Spring Training Battles

Spring Training Battles: Closer

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I take a look at the competition for the fabled closer role between Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. It's the final piece in the series and I know you will all miss my Wrestlemania-inspired graphic.

The closer battle is probably the least crucial of the spring training battles this year, for two reasons. First, the closer role is generally overrated. The closer protects more three-run leads with nobody on than he does one-run leads with the go-ahead run coming up. Set-up men are often asked to wiggle out of more difficult jams than closers, who are usually brought in just to start the ninth inning with a clean slate. Second, all three candidates can do the job just fine, so Lou really can't lose on this one. Sure, you'd like to pick the best, but those outs in the seventh and eighth are just as crucial; and the two "losers" will slide into the set-up men roles. Plus, if the winner out of spring training can't hack it, the Cubs have two ready-made options ready to fill-in, possibly three if Ryan Dempster isn't cutting it as a a starter. As they say in the old country, it's a good problem to have.

Let's take a closer look after the jump....

Spring Training Battles: Starting Pitching

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I'll look at the starting rotation battle between Jon Lieber, Ryan Dempster, Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall. I won't pretend that Sean Gallagher has a legitimate chance, although I guess I am pretending that Sean Marshall does.

Unable or unwilling to trade for some of the top notch talent that was moved over the offseason, such as Johan Santana, Erik Bedard or Dan Haren; the Cubs head into 2008 with much of the same talent that was good for the second best ERA among NL starting staffs last year. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill
will anchor the staff, and if Marquis and Marshall win the jobs, you'll have the same starting five that took the mound for the bulk of last season.

That though, appears to be the least likely scenario, as Ryan Dempster is getting his wish to compete for a starting spot and the Cubs signed Lieber on a one year deal. It appears to be a bit of a logjam at the moment, but the bullpen or the trade market can alleviate that "problem" at the end of spring training.

Let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate after the jump...

Spring Training Battles: Center Field

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I'll take a look at the center field spot between Felix Pie and Sam Fuld.

The Cubs had the opportunity this offseason to shore up center field with a more reliable veteran, as a few stars hit the market including Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones
. The Cubs were obviously determined to give their youngsters a shot at the job, as they didn't even bother to call Hunter, which leads to the obvious conclusion that they probably didn't call any of the available center field free agents. We'll all soon find out if that confidence will be rewarded.

Felix Pie has been one of the Cubs top prospects and usually the Cubs top prospect ever since he joined the organization as a wide-eyed 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic. Pie has often been compared to the Cubs last great center field prospect, Corey Patterson, both being left-handed hitters with five-tool talent and questionable strike zone judgement. A tenous comparison, superficial at best, and, to be honest, a lazy comparison. While Corey Patterson struggled with each promotion in the minors and was truly rushed to the majors, Pie has taken each promotion in stride, often putting up better numbers than the previous stop.

Let's compare the two after the jump....

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  • so...

    anyone else ready for the all-star break? =p

    it's been a tough past couple weeks...except that reds series. i miss playing the reds. that was cool.

    crunch 3 hours 59 min ago view
  • To take my mind of this latest disaster...wow, I thought baseball money was crazy, but NBA money is now super-wacko crazy. Joakim Noah is 31 with bad knees and absolutely no offensive game. He can't make a layup. The Knicks just agreed to pay him $72M over 4 years. Holy crap.

    billybucks 4 hours 55 min ago view
  • "if"?

    billybucks 5 hours 1 sec ago view
  • Thank you, Jason, for allowing me to get to bed at a decent hour. Very thoughtful.

    It will be very interesting to see what Theo does at the deadline. Of course, if Jake doesn't get straightened out, it really doesn't matter. A lot of Jake's comments this year, and his posing for nudie pics in the ESPN magazine, rang some alarm bells -- after one great year (and it was amazingly great), his head has swelled tremendously. Jake, look up the word "hubris", then look in the mirror.

    billybucks 5 hours 30 sec ago view
  • ...and we're back from the 3rd rain delay.

    crunch 5 hours 1 min ago view
  • at least the cubs have a decent backup of...ummmm....well the minor league system has...uhhh...hmmm.

    maybe adam warren can manage to throw less than 100 pitches in 5 innings? no?

    well damn.

    crunch 5 hours 9 min ago view
  • Not to worry -- I'm sure Hammel will finish strong in the 2nd half of the season (~sad chuckle, reaches for Scotch bottle~).

    billybucks 5 hours 14 min ago view
  • Hammel has had a rather challenging last month. I am hoping post-break that Hendrix gets pushed ahead of him. They'll be lucky to win a game in NY

    The E-Man 5 hours 34 min ago view
  • hey, alright...cubs losing by 9 and a 3rd rain delay. awesome.

    crunch 5 hours 44 min ago view
  • If baseball does not work out for Patton, I think he's got a future in Civil War re-enactments. He's got a solid Johnny-Reb look to him.

    Eric S 5 hours 48 min ago view
  • David Ross - the mound awaits you.

    Eric S 5 hours 55 min ago view
  • RIP jason hammel's awesome ERA.

    10 ER in 4ip...almost a full point tacked on tonight, alone. 5HR given up tonight. oogly.

    crunch 5 hours 58 min ago view
  • Nimmo certainly does not want to see the Cubs leave town. His first MLB rbi last night and now his first HR.

    At least Hammel is eating some innings ... this is the kind of game Peralta should be used if at all.

    Eric S 6 hours 7 min ago view
  • OK, the hell with it.

    It's July 1 -- Hammel starting to suck right on schedule.

    Other than sweeping the Reds -- a bad team actively trying to lose -- this will make 8 losses in 9 games to good teams (Cards, Marlins, Mets). Not good at all.

    billybucks 6 hours 11 min ago view
  • Belicheat a consultant for the Red Sox?

    Eric S 6 hours 32 min ago view
  • And, so, Jason Hammel decides to test my new resolution right away. Sheesh.

    No Wright, no Duda, no Granderson -- no problem for NY. Ugh.

    billybucks 6 hours 38 min ago view