It’s been hinted at for weeks, and, if you’ve been paying attention to Spring Training, you won’t be terribly surprised to learn that Jeff Samardzija is now a near lock to win a spot in the Chicago Cubs’ otherwise very crowded rotation.

If you hadn’t been paying attention to Spring Training, however, you probably would be shocked at hearing manager Dale Sveum say things like this:

“Obviously, that lock’s getting a little closer and closer to being finalized,” Sveum said about Samardzija making the rotation. “It’s impressive and it’s what organizations dream of – a 6-foot-6, 240-pound athlete on the mound who has four pitches with velocity. It’s impressive, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t think he’s doing anything we didn’t expect. The way he finished throwing the ball the last season, the mechanical changes he made, the confidence he gained. Now it’s just full force right now.”

As Sveum suggests, Samardzija has done nothing this Spring to disabuse folks of the notion that he could surprise and be a quality starter this year. He’s given up just three runs in 10 Spring innings, just six hits, no walks, and struck out nine. It’s been a brilliant Spring, but let’s re-emphasize a part of that line: 10 innings.

While it is accurate to say that Samardzija’s Spring has done nothing to make anyone think he can’t be a good starter, we’re talking about an exceedingly small sample size. Still, Sveum and the coaching staff have been watching Samardzija work for months, and the decision is not being made on those numbers, alone.

If Samardzija nails down that number four spot in the rotation – behind Garza, Dempster, and Maholm – the Cubs will be left choosing from Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, and Travis Wood (and, technically, Rodrigo Lopez and Casey Coleman) for the final spot. Wood has pitched poorly this Spring, and, since he’s freely optionable to AAA Iowa, he’ll probably start the year there. Volstad and Wells each have pitched superbly this Spring, and each has prior big league success. Volstad is four years younger than Wells, though both are in their first year of arbitration. I’ve got a suspicion that Volstad is the guy as of right now, with Wells headed to the pen or out the door in a trade. That could change by next week, of course.

  • CubFan Paul

    Good to see you’re not talking up Wells for that 5th spot

    • Brett

      I wouldn’t complain if he got it, and I’m not necessarily saying I wouldn’t choose him (ok, I probably wouldn’t). I’m just saying I have a feeling it’s going to be Volstad.

      • pfk

        Given that there will most certainly be injuries, Wells is a good man to have around as opposed to trade. A solid sixth starter is a must.

        • Brett

          Very true … but, the thing is, Wells’ value to other teams as a 4/5 could be far, far higher than his value to the Cubs as a 6. When/if that happens, you have to make a deal.

          • Papi

            There are only a half-dozen teams Wells would be a 4-starter

            • Brett

              I bet I could come up with seven…

              • Papi

                Please do list, in order of likelihood on this Manning-Tebow fillied sports day…

  • MichiganGoat

    The real test is when Samardzja goes through a lineup three times. His first couple regular season starts will be closely watched.

    • Brett

      Bingo. I think he can get a guy out easily the first time he sees him. But when he has to bust out pitches three and four? We shall see.

      • cubfanincardinalland

        He’s always had the velocity and the pitches, what held him back was the control. Here’s hoping that the light has gone on like many other great starters when they hit his age level. If he can paint the corners and keep it down, he has as good as stuff as any starter in the league.

        • Brett

          Control was definitely his biggest problem, but I’m not sure that he’s always had more than two decent pitches (and, indeed, before last year, I’m not sure he had more than one (a good fastball)). You can hide that very well in the bullpen (Carlos Marmol), but you get eaten alive as a starting pitcher in innings three through six.

          I really like the idea of Samardzija becoming a successful starter, because, with his build and overall stuff, he could be a very good one. I’m just keeping my hopes in check a bit until I see him consistently keeping the Cubs in the game into the sixth inning.

        • MightyBear

          Absolutely correct.

    • WGNstatic

      The pregame on WGN on Saturday featured Keith Moreland interviewing Rick Sutcliffe.

      They talked about Shark at length, particularly his getting past the “football mentality”. They talked about how he had been always operating at 100% intensity, and how his big stride has been to dial that back a notch. One example Sutcliffe talked about was precisely saving your best pitches for later in the game. I think the example they used was 2 outs, nobody on, 2 strikes on the #3 hitter in the first inning. As a reliever, in say the 7th or 8th, you bring out your best pitch and go for the K in that position, and hit the showers. As a starter, you put that pitch in your back pocket and go with a lesser pitch.

