2014 starting staff taking shape already

CHICAGO -- If you’re looking for progress or advancement in the Chicago Cubs' rebuilding process then maybe there’s something to see on the starting staff heading into 2014 and beyond.

Instead of three names -- Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson -- as part of the current core, the Cubs might have added a fourth when Jake Arrieta was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles for Scott Feldman earlier this season. It sounds like Arrieta is entrenched heading into spring training next year.

“If you’re looking at it, you’re looking at a fifth spot,” manager Dale Sveum said before Arrieta shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-2, on Wednesday. “We have four pretty much already locked up for next year.”

Samardzija, Wood, Jackson and Arrieta have jobs to lose. They’re all young enough or have contracts that indicate they can be here for the next several years. No one can say how productive they can be.

“I’ll be the first to tell you there’s competition in every spring training you are a part of, regardless of the organization,” Arrieta said. “Spot or no spot, I intend on attacking the offseason the same way.”

Sveum said the Cubs would have the same plan as last spring in terms of having up to 8-9 arms that can start. One of them -- maybe Chris Rusin, Scott Baker or Carlos Villanueva -– will win the No. 5 job. The Cubs will undoubtedly bring someone in from the outside as well. Their top four is what matters for the future though.

The bottom line is former hurlers Feldman and Matt Garza weren’t long-term answers here. Arrieta, at 27 years old, might be. Adding one more to the planned core of the team (though he still has a long way to go to prove himself) means maybe the Cubs are a step closer in at least one department.

And Arrieta’s stuff is top notch as he improved to 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA since the trade.

“Arrieta has a great arm, great pitches, everything,” Wednesday’s catcher J.C. Boscan said.

The change of scenery has done him well, according to Arrieta. He's felt like his turn was coming.

“I feel like it was something that was eventually going to click,” he said. “It could have been last season, it could have been two months ago.”

Maybe it’s clicking now. He finished the year with just four walks over his final three games. Control has been his biggest issue over the course of his career. And after walking Justin Morneau with the bases loaded on Wednesday he could have fallen apart. He didn’t. It was the only run of the game he gave up.

“There’s going to be jams over the course of the game,” Sveum said. “The difference between the guys that have the good seasons and sustain innings is the ones that can get out of those jams because they’re going to happen.”

No matter what you think of that foursome, at least the Cubs aren’t patching a staff together. Unless one is traded –- Samardzija would be the most likely candidate –- they have a chance to stay together for several years. Arrieta is a part of that group now.