Cubs consider options for fifth starter
Peavy likely staying in SD; Marshall leads in-house candidates
CHICAGO -- With Jason Marquis' departure, the Cubs now are looking for a fifth starter. Although general manager Jim Hendry says he's open to anything, which has rekindled the Jake Peavy rumors, the Cubs may stay in-house.
That could be good news for Sean Marshall.
Marshall, 26, leads the list of candidates for the vacancy in the rotation, created when the Cubs dealt Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for right-handed reliever Luis Vizcaino. Marshall worked primarily out of the bullpen last season, posting a 3-5 record and 3.86 ERA. In seven starts, he had a 4.15 ERA, while he compiled a 3.42 ERA in his 27 relief appearances. He has hinted that he prefers starting.
"When I was coming out of the bullpen, I didn't have the chance to throw a lot of pitches and be able to repeat the same delivery and mechanics," Marshall said prior to an early September start when he was subbing for Carlos Zambrano. "When you start, you have a chance to throw 100, 120 pitches, and you can repeat your delivery and fine-tune stuff. The couple starts I've had have helped me stretch my arm out."
As of now, Marshall is the only other left-handed option for the Cubs' bullpen, joining Neal Cotts. Believed to be one of the key players the San Diego Padres wanted in exchange for Peavy, Marshall gives the team valuable flexibility. What has impressed the Cubs even more than Marshall's sweeping curve was that he never complained about his constantly changing role.
"He proved to us last year that in whatever role we put him in, and as tough as we made it on him -- sending him out, sending him back, relief, start -- he did a quality job in whatever job he was in," Hendry said. "Sooner or later, you'd like to reward that, too."
As for Peavy, Padres general manager Sandy Alderson told SI.com on Wednesday that "at this point, the likelihood is that [Peavy] will be with us on Opening Day." Whether or not the Cubs open up discussions again most likely cannot be resolved until the team settles its ownership issues.
All Hendry will say regarding adding another arm is: "We are still going to look into some possibilities."
So, here are some of the Cubs' in-house candidates who, along with Marshall, will compete for the opening in the rotation:
Jeff Samardzija: The right-hander was 1-0 in 26 appearances with a 2.28 ERA, pitching only in relief last season. He began the year at Double-A Tennessee, but was called up to the big leagues in late July and wasn't fazed by late-inning situations. He may be a little bit of a homebody. In 15 outings at Wrigley Field, he gave up two earned runs over 19 innings for an 0.95 ERA. In 11 road games, he was charged with five earned runs over 8 2/3 innings.
He was expected to be stretched out and start in Cactus League games this spring -- "I think his future is as a starter," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said last month -- but Samardzija could wind up in the bullpen this year with the big league team.
"We think Samardzija is a starter down the road," Hendry said. "We don't know if he's ready for that yet. But we think that's a possibility for us down the road."
Although it probably wouldn't be his first choice, Samardzija also could open the season at Triple-A Iowa so he could start and get regular work.
Kevin Hart: When he was first called up to the big leagues in 2007, Hart pitched well enough to get a spot on the postseason roster. The right-hander gave up one run on seven hits over 11 innings in eight appearances that year for the Cubs.
Last season, he was 2-2 with a 6.51 ERA in 21 relief outings with Chicago. Hart broke camp with the big league team for the first time in his career, and he picked up his first Major League win April 5 against Houston in his second outing of the year. He won again four days later against Pittsburgh, but was eventually optioned to Iowa on May 1. Hart shuttled back and forth, and he has not started for the big league team yet. He has made 93 starts at the Minor League level, and is 8-3 over the last two seasons for Iowa.
Angel Guzman: It seems as if the Cubs have been waiting forever to see what Guzman can do. The right-hander, who is the same age as Venezuelan countryman Zambrano, has been slowed by shoulder and elbow injuries. He spent most of 2008 recovering from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, and did appear in six games for the Cubs, including one start. He worked his way up through the Minor League level in his rehab outings, and gave up three earned runs over 17 innings before joining the Cubs.
This winter, Guzman made seven starts for Magallanes in Venezuela, and was 2-1 with a 5.54 ERA, striking out 18 over 26 innings. He had three outings in which he pitched at least five innings, which is encouraging. He may be a darkhorse candidate.
Rich Hill: It was a puzzling year for Hill. He shined in 2007, going 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA and led the team in strikeouts. He had trouble throwing strikes in '08.
Hill began last season in Chicago's rotation, and was sent to the Minor Leagues after walking 18 and giving up 13 hits over 19 2/3 innings in five starts. He pitched for Iowa, Class A Daytona and even the Rookie team in Mesa, and control continued to be a problem as he walked 44 over 47 2/3 innings.
This winter, Hill pitched for Aragua in Venezuela, and did well in his first start Oct. 17. He did not walk a batter over 5 1/3 innings and struck out six. That was his only win in his nine outings, and he finished with 23 walks and 23 hits over 21 innings.
Hill did have some problems with his back, and this will be an interesting spring for the lefty who is out of options.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.