Cubs rotation picture coming into focus

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Cubs rotation picture coming into focus

MESA, Ariz. You cant do instant analysis here, not when some regulars are showered and out the door before the game ends.

But if you listen closely and observe, you can slowly see the picture coming into focus. The Cubs have two spots open in their rotation, and thats the biggest roster story still to be written this spring.

Staring down at the clubhouse carpet, Travis Wood was definitely feeling a sense of urgency after getting one out in Wednesdays 10-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in front of 11,682 fans at HoHoKam Stadium.

Its typical to say its early, working out all the kinks, but its time to go, Wood said. I had two outings so far and neither one went as planned. So now its just time to get after it.

Wood is the promising 25-year-old left-hander acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Sean Marshall trade. He gave up six runs five earned on three hits and two walks. He didnt look particularly sharp in an intra-squad scrimmage (six runs) or a start against the White Sox.

These are absurdly small sample sizes, but its the middle of March and significant cuts will be coming after this weekends trip to Las Vegas. Major decisions will have to be made.

Randy Wells helped his cause by throwing three scoreless innings against the Brewers. He had also bailed Wood out of a bases-loaded jam against the White Sox last week by getting Paul Konerko to ground into an inning-ending double play.

You guys keep asking the same question, Wells said. For every guy, you cant really think about it. If you do, its going to eat at you and one bad outings going to get in your head. I dont think you can worry about that.

For the most part, these guys are pretty good talent evaluators. Thats why theyre in (this) position. If guys can go out and work on things and get better each day, then its going to be a tough decision on them. You cant sit here and really try to play a managerial game behind the scenes.

(When) its our turn to pitch, we pitch and see what happens.

Wells is used to having to fight for a spot in the rotation. There is a reasonable expectation of knowing what youd get as long as he stays healthy. Hes 27-30 with a 4.01 ERA in 500-plus innings in the big leagues, a very capable fifth starter whos probably been overlooked.

Deep down, the Cubs see so much upside in Chris Volstad (32-39, 4.59 ERA), whos 25 years old, 6-foot-8 and a former first-round pick. Hes already thrown six scoreless innings in the Cactus League. The South Florida native is viewed as a classic change-of-scenery guy after being traded from the Miami Marlins in the Carlos Zambrano deal.

Its also hard to ignore the glowing praise manager Dale Sveum has repeatedly used to describe Jeff Samardzijas game. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, the Cubs feel like his bodys designed to handle 200 innings. He has swing-and-miss stuff and team officials think he can use last season (8-4, 2.97 ERA) as a springboard.

Quietly, Rodrigo Lopez has thrown four scoreless innings and worked on the slider that made him a 15-game winner with the Baltimore Orioles. The 36-year-old right-hander wound up being good insurance last season (6-6, 4.42 ERA) and the new front office made pitching depth a priority.

Outside of Samardzija who seems likely to be ticketed for the rotation Sveum has said that he doesnt think any of the starting candidates would fit at the back end of the bullpen as the second setup man.

That power-arm void isnt going to be used against Samardzija he will be given every opportunity to earn a job in the rotation.

Needs not going to dictate the decision, Sveum said. Anybodys need is always starting pitching.

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

If you haven't heard, the Bears are in the market for a quarterback.

It's no surprise that finding a long-term solution at the position will be at the top of GM Ryan Pace's to-do list as it's likely Jay Cutler has played his last game in a Bears uniform.

The Bears have a bevy options this offseason as they're saddled with the No. 3 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and have over $54 million of salary cap space — before roster cuts and an added $8 million in roll over money.

Having the 3rd overall pick, the opportunity is going to present itself for the Bears to nab one of the draft's top quarterbacks or add to their young defensive core with a player like Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting in his latest mock draft) or LSU's Jamal Adams (Kiper Jr. also has him as a possibility for the Bears).

If quarterback is the choice, that's where the real debate begins.

