It has been a long time since the Cubs have gone into a season with the versatility and depth to have serious competition for a number of their starting positions.
Of course there are positions that are locked down barring any unforeseen trades like, catcher, first base, third base and most likely right field, with Barrett, Lee, Ramirez and Soriano respectively. However, the other four positions of second base, shortstop, left and center field, should be treated no differently than the competition for the open fifth starter's spot in the rotation. Best performance, wins the job.
None of the contracts of the remaining candidates to fill these vacancies is of any consequence. Therefore, the importance of awarding the starting job to the player that earns it is imperative for the team to be the most competitive. Pinella must revamp the clubhouse culture from the days when Dusty played his pets in the face of all common logic, to one of accountability based on performance, regardless of which player's ego gets nicked.
As we look over the probable list of players available to fill these four positions, we most certainly have to factor in what holes are created by the rest of the lineup.
The most glaring hole seems to be the absence of left handed bats. Since none of the niddle infield candidates bats left handed, it seems there will be no solution from those positions. That leaves left and center field as the only positions where a left handed bat can be inserted into the lineup, other than as a late inning replacement.
As we go to spring training, the two most likely left handed bats to fill the two outfield positions are Jacque Jones, and Felix Pie. However, Angel Pagan should be given every opportunity to become a starter as well.
What about team speed? Soriano, is a real burner and Lee is above average, but Barrett and Ramirez, yikes! It would seem Jones will earn a spot at least platooning, and if the Cubs can teach him to pay attention on the base paths so as not to get doubled up, he can run as at least as good as Lee. Murton, whose has decent speed and excellent base running skills, will most likely earn the left field position outright, if Pie or Pagan, who both have excellent speed, don't win a starter's spot.
Pie making the big club will almost certainly mean the platooning of Jones and Murton in left field. Against right handed pitching in 2006, Jones and Murton break down as follows:
Jones 303BA 358OBP 528SLG 886OPS
Murton 295BA 356OBP 426SLG 782OPS
The next big question mark in spring training is the starting middle infielders? It appears that Cesar Izturis, Mark DeRosa and Ryan Theriot, have the inside track going in. The performance of these players hopefully will sort out who will deserve to start. It seems the odds on best middle infield glove will be Izturis. If the rest of the Cubs batting order is solid, Izturis weak bat could easily be absorbed. DeRosa's ability to play solid defense at multiple positions, would seem to offer the Cubs greater flexibility off the bench if The Riot can win the second base job outright. Also The Riot's speed would fit nicely into the two hole in the lineup and bring another base stealing threat to the top of the order.
It should be an easy task for Pinella to inspire the maximum effort from his players, when they realize that the competition for starting positions is an even playing field.