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Chicago Cubs: Why Moving Carlos Villanueva to the Bullpen Was the Right Decision

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Never in a million years would I have predicted that the Chicago Cubs would have a tough decision about where to put Matt Garza upon his return from the disabled list.

Forgive the pessimism, but when your rotation is "anchored" by two pitchers with career records under .500 (Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson), a young, inconsistent lefty (Travis Wood), and rounded out with two run-of-the-mill veterans (Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva), there doesn't seem to be much worry that you won't be able to find a place for someone like Matt Garza.

Unless, of course, Wood, Feldman, and Villanueva all overachieve. No chance, right?

If baseball was only based upon performance (and full justice was served), Edwin Jackson (1-6, 5.76 ERA) would be on a first-class ticket to Bullpenville. Well, baseball isn't only based on performance. Jackson's $13 million yearly salary more or less saves him from potential bullpen duty. He will soon be one of those struggling pitchers who suddenly ends up "injured" and placed on the disabled list before a bullpen position is his. And since Samardzija is ace-by-default, he isn't moving. This reality corners the Cubs into having to select one of the remaining three pitchers to step down in favor of Garza. The Cubs announced that Villanueva was the man to do so. It might be tough to swallow but based on the team's position, it was the right thing to do.

First off, between Wood (4-2, 2.03 ERA), Feldman (4-3, 2.19 ERA) and Villanueva (1-3, 3.93 ERA), Villanueva was the least effective. He also has the misfortune of having spent a large percentage of his career as a bullpen pitcher (309 appearances, 69 starts) and consequently has the desired experience for the position.

Villanueva also has a circumstantial disadvantage. Wood, 26, is too young to not give him a chance to run with his current success. He has been written off by many (myself included) because of a few tough years. But with the Cubs in rebuild mode, they have to explore this streak to see if Wood has finally had something click or if this is just a fluke. Feldman, on the other hand, has just been electric. In the month of May, he is 3-0 in four starts, has a 0.94 ERA, and has only given up 17 hits in 28-plus innings. It doesn't matter the scenario, no one with those numbers is going to be pulled from the rotation.

A fringe benefit to all of this is that the Cubs just so happen to be in major need of a long reliever. The struggles of the Cubs' bullpen have been well-documented. With Kevin Gregg solidifying the closer position (I am as shocked as you are), the Cubs will need the help in the sixth though eighth innings routinely. If the bullpen solidifies as a result and the team doesn't unload come trade deadline (most likely will), the Cubs could flirt with being a .500 team. Two years into the Theo Epstein regime, consider me impressed.

The strangest part of the whole operation is that the Cubs are dangerously close to having a very respectable starting five. Other than the perpetual questions that will surround Garza's return (Will he get hurt again? Can he still pitch?), Jackson will continue to be the most prominent question mark. But even he has shown life in his last couple of starts against the Washington Nationals and New York Mets. Logic makes me believe Wood and Feldman are going to come back to reality eventually but with their performances, Villanueva had to be the one to slide to the bullpen. For once, the Cubs have a good problem.

All of this talk will most likely be moot when Garza lands back on the disabled list with a strained something sometime before the All-Star break, but at least the Cubs have Villanueva ready if that happens.

Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.

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