Goatriders vs. Muskrat
Or: who do YOU trust? Your buddies on GROTA, or Carrie Muskat?
In Carrie's favor: she's down in Arizona, we're not.
In Our favor: she is also the handpicked shill, paid by MLB.com, to spout the company line for the Cubs. Plus much of what she says doesn't make any sense whatsoever, at least to us.
Case in point: she is anoiting Sean Marshall as the early favorite for "fifth starter". On the other hand, it appears to me that if Rich Harden is being limited to 25 starts this year, as Lou Piniella has been on record several times as saying, then by definition Harden himself is the "fifth starter", even if he is better than fifth in terms of efficiency. Fourth starters make as many starts as the other three counterparts, around 35 or so. So whatever spring-training battle that occurs would be for the 4th slot, after Dempster, Zambrano and Lilly.
Does Marshall deserve this slot? In a just world, perhaps. He has done everything asked of him the past two years, totally without complaint. In my opinion, he pitched his best early in 2006, and he was quick and effusive with his propers to Greg Maddux, who if you recall was still in pinstripes at the time. I have never considered it a coincidence that, once MadDog left, Marshall declined somewhat into his current state, a slightly-below-.500 pitcher. Of course, the league adjusted to him after his first tour around the league, as well. So, then, he must re-adjust, but that would require patience and a regular turn in the rotation, neither of which we have been able to afford the past two seasons.
So stack Sean up against his competition. Out of the four candidates for this year's role, Jeff Samardzija has the highest upside, but is the most raw and would be most willing to start the year in AAA, all else being equal. Even the Muskrats of this world, who tend to stay inside the box, concede that the Shark is not returning to his effective 2008 bullpen role this year. By the end of the season, Shark might be back in the pen - who knows? But he is not starting out that way this year.
Out of the remaining three, it appears fairly close to even, in terms of short-term potential. Any of these three could conceiveably meet or even slightly exceed the annual contribution of the Marquis du Suck, given decent offensive support behind them. I worry that Marshall's outstanding attitude may work against him, because Piniella has stated many times that he appreciated and valued Marshall in the swing role he has filled in the past. So even though Marshall certainly DESERVES the chance to toil in the regular rotation, Uncle Lou very well may cite the Eminent Domain doctorine, and force Marshall to "swing" again, at least one more year.
Hey, you might say. What seems to apply to Marshall does not necessarily apply to the Shark? Yes, that is what I am saying. I am projecting that Lou will apply a double standard to his two young pitchers, because Shark has a certain amount of leverage (his contract, and the faint threat that he will chuck it all to go catch pigskins) coupled with Marshall's "team first" spirit that some of his other teammates seem to lack.
Like, for instance, Chad Gaudin and Aaron Heilman. Unlike Marshall, both of these "gentlemen" HAVE complained publicly about working in various big league bullpens. Since we have both of them in camp, and since they themselves have about as much potential as Marshall to win 12-13 games this year, I have theorized that these two will comprise the heart of the Roster Rumble this spring.
So is the Squeaky Wheel getting the Grease? Yep, they are. Unfair or not, Lou and his staff are only human, after all, and since there is no major dropoff of potential productivity between Marshall and the better of Gaudin/Heilman, I believe that the Cubs field management will take the Path of Least Resistance in this matter and hope that one or the other of the disgruntled relievers will rise up and take the 4th spot.
If both suck the pipe this spring, which is just as likely as anything, then look for Marshall or the Shark in that spot. But you have to imagine that Piniella is secretly hoping that either Heilman or Gaudin will rise up and take the spot, for Lou is not looking forward to having to put both of them in the bullpen, and hear their excuses when they cough up leads.
Or, maybe, it's just me who hopes one of them rises up, because I myself don't want to hear their excuses when they blow leads. Out of all the dues I have paid as a longtime Cubs fan, I believe I have watched MORE than my share of mopes over the years trying to rationalize why they have blown leads for us.
We'll see which one of us is right - GROTA or the Muskrat...let the best marsupial win!