Time for Cubs to Walk the Walk

By Chris Rewers on Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When spring training opened last month, Cubs manager Mike Quade let it be known that there would be open competition for a large percentage of the spots on his team's Opening Day roster.

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Carlos Silva, due to make $11.5 million this season, has allowed 20 earned runs on 29 hits, including four homers, in 11 1/3 innings during spring training.

Competition should bring out the best in any athlete. It also should benefit the Cubs' morale. Players - and fans - can be comforted by the fact that the makeup of this year's roster is being determined by what the players did on the field during Cactus League play. Factors like how much a player makes and who the pets of the front office, the manager, and the coaching staff will not enter into the equation.

Spring training stats may not carry into the season as such Cubs busts Kevin Orie (1997-98), Gary Scott (1991-92), and Wayne Nordhagen (1983) proved. True, but performance during the exhibition portion of the schedule should trump budgetary concerns and prejudice.

But talk is cheap. Now let's see if Cubs management puts their money where their manager's mouth is. The play of several players has made several personnel decisions obvious, but that reality will cause the Ricketts family to eat a substantial amount of cash. It also will cause some hurt feelings among several veterans.

General manager Jim Hendry and Quade will meet, for a second day, Wednesday with members of their staffs to discuss Opening Day roster options.

"The conversation covers everybody's role on this club," Quade said. "Who's still alive to make this club, who's not, where we see the depth, the rankings from the pitching through the bullpen, the whole club ... I would think the picture would be a lot clearer by Wednesday morning, after we've had a chance to digest and figure out what we're doing."

Among the roster spots that are no doubt under discussion:

Starting Rotation

Shortly after camp opened, Quade named Ryan Dempster as the Opening Day starter (well deserved!) and said he would be followed in the rotation by Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. The last two spots, he said, were up for grabs between Carlos Silva, Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, James Russell, and non-roster invitees Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer.

This did not sit well with Silva who reminded reporters that he won nine games by the All-Star break last year. The Mound Round of the Mound, who is listed at 250 pounds but weighs closer to 300, failed to mention that he managed just one win and had an 11.12 ERA after the break. Like or not, Carlos, baseball is a "what-have-you-done-lately" sport.

Wells nailed down the No. 4 spot with a solid spring (1.35 ERA in 20 innings) and Cashner has pitched the best out of the remaining five candidates.

Silva's spring training performance - 20 earned runs on 29 hits, including four homers, in 11 1/3 innings - hasn't even enabled to enter the conversation for the starting role which leaves the Cubs with three options:

A. Assign Silva to mop-up, long relief duties.

B. Place him on the disabled list (pulled fat? bruised ego?).

C. Release him.

The last option, the most attractive to this Cubs fan, would require the blessing of Tom Ricketts since the 31-year-old right-hander is owed $11.5 million on the final year of the ridiculous four-year, $48 million contract he signed with Seattle.

It's not my money, but here's hoping Ricketts pays Silva to just go away. Let's pull the plug and count the losses from Hendry's disastrous signing of Milton Bradley.

Bullpen

Will Jeff Samardzija, who is out of options, be placed on waivers? The inconsistency that has plagued Samardzija throughout his major league career has continued this spring.

The bad: He's allowed six earned runs and 12 hits in 8 2/3 innings.

The good: He's struck out 11 and walked just four.

He is entering the final year of a five-year, $13 million contract. Again, this may be Ricketts' call?

Will Scott Maine, who had a stellar September (9 hits and 5 walks in 13 innings while striking out 11) last year, be added to the bullpen mix as a fourth lefty in spite of a mediocre spring? The four earned runs on eight hits (one homer) in six innings he has allowed may punch his ticket to Iowa.

Last year, Esmailin Caridad, made the team after a spectacular September and so-so spring. That did not work out.

Second Base

Darwin Barney is the new Tyler Colvin. Barney has played so well that he not only has locked up a roster spot but may soon become the Cubs' starting second baseman.

Barney has been terrific in the field while hitting .359 with a .405 on-base percentage.

The North Siders were planning to start the season with a platoon of Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker.

DeWitt is hitting just .184 with no home runs. Just three of his eight hits have been for extra bases. He has also struggled defensively, particularly turning double plays. Baker rakes lefties, but his struggles against right-handers make him nothing better than a platoon player. Because Baker can also play third base and the corner outfield spots, I like him better in a utility role. Baker, like Barney, is having a stellar spring, hitting .381 with an OBP of .435 and a slugging percentage of .524.

Fifth Outfielder

Non-roster invitee Reed Johnson hasn't had a noteworthy spring (.200 BA), but it's been better than Fernando Perez, his competition for the fifth outfield spot.

Perez has been awful with the bat (.161 BA) and even worse with the glove.

Johnson can provide a potent right-handed bat and versatility. He can play all three outfield spots credibly. Plus, he has a reputation as a "good clubhouse guy."

Backup Catcher

Can we finally put an end to the bizarre fascination Cubs managers have with Koyie Hill?
Hill got most of the playing time late last season after Geovany Soto had season-ending surgery despite managing just six hits in his last 36 at-bats. He is a pathetic 1-for-27 this spring.

Over the past two seasons, only two players (Jeff Mathis and Willy Taveras) have amassed 450 or more plate appearances while hitting worse than the 32-year-old switch-hitter.

He had just one homer, struck out 61 times, and amassed 12 walks over that span.

All Welington Castillo did whenever he got a chance was hit and he has carried his hot bat into spring training. Castillo is 12-for-18 with six RBI with averages of .667/.700/.889.

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