In this Tribune article which is mostly about the contract that Carlos Marmol is expected to sign today, manager Mike Quade is quoted as saying that the decision on an Opening Day starter hasn't yet been made:
Quade said he'll "milk" the Opening Day starter decision between Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza as long as he can.
Personally, I think this start should go to Dempster. He has been consistently solid for the three years he's been in the rotation and has earned the honor. Also, Zambrano often amps himself up too much for an Opening Day start -- he'd probably do better on day two of the season. I think this is one reason Lou Piniella went that way -- Dempster first, Zambrano second -- in the 2008 playoffs. OK, so the series didn't work out. But the choice of starting pitchers, I believe, was correct. Matt Garza is new to the team, and although he's certainly a strong competitor and perhaps even the equal of Demp and Z, an Opening Day start is, in many ways, an honor. That's why I'd choose Dempster.
That probably slots Z second and Garza third. Unless Randy Wells totally botches spring training, he'll likely be the fourth pitcher in the rotation. Even though his overall numbers weren't great last year, once he finally got his head on straight, his last 17 starts produced a 1.34 WHIP and 3.53 ERA, decent enough for a No. 4 starter.
So that leaves the question -- who's No. 5? There are at least nine candidates, and who knows whether some dark horse might not come out of spring training and win this role. After the jump, the candidates. You can also vote in the poll and leave your own comments.
These are in alphabetical order.
Christopher Carpenter: not the Cardinals starter, this Carpenter is a top Cubs prospect. He's also pitched only three games above Double-A; though he has talent, he is likely ticketed for the Iowa rotation this year.
Andrew Cashner: here's the real wild card. Cashner was being groomed for the rotation throughout his minor league tenure -- he made only four relief appearances and 39 starts before being called up last May to the major league bullpen. Outside of two major meltdowns when he allowed six runs in an inning or less, he was quite solid in relief. With the reacquisition of Kerry Wood to take a setup role behind Marmol, Cashner will get a shot at starting. He might be the dark horse candidate to take this slot, even though he did not start after being recalled last year.
Casey Coleman: Coleman had a shaky debut in relief on August 2 against the Brewers. But once he was placed in the rotation on August 18, he posted a 3.33 ERA and allowed only three HR in 48.2 innings, going at least six innings in seven of his eight starts. He's kind of a poor man's Wells: he doesn't have great velocity, but knows how to locate his pitches and doesn't give up the long ball. He's also still young -- won't turn 24 until July.
Thomas Diamond: No. Just no. Diamond was once a top prospect of the Rangers. He struck out 10 in his major league debut as a starter last August -- the only Cub besides Mark Prior who had ever done that (since 1920). But he was pretty awful the rest of the way and he'll be 28 in April, no longer a prospect.
Braden Looper: Looper did not pitch at all last year and in 2009, was one of the worst starters in the National League for the Brewers, allowing a ghastly 39 home runs. He's 36 and like Wellemeyer, is in camp to show if he's got anything left. He probably doesn't, but again, he could wind up starting at Iowa. If not, he'll likely just be released.
James Russell: with the trade of Tom Gorzelanny to the Nationals, the Cubs have no lefthanded starters, which led Quade to say that Russell might get a shot at the rotation. This, in my opinion, would be one of those things that qualifies as a Really Bad Idea. Russell hasn't been a fulltime starter since his 2008 minor league season, and he was pretty bad at that (1.45 WHIP, 5.44 ERA). He's more useful as a LOOGY.
Jeff Samardzija: the Cubs are paying him $2 million on the final year of a five-year deal signed after he was drafted. He's been kind of jerked around between the major league bullpen, major league rotation and Iowa the last two years; it's hard to get consistency out of that. He is out of options, but it is unlikely anyone would claim him if he's waived with that salary, so if he doesn't make the major league rotation this year, he'll likely find himself back at Iowa again. The Shark has talent, but has never been able to consistently throw a third pitch which would allow him to go deep into games.
Carlos Silva: Silva surprised virtually everyone in baseball by going 8-0 with an ERA in the low three's to start the 2010 season, and nearly pitched his way on to the All-Star team. After that, though, he developed arm trouble and then a heart problem, and posted an atrocious 11.12 ERA after the All-Star break in four starts, and pitched only once after August 1. The Cubs are paying him about $6 million this year, so he'll get every chance to win this position.
Todd Wellemeyer: since he was traded away by the Cubs at the end of spring training 2006 for two minor leaguers who never made it, Wellemeyer's baseball odyssey has taken him through Florida, Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Memphis, Fresno and San Francisco. He had a decent year starting for the Cardinals in 2008, but was pretty bad in 2009 and 2010. This is a "see if he's got anything left" signing -- if he does, he's probably headed to Iowa to be an injury-replacement starter.