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jake arrietaPresumed Chicago Cubs fifth starter Jake Arrieta is going to start the season on the disabled list after dealing with some shoulder stiffness in the offseason, and having his season ramp-up slightly delayed. This has been the expectation for some time, but it now finally sounds like Arrieta is ready to concede it. As he tells Patrick Mooney, Arrieta is preparing to miss the first week or two of the season as he builds up arm strength.

The good news is that Arrieta threw live BP yesterday, and pitching coach Chris Bosio said he couldn’t have been more pleased by it. Hopefully Arrieta continues to feel good after his throwing sessions, and he does indeed return after missing just a start or two at the outset of the season. Gotta take the long-view with Arrieta – missing a couple starts is really not a big deal.

In the meantime, that means the Cubs are going to have to decide on a fifth starter for those one or two missed Arrieta starts. Who gets the nod? Well, it’s still unclear.

The Candidates:

Chris Rusin – A kind of fill-in starter in each of the past two years, Rusin is a guy who could have a nice little big league career as a back-end starter. In that respect, he seems like the obvious choice here. Further, he’s had a couple great outings back-to-back (though his Spring stats in the aggregate are pretty meh: 5.40 ERA over 11.2 innings, 5 K, 3 BB). The problem for the 27-year-old Rusin is that he’s got minor league options left. In other words, unlike the three other primary competitors here, Rusin can be freely sent to Iowa at the end of Spring Training, without any kind of risk of losing him for nothing. Yes, if he’s clearly the best option, you don’t necessarily let that make the decision for you, but we can’t act like it isn’t a part of the calculous. Since it’s just a couple starts, and since the actual output difference between Rusin and one of the other options might be pretty low over so few innings, I have a hard time justifying dumping a guy the Cubs might otherwise want to keep just so that they can give these one or two starts to Rusin. Instead, I think it’s likely that Rusin heads to Iowa until there’s a more long-term opening in the rotation, assuming he stays healthy and productive at Iowa (of course, even then, he could wind up competing with guys like Kyle Hendricks, Eric Jokisch, Carlos Pimentel, and Neil Ramirez, among others).

Carlos Villanueva – A fantastic swing-man, Villanueva was in this position last year when he stepped in to the Cubs’ rotation to fill in for, well, pick your injured Cubs starter of choice. On the Spring, Villanueva has an ERA near 6 over 7.2 innings, which, like, whatever. That was never going to be the deciding factor for Villanueva. Instead, he’s got at least three things going for him: (1) He’s done this job before, successfully; (2) he’s going to make the roster no matter what, so there are no extra machinations required to get him into the rotation; and (3) if he winds up starting longer-term in the first half, he could add to his potential trade value. On that third one, I tend to think Villanueva’s value is what it is at this point: he’s a great swing-guy on a very reasonable contract (he makes $5 million this year before reaching free agency). Villanueva is the safest option to fill in for Arrieta at this point.

James McDonald – The surprise starter the Cubs brought in on a Major League deal (only $1 million, though), in part because of the Arrieta injury. In that way, it seems like McDonald should be the favorite. His Spring performance has been ugly, but the number won’t decide his fate so much as what the coaching staff thinks about his stuff (which we haven’t really gotten much of a read on just yet). In McDonald’s corner, he’s actually got quite a bit going for him: (1) He’s always had good, raw stuff, and was lights out in the first half of 2012; (2) the shoulder issues, if they’re behind him, could provide a plausible explanation for the rapid downward spiral over the past year and a half; (3) he’s got a big league contract, making it slightly more painful to let him go (and if he turns things around, the Cubs would have him for another year of arbitration after this year); and (4) he’s the kind of guy who could develop meaningful flip value if he stuck in the rotation and pitched very well through July.

Tsuyoshi Wada – Probably the final competitor at this point, like McDonald, Wada’s Spring numbers have been awful. Wada was a well-liked lefty coming out of Japan a couple years ago when he was bit by the Tommy John bug, and never wound up throwing a big league pitch for the Orioles. He did pitch well at AAA last year, particularly at the end of the year, and if he’s fully healthy now, there’s reason to believe he could be a big league caliber starter. The Cubs have him on a minor league deal, so that’s probably working against him (insofar as the Cubs can stash him, rather than putting him on the roster, which would require opening up a 40-man roster spot). As with McDonald, there’s some theoretical flip value – or keep value – but it’s harder to gauge, since he’s never pitched in the big leagues.

