Believe it or not, there is relief from the polar vortex that has been sweeping the nation.
Just close your eyes.
Picture yourself in beautiful, 70-degree Mesa, Arizona. The sun is baking down on you as you watch the Cubs stroll out to the practice field. First baseman Anthony Rizzo waves as a little boy in a Cubs hat asks for his autograph.
You can feel the energy around you, like the ninth inning of a close game in September. There's no salt or brown slush on the ground, only the flurry of baseballs flying through the air.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
Pitching was a large concern for the Cubs in 2013, predominantly the bullpen. However, the starting pitching was much more solid. In fact, the Cubs' lone representation in the 2013 MLB All-Star Game was starting pitcher Travis Wood.
The rotation is far from set. In fact, even the Cubs' projected No. 1 starter Jeff Samardzija isn't a lock for the rotation. Rumors have been constantly swirling about the possibility of the Cubs trading Samardzija over the offseason. However, those rumors have died down since Cubs President of Operations stated that Samardzija is the Cubs' Opening Day starter as of right now. Most recent reports state that the two sides are quite far apart and that Samardzija will remain with the Cubs until the trade deadline.
The Cubs may also shake up the rotation by signing Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka, who is in the process of meeting both Chicago teams this week. If the Cubs sign him, they would have to pay both his contract as well as the $20 million posting fee for Tanaka.
First, let's take a look at last year's starting rotation. Nine players started at least one game for the Cubs in 2013.
*= Indicates a player no longer with the team.
Let's assume that Samardzija remains with the Cubs. His camp has already expressed interest in signing a long-term deal for the Cubs. As Cubs beat reporter Carrie Muskat writes, Samardzija would receive about $5 million in arbitration and mentions that that is a good amount for a starting pitcher nowadays.
As mentioned earlier, Cubs president Theo Epstein openly said during the winter meetings that Samardzija would be the Cubs starter on Opening Day. No other reports suggesting otherwise have surfaced since then.
Samardzija is a powerful right-handed pitcher, standing at 6'5". His team-leading 240 strikeouts were 70 more than second place in the Cubs rotation. Only two other pitchers even reached 70 strikeouts all last season.
Travis Wood was a pleasant surprise for Cubs fans in 2013. Wood struggled in his first season with the Cubs, posting a 4.27 ERA in 156 innings. However, Wood found his groove in 2013 by posting a 3.11 ERA in 200.0 innings. Wood was also elected to his first All-Star Game.
Wood is eligible for arbitration this offseason. He has stated in the past that he wants to come to an extension with the Cubs. Last season, Wood made only $527,500.
Wood is a solid middle-rotation starter. Despite being an All-Star, Wood won't demand a huge contract.
We'll be as polite as possible with Edwin Jackson here. The 30-year-old right-hander struggled last season, losing 18 games and posting a rough 4.98 ERA in 175.1 innings pitched.
Jackson's command was an issue last season. He threw 14 wild pitches, an average of one per every 12.5 innings pitched. In 31 games started, he totaled an average of 5.65 innings per start compared to Jeff Samardzija's team-high of 6.46 innings per start and Travis Wood's 6.25 innings per start.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, Jackson is almost guaranteed a spot in the rotation simply because of his lucrative contract. Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million contract and will make $13 million in 2014 including his $2 million signing bonus.
Maybe the Cubs should just stop paying players. Okay, so they can't do that. However, the performance of Edwin Jackson after receiving his $52 million contract is the exact opposite of the performance of Travis Wood, who received only $527,500 in his All-Star season.
Chris Rusin was already being forecasted to be a member of the 2014 Cubs starting rotation as early as last September, and that prediction is likely to come true. Rusin's solid 3.93 ERA is lower than both Samardzija's and Jackson's.
Rusin will make $500,000 in 2014 and is not eligible for arbitration until 2017.
At only 27 years of age, Rusin could be a solid starter for the Cubs that doesn't require a lucrative paycheck. He has logged less than 100 major league innings is career, which could be both a positive and a negative for him due to his lack of experience but still young arm.
Jake Arrieta's situation is quite similar to that of Chris Rusin but minus an injury. Arrieta is also 27 years of age and is scheduled to make around $500,000 ($516,500 to be exact) and also pitched under 100 innings last season. His ERA was a solid 3.66.
Because of Arrieta's youth and small contract, he will likely find himself in the rotation in 2014.
We will begin to find out more about the look of the Cubs' rotation once pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 13. The future of Japanese ace Tanaka will also be decided by Jan. 24, with him either signing with an MLB team or returning to Japan.
Until then, Cubs fans have the three-day Cubs Convention to look forward to this Friday through Sunday in Chicago's Sheraton Towers.
*All Stats courtesty of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.