As pitchers and catchers report to Mesa in two weeks one of the most closely watched battles on the Cubs roster will be for the fifth starter job. The Cubs have made massive upgrades to the rotation this off season with the addition of Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, but the last spot in the rotation remains a question mark.
The Cubs have opted to go with quantity over quality for two reasons. First, the team is still handcuffed by payroll limitations due in part to the Wrigley Field renovation project. Second, the 2015 free agent pitching class is loaded with top tier talent led by David Price and Jordan Zimmerman. Signing another high priced pitcher like James Shields this off season would leave them on the outside looking in at the abundance of available top of the rotation options next year.
Barring a trade, the Cubs have five choices for the final spot in the rotation with Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Dubront and Jacob Turner all in the running. Considering other fifth starters around the league, this is not a bad problem to have. Wood is a terrible year removed from an all-star selection. Jackson has been awful since signing a 4-year deal with the Cubs, but has been able to eat innings and has been a good clubhouse presence. Jacob Turner is a former top prospect with the Marlins who has struggled mightily during stints in Miami and Chicago, but still has some nasty stuff and could benefit from a full year under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio. Wada spent most of his 2014 season in Iowa, but the 33-year-old was effective in a late season call up with the Cubs. Felix Dubront was also serviceable during his stint at Wrigley, but with the Cubs light in left handed relievers he may be best suited for bullpen duties.
Given the high probability of pitching injuries around the league, the Cubs have positioned themselves well to weather any minor storm that may arise in the 2015 season. Any one of these guys can step in for a week or two and perform reasonably. Plus the volume of available arms could allow manager Joe Maddon to give some members of the rotation a day or two of extra rest on occasion.
While the Cubs have been fielding calls all off season from teams interested in Travis Wood, my guess is he starts the season in the Cubs rotation as they could use a second lefty to pair with Jon Lester.
While none of the Cubs options for the final rotation spot are likely to knock any one's socks off, they could prove useful during the long grind of a 162-game season. And really, how many teams in the big leagues has a fifth starter that's really worth getting excited about.