice to have this kind of depth, isn't it? I haven't even mentioned guys like Jose Ascanio, Randy Wells and Rule 5 guy David Patton, who will likely wind up being returned to the Rockies. That will make the Iowa staff a good one and provide plenty of reinforcements in case of injury.