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The Contenders: Jason Hammel, Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin, Justin Grimm
Incumbent: Chris Rusin
One thing the Cubs have done well over the last two years is stockpile affordable pitching to eat innings. They don't have any delusions about where they are, or where they want to go when the prospects arrive, so getting bogged down in big deals for pitchers isn't the way to go.
In fact, with the exception of Edwin Jackson, the Cubs don't have a pitcher on the roster making more than $6 million (Jason Hammel) in 2014. That leaves the team a lot of flexibility next winter, when Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Justin Masterson and James Shields are scheduled to become free agents.
For now, though, it leaves a lot of questions at the back of the rotation.
Since Hammel is the most expensive pitcher in the group, you would think he has the inside track. However, given his injury problems with Baltimore the last two years, a role in the bullpen would be in the best interest of both parties.
Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio raved about Hammel in a recent report from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times, saying, "we’re unleashing somebody, to be honest with you." Bosio didn't specify what role Hammel would be "unleashed" in, but he figures to play a vital role for the team in 2014.
Chris Rusin is just 27 years old and posted a solid 3.93 ERA in 10 starts last season. He also allowed 66 hits and eight homers in 66.1 innings, while posting a pedestrian 36-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Carlos Villanueva is a valuable arm to have because he can start when asked, or can throw multiple innings out of the bullpen. He appeared in 47 games last year (15 starts) with a decent 4.06 ERA and 103-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza trade last year, Justin Grimm was awful in the Rangers' rotation. He allowed 116 hits with a 6.37 ERA in 89 innings but pitched better in a small sample out of the Cubs' bullpen (2.00 ERA, 8-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, nine innings pitched).
Out of this group, Villanueva has the best combination of track record and upside as a starter. Hammel has the upside but has to prove he can stay healthy to make 25-30 starts.
Prediction: Carlos Villanueva
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