Two plans for Cubs

Cubs prospect Javier Baez on playing second base for "first time since high school."

I love the way the Cubs stories are about the fifth starter’s job, like this one about James McDonald’s injury or this one about Chris Rusin’s four good innings.

Here’s the question: Aren’t all Cubs pitchers No. 5 starters except Travis Wood?

Yes. Yes, they are. And one of those No. 5 starters will pitch opening day.

New Cubs manager Rick Renteria named Jeff Samardzija as his opening day starter, which means Travis Wood got hosed, but then I don’t think it was Renteria’s decision because the Cubs aren’t trying to showcase Wood for a deal the way they’re trying to dump Samardzija.

The more that Samardzija starts, the better the chance he gets traded if he’s any good. He was good early last season, then he stunk. Theo Epstein and his bunch hope that’s the case this season. That’s why it seems they told Renteria to start Samardzija in the opener.

Maybe someday Renteria actually will get to manage a team and manage a team that has pitchers competing to be No. 1 starters instead of guys that teams can’t wait to skip in the rotation.

This Cubs' pitching situation tells you it won’t happen this year. Same goes for next year and the one after that and the one after that. Not with the pitching in the system right now.

That can change quickly. Or it it can change later. I know, it also might never change, but I’m trying to be Stevie Sunshine here, and it seems to come down to two choices.

One plan would go like this: First, trade Starlin Castro and Samardzija for a good young starter with major league experience and a couple other prospects who are two seasons away, max;

Second, bring up Javier Baez and start the clock on the 30-plus errors that young shortstops always seem to make;

Third, get Kris Bryant and Albert Almora up here by the end of this season.

That’s the heart of what people will look back on as a contender, and maybe 2017 can seem legitimate. Maybe.

Another plan would go like this: Retain all the young bats you’ve drooled over and buy pitching, such as James Shields next winter and David Price the winter after that.

The Cubs finished second in the Masahiro Tanaka spendfest, so they are willing to spend free-agent money. Unfortunately, they spent a stupid amount on the bad news that is Edwin Jackson, but perhaps that taught them what a top-end major-league arm actually is.

So, if the Cubs keep the young bats -- if Castro can pay attention, if Baez can play second base, if Bryant is the real deal, if Almora is not just captain of the outfield but of the team, too, if Anthony Rizzo stops getting traded -- and outbid the market for the likes of Price and Shields, then the Samardzijas and Jacksons would rightly be pushed to the bottom of the rotation, and suddenly, contending in 2016 isn’t the joke that it seems to be today.

It has to be one plan or the other because it will be time for Epstein to be right or it might be time to not extend his contract.

CHICAGO

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