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Cubs Wed Mar 21 2012

Opening Day Start Could Be Double-Edged Sword

While most of the media attention is focused on the final two spots in the Cubs starting rotation, another question remains: Will Ryan Dempster make a repeat appearance as the Opening Day starter?

Prior to him receiving the honor from former manager Mike Quade last year, it was a question asked only for a confirmation quote. If someone dared to challenge Carlos Zambrano's reign, they risked a fate similar to that of a certain Gatorade jug.

It would've been a legitimate inquiry before last season, though, considering Zambrano struggled miserably during his six years in the role with a 1-2 record and 6.98 ERA to go along with a wild 26/20 K/BB ratio.

With Zambrano completely (and thankfully) out of the picture, Dempster has the inside track at claiming the job again this year, especially after surrendering just two runs in his six innings of work on Tuesday while lowering his spring ERA to a solid 3.68.

Matt Garza also has a shot at the top job, but hasn't looked sharp in his few, short stints on the mound. He was afforded a similar opportunity at the beginning of camp last year, only to scare the previous management into momentary buyer's remorse by throwing up a 10.38 ERA in 21 spring innings.

The ironic part about the whole competition is that whoever wins the battle most likely takes the early lead toward getting dealt at the trade deadline. If given the opportunity to save some cash while stocking the farm system with more talent for a run at the playoffs in 2014, Jed Hoyer and company won't hesitate to pull the trigger.

If you look at the situation solely from a future trade perspective, Dempster is again the leader in the clubhouse. Being in the final year of a four-year, $53 million contract, a good first half would almost certainly earn him a trip to another team. Garza on the other hand is signed to a team-friendly one-year, $9.5 million deal and still has one year of arbitration remaining before he hits free agency; a fact that makes him more valuable to other teams, but at a much steeper asking price from the Cubs.

With just a couple more starts for each guy in Arizona, the job remains up for grabs with a slight lead for Dempster. It's unfortunate that the winner is only the best starter on a team that will struggle to reach 75 wins during phase one of the rebuilding process.

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