The imminent return of Ted Lilly should make the Cubs pitching staff stronger, but his return also means he will be stealing away a rotation spot from a staff that has a combined 3.53 ERA so far. Of course, this assumes many things. First it assumes that Ted doesn't re-injure his shoulder during one of these rehab starts while pitching or DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).
Second, it assumes that Ted actually comes back to pitch as well as he has pitched in the recent past, which isn't the smallest of assumptions to make when a guy is coming off of shoulder surgery and then DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).
Third, it assumes that whoever gets displaced from the rotation can have as much success pitching out of the bullpen. Not every pitcher is Sean Marshall or Terry Mulholland. These guys tend to have pretty regimented routines and may not perform as well when being asked to pitch two out of every three days instead of once every five. So the Cubs will have to find the guy that can actually help the bullpen as much as Lilly will help the rotation, provided that he stops DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).
The candidates to move are:
Pros: Carlos is an intimidating presence and his power pitching would be well suited for a bullpen role. Carlos has been the least effective member of the starting rotation so far which would send a message to the team that one must perform to keep their jobs.
Cons: Zambrano tends to get hit a bit more when he is overthrowing his sinker, which I would guess he would be prone to doing when only asked to pitch one inning or so per appearance. He also has a ridiculous salary for a middle reliever, but that didn't stop the Cubs from converting Wood to a set-up man to Dempster. Of course, Wood was moved because he kept getting hurt as a starter despite (to the best of my knowledge) not DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so). Also, every candidate on this list except for Randy Wells makes more money than some teams' entire bullpens put together. Carlos, despite what you may read in the Sun-Times or Tribune, is still statistically one of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the last few years, so dumping him in the bullpen pretty much seals this team's fate as mediocre at best.
Cons: Dempster wasn't really all that great in the bullpen. He was fine, and had his moments, but his peripheral numbers have all vastly improved since he returned to the rotation. If the Cubs are looking for a lock-down guy to set-up Marmol (or replace Marmol), Dempster probably isn't it.
Pros: Wells is the youngest, making him the easiest candidate to "demote" despite doing nothing wrong. He also should realize that it happens because his emergence ended up booting Sean Marshall into the bullpen last year despite Sean doing nothing wrong. Wells is also supposed to have a bulldog-like demeanor that is well suited for bullpen work,
Cons: Wells has been fantastic in the rotation, to the point where people have started to wonder if he is actually the best pitcher in the rotation. I'm not ready to go that far, but Lilly would have to be awfully good right out of the gate to replace Wells adequately in the rotation if he gets booted to the bullpen.
Pros: Everyone assumed that Gorzelanny or Silva would be the ones to get booted when Lilly returned, so he has to at least be somewhat mentally prepared for that change to be made. He also performed decently last year in his stints out of the bullpen in Chicago and Pittsbugh, though his ERA of 5.87 as a reliever doesn't reflect that. Opposing batters managed only a .553 OPS off him as a reliever, and his WHIP was 1.10. I think we would gladly take that over most of what we have seen from the current bullpen.
Cons: Hopefully, the return of Lilly will mean the end of the Jeff Samardzija Experiment, so moving Gorzelanny means having Marshall, Russell, Grabow and Gorzelanny from the left side in the bullpen, with only Berg and Gray from the right side in non-closer roles.
Pros: Who knew that when we spoke of the good Carlos, we would be referring to Silva? My expectations of him could not have been smaller if I had been told he was, in actuality, Aaron Miles. The way Silva is pitching, he would fit in very well as a right-hander to replace Samardzija.
Cons: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Carlos is almost pitching too well to mess around with. He's comfortable. he's happy. He is getting people out. Why mess with that when his history has shown he can be easily discombobulated.
So I don't envy Piniella making this choice. You know that this team still isn't good, so no matter what, he is going to get ripped for making the wrong choice. But there is still a few days left before a decision has to be made and its still possible that none of this will matter because someone can't help from DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).