The Chicago Cubs made their biggest splash of the offseason when they landed Matt Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays, in exchange for a package that included high-upside prospects like pitcher Chris Archer and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee.
While the move saw general manager Jim Hendry acquire the starter he craved and was accepted as a quality move by Cubs nation, it created a logjam in the Chicago rotation that has left the question of who will actually start for this Chicago team come April.
As of right now, there are three pitchers firmly cemented in the rotation. Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza—all have spots locked down. That leaves roughly six or seven others to compete for those last two spots.
The biggest wild card in that group is Tom Gorzelanny. Gorzelanny was quietly one of the better pitchers for the Cubs, spending 2010 bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and rotation. He finished the season with a 4.09 ERA, much of which is due to his struggles at the end of the season.
The biggest question with Gorzelanny is whether or not he will actually be with the club this season. As trade rumors continue to circulate, Gorzelanny's name is often a source of those rumors. With the extra depth the Cubs do have, Hendry may be hard-pressed to deal Gorzelanny for a true reliever.
If Gorzelanny finds his way to another team, or the bullpen, the two most likely candidates for a rotation spot become Randy Wells and Carlos Silva. Wells may seem like a lock to many, but his summer struggles have called his spot into question. Still, it's hard to imagine Wells not having that fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. He's not flashy, but he's a steady arm at the back end of the rotation.
One guy who seems to be forgotten in all of these talks is Carlos Silva. Acquired in the trade that sent away Milton Bradley to Seattle, Silva surprised everyone for the first half of the year, nearly pitching his way into an All-Star spot. Heading into the All-Star break, Silva had posted a 2.96 ERA and compiled a 9-2 record. His second half, however, was an injury-filled affair, with Silva starting just five games and giving up at least five earned runs in three of them.
If one of the three should falter, or be dealt, the Cubs have a pile of youngsters ready to compete for a spot at that back end. The first name that seems to come up in these talks is Andrew Cashner. Part of the reason the Garza trade was considered so successful was that it allowed the Cubs to retain Cashner, a young fireballer out of TCU.
Cashner was very solid, overall, as a reliever for the Cubs in 2010. He had a pair of six-run meltdowns, but only gave up more than two on one other occasion. Many have labeled him a future starter, while the Cubs may be content to keep that power arm in the bullpen, especially with the addition of a mentor figure like Kerry Wood.
One name that may sound familiar to Cub fans is Jeff Samardzija. A former Notre Dame standout, Samardzija has been an overall disappointment to this point in his career. He is out of options and may be better suited for a bullpen role, but with the Cubs leaving the rotation open to so many pitchers, it's hard to imagine Samardzija's name not among them.
The only other name that has been mentioned for the rotation is a surprising one, with Mike Quade saying that James Russell will have a shot to compete for a spot. Russell, a lefty, is most likely competing due to the fact he is a southpaw. Whether or not he does have a real shot at the rotation is unclear, after spending all of last season in the bullpen.
In the end, the rotation may end up very similar to last year, with Wells and Silva holding onto those last two spots. Still, it's an interesting move by Quade to open the competition up to so many, but it may end up being the right strategy if it gets everyone in a competitive state of mind right off the bat.