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Cubs must pick five starters from six rotation candidates

The SportsXchange

This is Year 2 of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime as president and general manager of the Cubs, respectively.

While last year's spring training featured a bunting tournament in the early days, there figures to be a more serious tone this spring as fans back in the cold of Chicago want to know how long it's going to take for the team to be a winner.

Epstein and Hoyer said they are not deviating from their philosophy of trying to be competitive now while building for the future.

There will be little competition for roster spots this spring, so the main focus will be to see how the rotation shakes out. The Cubs added three starters over the winter via free agency: right-handers Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman. They'll join right-handers Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija and lefty Travis Wood.

Health will be the key issue for the rotation. Baker is coming off elbow surgery, while Garza's 2012 season ended in July because of a stress reaction in his pitching elbow. On top of that, Samardzija was shut down in early September because the Cubs were concerned about his innings count during his first full season as a major league starter.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro are two of the core young players Epstein and Hoyer continually talk about. Rizzo has the job this year; last year, he got a look-see before being sent to Class AAA Iowa to start the season. The move paid off, as Rizzo hit a combined 38 home runs between Iowa and the big club. Castro turns 23 this spring, and the Cubs hope he's ready to mature into true stardom after getting a multiyear deal last year.

Left fielder Alfonso Soriano and closer Carlos Marmol are still with the Cubs, but it won't take long before trade speculation starts. Soriano, who just turned 37, has two seasons and $36 million left on his gigantic eight-year contract. He also has 10-and-5 rights, meaning he can veto any trade involving him. He said he'll keep the lines of communication open if the Cubs bring him a deal, but both sides seem happy with the hardworking Soriano in left field.

Marmol nearly was traded to the Angels last fall for starting pitcher Dan Haren. Although he's erratic, Marmol still figures to be the Cubs' Opening Day closer, even with potential closer Kyuji Fujikawa having come over this winter from Japan.

There doesn't appear to be room for rookies or youngsters to make the club. Center fielder Brett Jackson and third baseman Josh Vitters both struggled at the plate after August call-ups last year, and both are likely to start this year at Iowa, even though Jackson said during the Cubs' fan convention last month that he is aiming to make the club.
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