The Cubs are very fortunate. While some teams this spring are holding tryouts just to get some semblance of a starting rotation, the Cubs are simply looking to fill in spot number five.
So far, Lou Piniella has made the job the focus of the spring, but he's also been pretty clear about who he's looking at. Although last year's relievers Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija are among the pitchers considered, the job will go -- at least for the beginning of the season--to either Sean Marshall or Aaron Heilman
I know I've mentioned it before, but Sean Marshall should get the job. Marshall looked good in long relief last year, but based on his performance this spring (1 run and no walks in 9 innings of work including 4 shut out innings the other day against Texas), it's clear he's answered the call. As a younger player that the Cubs have kept around for quite some time now when he was an appealing trade figure all summer, it would only make sense to finally test his potential. If he doesn't pan out, at least you know what you've got and you can work in other fifth starters.
At the same time, Aaron Heilman has stepped up to the challenge this spring as well. Spending most of his career as a reliever, he has started twice so far and not surrendered a run in 5 innings of work, recording 7 strikeouts. The Cubs have plenty of right-handed relief, but Neal Cotts, a one or two-out pitcher is their only viable southpaw out of the pen if Marshall leaves for the rotation. Who knows which relievers might emerge this spring, but the best contenders are all righties. Having only Cotts, not a proven veteran, available would make it very hard for the Cubs to challenge pinch hitters or lefty-dominated lineups this season.
It would be nice to see someone like Jeff Samardzija contend for a starting job, but it would be premature. He's done great in relief and besides, he's got a 9.00 ERA in 5 innings during his two starts this spring. To be a starting option, he would need some time back in the minors to develop his other pitches. His tailing fastball makes him effective in relief at present, but it's not enough to carry him through a game. As for Chad Gaudin, he's done about as poorly and was struggling in relief late last season, so he will definitely not factor in the rotation starting April.