I've written previously that I think Samardzija has become the ace of the Cubs starting rotation and will be their No. 1 starter next season.
While his 9-13 record may not look impressive, Samardzija's 3.81 ERA indicates he pitched much better than that in converting from a reliever to a starter.
He led Cubs starting pitchers with 174.2 innings, striking out 180 batters while walking 56. His strikeout rate of 9.3 per nine innings is the second-best among NL starting pitchers. What will he be capable of in his second full season, during which he'll likely pitch 200 innings?
Garza would probably take issue with the assertion that Samardzija is the Cubs' No. 1 starter now. But he lost that designation after being shut down in August with a stress reaction in his right elbow.
How long will Garza be with the Cubs next season? It seems unlikely that he would be traded during the offseason with teams unsure about the health of his elbow. Epstein may have to wait until midseason for Garza to build his trade value back up again.
Yet with one arbitration season remaining, the Cubs might prefer to hang on to Garza for 2013. He will probably earn something close to the $9.5 million he was paid this season, which is probably what they would have to pay for a similarly talented free agent.
Hoyer told reporters recently that the Cubs will have financial flexibility and intends to be aggressive in pursuing free-agent starting pitching.
It seems more likely, however, that the team will pursue lower-cost starting pitching, perhaps so they can sign more than one arm for their rotation.
Liriano went 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA this season, which doesn't look terribly impressive. But he still struck out 167 batters in 156.2 innings. His strikeout rate of 9.6 per nine innings is his best since 2006.
The Cubs' rotation could use a hard-throwing left-hander who has strikeout stuff. Liriano would be one of the best available on the open market.
Trading Sean Marshall to acquire Wood was a controversial deal for the Cubs. But Wood showed he can be a middle-of-the-rotation starter next season, capable of providing 32 to 33 starts and possibly 200 innings as well.
Wood is finishing the season strong, putting together a 2-2 record and 3.34 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 35 innings. (His most recent start, during which he gave up five runs in five innings vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks, wasn't a great one, however.)
That has to be an encouraging sign for the Cubs who have one less spot in their rotation to worry about with Wood's performance. Where he slots in the rotation depends on what sort of free-agent help the team brings in.
Cubs fans surely hope the team pursues the likes of Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy or Ervin Santana on the free-agent market. There will be plenty of appealing arms that should be a good fit for what the Cubs need.
But even if the Cubs sign a second-tier pitcher for the middle—or top—of their rotation, a third-tier arm may also need to be brought in to fill the back end of the starting staff. Perhaps Chris Volstad could be that guy for the Cubs. However, the quintessential fifth starter will be available in Joe Blanton.
Blanton can give a team 200 innings and perhaps win 10 to 12 games. He can also provide a decent strikeout threat for the fifth spot in a rotation, with a rate of nearly eight strikeouts per game.