      It was quite interesting. Of course it will be interesting to see how he actually applies these lessons in the regular season, but it seems pretty clear that this is exactly what he has been working on.

    • die hard

      Right…I dont think he can get thru even twice unless develops change up that is 15mph slower than fast ball

  • Stinky Pete

    Does Philly still need a #5 pitcher? I haven’t looked. Could Wells be part of a deal with a 2nd baseman?

    • Brett

      They don’t really need one, though Wells would arguably be an upgrade over Blanton (Halladay/Lee/Hamels/Worley are the front four). Still, the Phillies have been trying to move Blanton because they want to put Kyle Kendrick in the rotation.

  • Spencer

    Sveum hasn’t announced the opening day starter yet, right?

    • Brett

      Correct. Decision coming any day now.

  • JulioZuleta

    Does Wood still have an option?

    • Brett


      • JulioZuleta

        Iowa is going to be fun, escpecially until Jackson and Rizzo get promoted. Rizzo, Jackson, Vitters, Cardenas, Amezaga, Campana, Clevenger, Wood, maybe Wells, Casey Coleman, Cabrera, and all the relievers. I’ll have to make a trip in May

        • JulioZuleta

          I should say Clevenger or Castillo.

        • Smitty

          I agree. I plan on heading to Des Moines for several games and catching them when the come through Omaha.

  • Mike Taylor

    Phillies just released Joel Piniero, but you’ve got to believe that we’re going to keep Wells around in case Samardzija in a starting role doesn’t pan out. If we ship any pitcher over to Philly with a 2B, it would have to be someone we’re already going to release. It would make sense to come up with a trade soon.

  • Mike Foster

    Seems to me I remember Theo saying things like “…you need to know who your 7, 8 and 9 pitchers are going to be.” So to me, unless we have a meltdown somewhere that MUST be addressed this year or another team is in a MUST have pitcher situation and is willing to trade crazy, I think Wells stays. But then, that’s prolly what you meant?

    • Cheryl Price

      Wells is still a likely trade. If he doesn’t make the rotation can’t see him in the bullpen. As for Philly, its either DeWitt or Barney that would make sense for them. Both have major league experience. And, if we could get a solid prospect or two it might make the most sense for the Cubs. You can’t trade for a draft spot can you in the new rules? If that were a possibility I’d go that route.

      • Luke

        You can, sort of.

        The competitive balance picks (6 each after the first and second rounds) can be traded.  But only those picks.  And if I recall correctly, they can only be traded between the start of the season and the amateur draft, and they only come with 50% of the draft budget would be associated with that pick normally.


    • Brett

      Yes, that’s pretty much what I meant.

  • cubsin

    Depth matters. If the rotation on Opening Day is Garza, Dempster, Maholm, Samardzija and Volstad, our “depth” behind them is Wells, period. Rodrigo Lopez looks like our 7th-best starter, and he’d absolutely kill our very thin bullpen. I’d rank the other contenders as McNutt, Wood, Rhee, Coleman and Sonnenstine, in that order.

    Trading Wells now makes no sense to me. For one thing, it would almost eliminate any chance of trading Garza for a boatload of prospects at the trade deadline. I can’t imagine Wells value is high enough to justify trading him now.

    • Cheryl Price

      Don’t forget Wells was injured last year. He may not be a reliable starter if he has any lingering problems.

    • Brett

      Wells’ value to other teams is precisely the question. Given his injury-excused 2011, and his top 25 performances in 2009 and 2010, I could see scenarios where his value to other teams is too high for the Cubs to pass up a trade, depth be damned (and it wouldn’t really be damned, with Wood, Lopez, Sonnanstine, Coleman and others around – not every team can afford to have a guy like Wells as their number 6).

      But, I don’t know if I see that happening. I’d be surprised if Wells doesn’t start the year in the bullpen (if he doesn’t make the rotation).

      • CubFan Paul

        not every team can afford to have a guy like Wells as their number 6

        Neither can the Cubs, Wells is gone within two weeks ..people forgot his salary JUMPED up to $2.7M

    • Luke

      Assuming Samardzija and Volstead around out the starting five and Wells is dealt, the Cubs would still have, roughly in order:

      T. Wood, Coleman, J. Jackson, Lopez, Sonnanstine, Rusin, Searle, and probably Struck.  Without Wells, the Cubs have 8 emergency starters before we even get to McNutt.  With the exception of Lopez and Sannanstine, I’d no objection to any one of those guys pitching in the majors for six weeks or longer, if necessary… and I might be wrong about Sonnanstine.


