The 'Pen, Part I

Now that we've looked at the contenders for the #5 spot, lets take a look at the boys and men fighting for bullpen spots. Lou reiterated on Friday that he expects to carry 12 pitchers, so by my calculations, that's 7 guys in the 'pen (see, 12 - 5 starters = 7). Today, we'll look at the probables, with Part II focusing on the challengers and longshots.

Carlos Marmol: The only thing that would seem to prevent Marmol from being handed the ball late in the game would be injury. And knock on some serious wood, let's hope he makes it through the WBC clean and healthy. Since he's a lock for a spot, it becomes an issue of whether he closes. Lou loves competition, so he won't hand Carlos the closer's job, but one would have to think he's the odd's on favorite for the spot. Odds of getting a spot in the 'pen: CLOSED. Odds of getting the closer's spot: 1:2

Kevin Gregg: The sole contender for the closer crown, Gregg is a lock for a spot as well. If Gregg earns the role, he'll be in a familiar spot. He saved 29 games for the Marlins last year, following a 32 save season in '07. Despite trading Jose Ceda (the Marlins #10 prospect and a guy who would probably be in the top 5 for the Cubs) and paying him 4.2 M this year, I still think he ends up as an expensive set up man and a guy who pushes Marmol to be better. Odds of getting a spot: CLOSED. Odds of getting the closer's spot: 2 to 1

Jeff ND: As mentioned in my previous post, the Cubs will head into the spring with eyes on Samardzija taking the #5 spot. But, if that doesn't happen, he fits into the 7th inning role. A Jeff ND/Gregg/Marmol closing looks strong, expect that you have 3 innings of righties. Despite a 2.28 ERA in 26 games at the end of last year, I am not 100% he's going to be in Chicago to start the season. As I mentioned in my last post (and hopefully I don't become a guy who constantly drones on this), he needs to learn a third pitch. The Cubs could send him back to Iowa to work on that with the thought of bringing him back up when they are confident he has command of a third pitch. Odds: 2 to 1

Aaron Heilman: If Heilman doesn't land the #5 spot and if he can pretend that 2008 didn't exist, the Cubs will be dominant from the right side. While you want roles secured, having 4 really, really solid guys at the back end means that you can pick and choose your back end guys and rest guys. Despite his struggles, Heilman still held righties to a .222 BAA last year, so at a minimum, he'll give Lou the chance to use him in matchups. Odds: 2 to 1

Neal Cotts: Cotts could be the only lefty in the 'pen, thanks in large part to the fact that the Cubs only have 3 lefties on the 40 man. That's not good. Lou has said he doesn't care which way a pitcher throws, as long as he can get guys out. Cotts' numbers would make a manager say that. He had a .263 BAA against righties, a .269 BAA against lefties in '08. In other words, he is not a left-handed specialist, he's a guy who throws left-handed. Still, you have to think that the fact he throws the ball from that side means he is worth keeping on the roster. Odds: 2 to 1

Sean Marshall: Marshall's odds are lower because, well, he's more likely to be in the rotation. If Marshall doesn't start, he is probably the first lefty Lou calls on out of the 'pen. Marshall had a .229 BAA as a reliever last year. The only concern with Marshall is that he can struggle with control in relief, yielding 11 walks in just over 26 innings. And while his numbers were good, he also isn't the type of guy who can get ready in a hurry. Odds: 3 to 1

Luis Vizcaino: In a high salary trash swap, the Cubs got Vizcaino from the Rockies in exchange for Marquis. Vizcaino turns 35 this year and is on his 6th team in 6 years. His ERA was over 5 last year; but it wasn't the mountain air. A 3.81 ERA at home, 7.20 on the road. Lefties hit .372 off him. But, the $4 million he's owed will probably dictate that he makes the squad. Odds: 3 to 1

Chad Gaudin: Gaudin said on Friday that he trains to start every year. That's good. I think that if anything, the Cubs will be better prepared to handle an injury to the starting rotation or have a few guys to choose from if someone gets knocked out of a game early. Gaudin had a back injury that limited his appearances down the stretch last year (and may have caused some of his poor performance), so that'll be something to watch. There were reports he was going to be non-tendered, but I think he's gone from that happening to being solidly considered for the last relief spot. Odds: 5 to 1

I think there is a clear line of demarcation here. There's 8 guys above, one of whom is headed for the #5 spot. All others will face an uphill battle.

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February 15, 2009 at 7:29 AM