  • Edwin

    Either Rusin or Villaneuva seems like a decent shot. I don’t really expect much from either one anyways.

    • snakdad

      Villaneuva is over exposed when he starts, but if all you’re looking for is a five innings for a couple of starts no reason to mess up the 40 man roster or do anything else too complicated. This is the reason the guy is making 5 mil in the first place (which I find mystifying but whatever).

  • CubFan Paul

    Whats Wada’s velocity been like?

    • Fishin Phil

      Approximately 35 mph.

      • CubFan Paul

        You mean kilometers?

        • C. Steadman

          then thats even worse and he’s throwing 22mph…

      • Blackhawks1963

        With a 35 MPH tailwind working to his benefit.

    • Coop

      I don’t know about his velocity, but he sure didn’t pass the eye test on Saturday in Las Vegas. The Mets were teeing off on him.

      • CubFan Paul

        A gun on the Spring broadcasts would be nice.

        • Jon

          I know the product on the field is bad, but come on cheer up, it will get better some day!

  • Diehardthefirst

    With Corbin out for the year maybe loser of that battle could be dealt to DBacks?

    • brickhouse

      Dbacks have better options internally than trading for the Cubs leftovers

      • Diehardthefirst

        Name 2 of the interns

        • CubFan Paul

          Randal Delgado

        • C. Steadman

          Off the top of my head, Randall Delgado is better than those options.

          • C. Steadman

            They also have NRI Daniel Hudson who provides the same value to them as Wada does the Cubs.

      • Blackhawks1963

        Archie Bradley, your table is ready.

        • C. Steadman

          Exactly, they can use Delgado to bridge the gap until Bradley is reading to tear shit up.

  • Noah_I

    If Arrieta is just going to miss a couple of weeks, I’d rather not flip Villanueva from starter to bullpen so quickly. It’ll be 2-3 starts, let Rusin, McDonald or Wada make them.

  • Blackhawks1963

    Rusin isn’t a major league grade pitcher. I’d let Villenueva bridge the gap. Sounds like the McDonald experiment isn’t going to work too well. Oh well.

    Rotation….Samardzija, Wood, Jackson, Hammel, Villenueva
    Pen….Veres, Strop, Russell, Wright, McDonald, Rondon, Cabrera
    DL…Arrieta
    Iowa…Hendricks, Grimm, Parker

    • Lou Brown

      Yeah with Villanueva bridging the gap, you can get an extra look at Cabrera, Rondon, and Parker in the pen. Give you some live data before making the call on who to send down when Arrietta is ready.

    • Jason P

      Why are we keeping McDonald and dumping Parker?

      • Fishin Phil

        We aren’t, Blackhawk is.

        • Darth Ivy

          now I know where your profile picture comes from. Hilarious!

          • C. Steadman

            Somebody watched Jeff Dunham last night.

            • Fishin Phil

              He’s a hack, I’m the real talent in that show.

  • J. L.

    Wasn’t McDonald’s contract non-guaranteed?

  • Blackhawks1963

    All these big time pitching injuries around baseball reinforce why I like the TheoJedJason draft approach with top picks. Pitcher’s are notorious for breaking down, so might as well focus on waves and waves of pitching in the draft, but NOT necessarily use a top 10 type pick on a pitcher.

    • Darth Ivy

      pitching pitching pitching…..wait,….(hitting) power power power? interesting.

      • Blackhawks1963

        Reading is fundamental.

        Pitching is KING in baseball. And there is no such thing as at team having too much good pitching. But using a high first round pick on a pitcher is not something that I’m wild about, and apparently TheoJedJason agree with me on that.

        Waves and waves of pitching baby.

        • Noah_I

          I would say that it appears that if the Cubs have a hitter and pitcher graded equally (from everything I heard they graded Bryant and Gray essentially equally), they’ll veer towards the less risky option with the hitter. I do have a feeling, though, that had Appel fallen to the Cubs at 2 they would have been more likely to take Appel over Bryant than when their choice was Bryant or Gray.

          • Darth Ivy

            my thoughts exactly

          • ssckelley

            That might be true but Appel is a little closer to a sure thing than a normal pitcher. The minimum projections has him as a middle of the rotation pitcher. I would take that all day long with a #1 draft pick. But remember the FO did pass on what many said had the best arm in the draft in Gray in favor of the top position player.

        • Darth Ivy

          oh, good. Pitching pitching pitching. Now I feel better.

          But seriously, I knew the point you were making.