The 2017 draft marks one of the rare years where there isn't a consensus No. 1 quarterback. The four signal-callers likely to hear there name called within the first two rounds are UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

Who comes off the board first? That may change 100 times between now and Thursday, April 27.

Despite only starting one year at Chapel Hill, Trubisky has the strongest case to be the first quarterback taken. Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 308 yards on the ground and five rushing scores in his first full year as a starter in 2016.

If the Bears have their eyes set on Trubisky, they may have to pull off a trade as Kiper Jr. doesn't see the former Tar Heel lasting to the third pick. In his conference call on Thursday, Kiper Jr. said it's Trubisky's dream to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, and sees him in play for both the Browns at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

Would the Bears pull the trigger on Watson if Trubisky is off the board? Kiper Jr. believes Watson would be a stretch for the Bears at No. 3 and right now he sees Watson as a fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10. Kiper Jr. had a second-round grade on Watson before he shined on the big stage in the College Football Playoff. Watson's stock catapulted back into the first-round mix after he torched Alabama for 463 yards and four touchdowns en route to leading Clemson to a National Championship.

By selecting a defensive player at No. 3, the Bears could still have the opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future in the second round. Kiper Jr. believes both Mahomes and Kizer will be available on Day 2 where the Bears hold the 34th overall selection in the draft.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What happens if the Bears don't come away with one of the draft's top quarterbacks? They could look toward free agency or the trade market.

The downfall of the free agent market is that the best available option is former Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon — he hasn't started a game in almost three years. You can cross Kirk Cousins off the wish list because there's a better chance of Brett Favre coming out of retirement and leading the Browns to a Super Bowl in 2017 than the Washington Redskins letting Cousins walk in free agency. The Bears also could elect to bring back two of their own unrestricted free agents in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but neither would provide an ample long-term fixture at the position.

One of the most intriguing players available on the trade market is New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The connection between him and the Bears runs deep as Garoppolo starred at Rolling Meadows High School in the Chicagoland area and played his college football at Eastern Illinois — the same alma mater as Pace — before he was selected by the Patriots in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In limited snaps backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has shown potential to be an above-average NFL quarterback, but unless the Patriots step down from their rumored asking price of a 2017 first-round pick and more, trading away the No. 3 pick would be too high of a price for the Bears to pay.

The Bears could explore the possibility of trading for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to serve as a stopgap and help groom a young quarterback, but bringing in the veteran Romo — just four starts since 2014 due to various injuries — would be a lateral move, and the Bears would likely be better off keeping Cutler for another season.

With less than two months until the start of free agency on March 9, we'll finally get our first clue then as to which direction the Bears will go at quarterback this offseason. 

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Grab a pocket pack of tissues for this one.

Bears icon Charles Tillman released an emotional tell-all article on The Players' Tribune Thursday.

He starts off discussing how often he moved around as a kid with his dad in the Army and little things like learning cursive before delving into growing up in Germany and learning to communicate through sports.

It then moves on to the NFL Draft and coming up through the Bears with Lance Briggs, then jumping to the Super Bowl and what it was like to cover Calvin Johnson and Marvin Harrison.

Tillman even provides a fascinating take on how being a new dad affected his play on the field because he was so tired and stressed.

It was refreshing to hear a player talk like that. In everyday life, you hear all the time about first-time parents being exhausted and stressed, but now one of the most elite athletes in the world — whose job is exclusively in the public eye and his performance is dissected weekly by millions — is saying the same thing.

He discusses how he got past that stress and at this point, you're nearly halfway through the article and it's easy to think this is just like any other athlete's story.

But then Tillman gets serious and the story turns heart-wrenching.

The man affectionately known as "Peanut" takes us into the hospital room as he and his wife are told their young daughter, Tiana, may not make it through the night.

Tillman recounts the gripping tale behind how his family very nearly fell apart and how they climbed back to where they are today.

Give it a read. It's a fantastic snapshot into the career of one of the best Bears players ever, but also into the life of one of the truly great people to ever put on the orange and navy.