Final 'pen decision goes down to wire
Cubs waiting until Sunday to name final two relievers
NEW YORK -- For some Cubs, this weekend's two-game trip to New York provided an opportunity to see the new Yankee Stadium and get any final kinks out of their system before the season opener Monday in Houston. But for the four relievers vying for the final two spots in the Chicago bullpen, Saturday's Spring Training game in the Bronx was their final audition.
"This is what you would call judgment day," said Lou Piniella before pitching all four of the candidates in the second game played at the new ballpark in the Bronx.
David Patton, Angel Guzman, Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija all appeared in one last attempt to make their case before Sunday's 2 p.m. CT roster deadline. Two of the four will join Kevin Gregg, Carlos Marmol, Aaron Heilman, Luis Vizcaino and Neal Cotts in the Cubs' seven-man bullpen.
After the game, Piniella didn't appear much closer to making a final decision.
"We'll get this thing settled," Piniella said. "I guess we'll have word for you Sunday."
Patton pitched first, retiring the first two batters in the fifth inning. He then walked two and allowed a single before getting the third out. Guzman came in next, pitching a 1-2-3 sixth with a strikeout. Gaudin also recorded a strikeout in a perfect seventh. Samardzija, who entered with a runner on second and one out in the eighth, got out of the jam by inducing a fly ball and a strikeout. The relievers did most of their work against Yankees reserves after the New York starters got to Rich Harden in a 10-1 Cubs loss.
"I am not going to base final decisions on what happens today -- that would be unfair," general manager Jim Hendry said before the game. "All the players know where they stand. It's just one of those situations where you want to make the right decision not just for Opening Day, but you have to think more long term."
Hendry's challenge is to make his decision with limited flexibility. Of the four candidates, only Samardzija can be optioned to the Minor Leagues. Both Gaudin and Guzman have no options remaining, and Patton is a Rule 5 Draft pick. That means he would have to pass through waivers and then, if unclaimed, be offered back to Colorado before being assigned within the Cubs' system.
Since those three relievers have almost no chance to make it through waivers unclaimed, Hendry and Piniella have acknowledged that those not picked for the 25-man roster would be traded. That means the Cubs will be in no rush to name their roster and could get close to Sunday's deadline in order to hear as many offers as possible.
"If someone does get optioned out -- if that's a mistake, then that's something you can fix," Hendry said. "The mistake I'm going to try to avoid is getting rid of the wrong person and have him on some other club and have that come back and get us."
Patton has had the best spring of the four candidates, posting a 1.26 ERA in 14 1/3 innings. He's caught Hendry's eye.
"I really feel good about David," he said. "It's one of those situations where you never know how he is going to do when the second deck goes on and the season starts, but the young man certainly has earned a chance in a lot of ways to get a look.
"And that is why we've taken so long. We've tried to figure out ways to give him an opportunity to do it when it counts. And we haven't finalized that yet, but part of me wants to see that transition from Spring Training to the big leagues."
"I got out there today and kind of got out of my comfort zone a little bit," Patton said after the game. "But I really don't like to put that much pressure on myself. This is a game, even if there are lots of other things involved."
Samardzija, who put up a 2.28 ERA last season in 27 2/3 innings, has not helped his cause this spring, when he began competing for a spot in the rotation before shifting to relief. He has a 7.31 ERA in 16 innings.
"I think Jeff would be the first to tell you he didn't have the slam-dunk spring that said -- forget options -- you're in," Hendry said, who added the option status will not decide Samardzija's fate.
"I don't want to factor that in as the easy way out," Hendry said.
Guzman, who has a 7.30 ERA this spring, has no options remaining but has been with the organization the longest of the four candidates. He missed the majority of the 2007 and 2008 seasons while recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, but has been healthy this spring.
"It's not frustrating," Guzman said. "I haven't shown them that I can be healthy for a full season. It's now my job to show them that I am prepared."
"We've had so much time invested in him," Hendry said of Guzman. "He's an out-of-option guy, but part of you wants to give him one more shot with you before you have to send him somewhere else."
Salary could also play a role. Gaudin and the Cubs avoided arbitration with a one-year, $2 million contract. Guzman will make $421,500. That could make him more appealing to the Cubs' would-be trade partners.
"No matter how I can kick it around or roll it around, there's no perfect solution," Hendry said.
"I guess by then we'd better know," Piniella said, referring to Sunday's deadline. "Unless they want to let us play with 27 for a week or so and sort it out a little longer."
Thomas Boorstein is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.