  • Darth Ivy

    since it’s only going to be one or two starts, is it worth going with the guy who is easiest to move around, not the best guy?

  • WernerT

    Curious about Pintimal (I just completely butchered that name). Is he considered a starter or reliever? Is he not in the running because he’s too young? Yeah, I’ve only been able to watch a few of the ST games but he just jumped out at me. Looked huge and had a nice outing. Anyway, just wondering.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      He’s already been cut from big league camp, so that pretty much ended it right there. He’s just a prospect at this point – is 24 and hasn’t pitched above AA (except for something like 11 innings). He’s definitely a guy to follow, though.

      • ssckelley

        oops….a little echo going on. :D

    • ssckelley

      Carlos Pimentel is becoming one of my favorite dumpster dives this off season. He has worked out of a couple of tough jams this spring and lately has been shutting everyone down. He probably starts the year in the rotation at Iowa but I can see him being one of the first to get called up in June. He has been in the Rangers minor league system for a while but he signed when he was 17 and is still only 24.

  • willis

    McDonald probably has a start or two left to try and prove he belongs and he can harness his stuff. Spring training stats, as we’ve all talked about we can’t dive too deep into them, but with his injury history AND his potential…I think he’s one to take the stats a little more serious than others.

    I think it has to be Villanueva at this point. We know he can do it, and he can be somewhat effective. If it’s 3-4 starts, he’ll be fine. Then he can be Arrieta’s piggy back as Arrieta builds his stamina.

  • ruby2626

    Kyle Hendricks looked good on Saturday, if he continues to prove that his first 2 outings were just a case of the jitters then I say give him a shot with the understanding he’ll be back in AAA when Arrieta returns. Cubs really need to do something to pump up the excitement level, until Baez comes up this team is looking incredibly dull to even watch. I was hoping Olt would inject some life but other than the one great game he has not looked like a major league most of the time and if certain to be sent down.

    Off topic, anyone else think Junior Lake is headed to AAA unless he wakes up rather quickly.

    • brickhouse

      Hendricks has already been optioned to minor league camp so he is out of the running for the 5th starter spot. Agree that Olt is striking out at an alarming rate and the 1 game has fooled a lot of posters. Lake should still be a lock to make the team.

    • cub4life

      from what Brett said he was already sent down either sat or sun. Plus you don’t want to start him up just yet when he is going down anyways. let him beat up on the AAA and force the big league team to use him.

  • cub4life

    I think it will end up with either McDonald or Villenueva for those 2-3 starts. with that being said the rotation looks like

    SP – Shark, Wood, Jackson, Hammel?, McDonald/Villenueva
    CL – Veras
    RP – Russel, Strop, Wright, Cabrera? (no more options) McDonald/Villenueva, Parker? Grimm?

    still confused by the pen

    Pos – Castillo, Rizzo, Barney, Castro, Olt? Schieholtz, Lake, Sweeney

    Bench – Valbuena, Murphy? Kottaras, Ruggiano

    DL – Arrietta, Fujikawa

    Does this sound about right?

    • willis

      I would remove Olt, add Bonafacio and Kalish.

      The pitching name I’d maybe add is Rondon, but he has been brutal this Spring. So who knows if he makes it.

      • cub4life

        I’m not sold on Rondon yet, still needs some minor league work. But yes i think Bonafacio will make it but not sure about Kalish (even though i like him for beyond). Now saying that I do believe Olt will make the team out of ST, so that would mean sending Grimm down (from what I show above) unless there is a trade.

        • willis

          The only thing about Rondon (someone correct me if I’m wrong) is that he can refuse an assignment to Iowa and become a FA…so does the front office want to deal with that gamble? I don’t think he’s very good and that he needs some minor league time for sure. But they may put him on just to avoid the chance of losing him.

          • C. Steadman

            That’s outright assignment(removing him from the 40-man and sending him to the minors), Rondon still can be optioned while keeping him on the 40-man.

            • C. Steadman
            • willis

              Yeah, that’s it. And if that’s the case then I don’t think there is any reason for him to start in Chicago.

              • C. Steadman

                Agreed, I’d rather have Parker(the oddman out on alot of bullpen lists on this site) than Rondon at this moment

                • cub4life

                  Agree completely, keep Parker and send Rondon to AAA

  • Mreverything

    I have always thought that Arrietta is a key to Cubs future in 2014 and beyond. With him only missing two or three starts and pitching like he did for the most part in 2013 this team could win 75 games.

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