      • Brett

        VolsTAD!!!! :)

        • hardtop

          dude, he did it intentionally: It’s vol-STEAD. like the work horse we hope he will be!
          climb up on my big assed stead, and ride, ride, ride, ride.

          • Brian

            Wouldn’t that be Steed?

            • hardtop

              dammit, i ruined a perfectly fine joke by demonstrating my terrible spelling and reading comprehension skills. how embarrassing.

              In that case, I’m with Brett: get it right Luke, its Volstad… damn dude!

        • DocWimsey

          I’ll drink to that…..

          • ferrets_bueller

            The joke that keeps on giving! I’m glad someone is always around to act on it.

        • Luke

          If I managed to learn how to spell Samardzija, Szczur, Klafczynzki, Bibens-Dirkx, and the difference between Welington and Willengton (Castillo and Cruz, respectively), I’ll probably get Volstad eventually.

          By then it will no doubt be June, and the Cubs will have a whole new mess of finger-manglers to throw at me.

          • bob

            Maybe we could get Saltalamacchia to catch?????

          • Mike Foster

            Oh man, you’re making me miss Harry….wouda loved hearing him pronounce those….

  • Jeremy

    Volstad and Shark as the four aand five would be solid in my opinion.

  • Robert

    Brett, You think Jeff will get the #4 spot and not the 5th?

    • Brett

      Oh, I don’t know – I don’t think the actual difference between being the 4th or 5th starter really matters.

      • Robert

        Oh but it does 😀 Remember 75 bucks of cubbies merchandise 😉

        • Brett


  • Edwin

    I still don’t see how Wells doesn’t make the rotation. He’s easily the best pitcher of those competing for a spot. Unless there are concerns about his recovery from his injury, he should be the 4th starter.

    • ferrets_bueller

      His ceiling is as a 5, maybe 4. Samardizja and Volstad both have the potential to be 2’s.

  • CubFanInNebraska

    Why waste Wells in the rotation though? Assuming someone gets injured, which will almost certainly happen, then he’s not stretched out and we’re grabbing a guy from Iowa to come up when we’ve got our “sixth” starter already?

  • Deer

    How much would it cost to get rid of Dempster? He’s the guy that doesn’t fit.

    • cubfanincardinalland

      This was my thought this spring also. Dempster worries me big time. He was lousy the first two months last year. Wells was a swing man for a couple years in Iowa. He is from my home town, and his brother told me his forearm is 100% better this year. You just don’t give away guys that can give you 150 innings plus.

  • Andrewmoore4isu

    Just patting myself of the back for predicting this rotation of shark as Volstad. $10 says Lopez is the first person to step in for Paul when he gets injured. I don’t know who will be long term for garza when he’s traded though. I’ll ask the 8 ball later.

  • DocWimsey

    “…we’re talking about an exceedingly small sample size. ”

    Hey Brett: it’s great that you constantly remind readers of this. I have come to think that you can never state this too often.

    • Brett

      Given the lack of real games over which to obsess, it can be very easy to put too much into the only stats we have to play with.

    • cubfanincardinalland

      I’m ok with saying that as long as it’s not my wife telling me that.

      • DocWimsey

        Hmmm, I always preferred my significant others to keep their sample size to 1 while we were involved…..


  • brittney

    I love that jeff has improved but the rangers figured him out the 2nd time around and that’s when the put large numbers on the board. I’m afraid the rest of the teams will do the same, figuring him out on the 2nd time thru the line up. Granted he’s improved greatly and he did develop another pitch but I think the trend will be the first 3-4 innings he will be solid then the teams will knock him around following the first few innings. I hope volsted gets the other spot. I was rooting for wood tho

  • Jay Anderson Jr

    Volstad has been impressive, but I still prefer Wells. I’m afraid of this “small sample size”, so give me Wells. I think he’s more proven.

  • MichCubFan

    I think we will hang on to Wells unless there is another starter we can pick up. If Samardzija and Volstad go down, we don’t want to see a repeat of last year’s fiasco when Wells and Cashner went down.

    I do like Coleman for what he is so far, and Travis Wood will probably be fine…but Wells just gives us a little more quality depth.

    I also don’t mind a guy like him in the swing roll because if a guy goes out, doesn’t have it and should be taken out in the second inning, then we have a quality pitcher to go a few extra innings.

    But then of course, if we can get a good deal for him i would think about it…