After dealing Tom Gorzelanny, the Chicago Cubs are faced with the prospect of having an all right-handed rotation. Some would contend that having a lefty among your five starters (rather than just starting your five best) is a luxury, not a necessity – and a team would be foolish to start a lefty just for the sake of starting a lefty. However, the Cubs seem bent on at least trying to have a lefty in the rotation, hence the bizarre talk of stretching James Russell out to be a starter, in place of an established and successful righty like Randy Wells. But this is our lot as Cubs fans.
Might there be another way? Isn’t there another lefty on the Cubs who could start? Perhaps one who’s shown more effectiveness at the big league level than Russell? Perhaps one who used to be a starter? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Oh yeah. That Sean Marshall guy.
Marshall could [start or relieve], and he’s the perfect team player who is willing to do whatever the Cubs ask. After watching him last season — 2.65 ERA in a career-high 80 games — I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed as a set-up man. With Tom Gorzelanny gone via trade to the Nationals, the Cubs obviously don’t have a lefty in the rotation — yet. They are expected to consider James Russell this spring. He began his pro career in the Minors as a starter. The Cubs could stretch Marshall out this spring, as well. He started nine games as recently as 2009. In 59 career starts, Marshall is 16-26 with a 4.86 ERA; in 155 relief appearances, he has a 2.89 ERA. Grabow, by the way, is healthy and determined to make up for a lost 2010 season. “I’m looking for some redemption,” he said. The other lefty option in the bullpen is Scott Maine. cubs.com.
Of all the prior discussions of Marshall returning to the rotation, this is the only one that even leaves it open as a possibility. Last year, Marshall established himself as one of the best setup pitchers in all of baseball – and he did it in a ton of innings for a reliever (2.65 ERA, 1.112 WHIP, and career-best rate stats, including incredible 10.8 K/9, all in 74.2 innings). The preceding three years, Marshall established himself as decent, but inconsistent, starter (4.86 ERA, 1.434 WHIP), and one who could rarely go more than 5 or 6 innings. Unless Marshall figured something out last year that would allow him to be not only more effective as a starter, but also last longer, I just can’t see moving him to the rotation being the best thing for the Cubs.
Assuming both he and Russell remain in the bullpen, together with John Grabow, the Cubs will have at least three lefties in a seven-man (at most) pen, with a possible fourth in Scott Maine (who pitched well in limited time last year). Would the Cubs actually carry four lefties in the bullpen, particularly where two of the three righties – Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol – are not expected to pitch in the middle innings? Tough to say. There could be a benefit, however, to having so many lefty options when you’ve got a rotation full of right-handers (i.e., switching to a lefty in the 6th or 7th could make for some tough decisions by the opposing manager with respect to his, presumably, lefty-loaded lineup).
Ultimately, let’s hope that the Cubs simply choose to carry the best five pitchers in the rotation, regardless of handedness, and choose to do the same in the bullpen.