Competition rules back of rotation

Left-hander Travis Wood is the lone holdover competing for a spot in the starting rotation. AP Photo/Jim Prisching

MESA, Ariz. -- On the first day of workouts for Chicago Cubs pitchers and catchers one thing became clear: Everyone wants to start.

Not everyone will get that chance of course, but the Cubs have four pitchers who are all in competition for the final two rotation spots. Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva and Travis Wood will all try to state their case for one of the two spots.

"Gotta fight for the job," Wood said Tuesday. "May the best man win."

Wood, who went 6-13 last season, is the lone holdover while the other three signed as free agents in the offseason. Villanueva's decision to come to the Cubs came down to knowing manager Dale Sveum from their days in Milwaukee, and he hopes it gives him an edge.

"I'm a starter," he said. "I see myself as a starter, and I'm here to start some games. In the end I'm a team guy and whatever they need me to do I'll do. My priority is to start 30 games for this team."

He might not get that chance. Most of his experience is out of the bullpen, having started just 56 of his 301 games. The ability to go back and forth is a valuable one considering the injuries that occur over a long season, but Villanueva wants to start.

Feldman likely has the inside track for a spot. He won 17 games for the Texas Rangers in 2009 but won just 15 games the next three seasons as he bounced between the rotation and the bullpen. The Rangers' Opening Day starter in 2010, Feldman missed the first half of the 2011 season recovering from right knee surgery.

"I never got an opportunity to be a starter (again)," he said. "I got hurt in 2010 and never really got back in the rotation."

When the Cubs signed him in November, general manager Jed Hoyer said the organization viewed Feldman as a starter.

"I'm looking forward to proving I can start again," Feldman stated. "I'll do what they ask."

Hoyer and president Theo Epstein loaded up on the staff this offseason after struggling to fill out a rotation last season due to injuries and trades. The result this year will be plenty of competition this spring.

For Baker, it starts with getting healthy. Coming off Tommy John surgery which kept him out of the 2012 season, he says he's ready for spring training.

"My best interests is their best interests," said the 31-year-old Baker, who signed a one-year deal after spending the past seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins. "I'm Cubs property so I'm going to listen to what they have to say and follow orders."

It means he might not be ready to start on April 1 which could put him behind the other pitchers. He was reminded that Feldman lost his gig to injury in Texas and never got it back.

"That's something that you could concern yourself with, but I'm just going to do the best I can to prepare for the season," Baker said. "That's up to them."

The Cubs are the land of opportunity with only a few core players and a scarcity of long-term deals.

"That's part of the reason I came here on a one-year deal, to re-establish myself as a major league pitcher," Baker said.

A 101-loss team will accommodate that opportunity. And lots of them.

"All signs pointed to me coming to Chicago," Villanueva said. "In the end it was an easy decision."