With back-to-back wins against the San Diego Padres this week, the Chicago Cubs are now 21-11 under interim manager Mike Quade.

The impetus for this resurgence has been the team’s much-improved starting rotation: Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, and Randy Wells have combined to win 13 times during the span, and Zambrano is 6-0 under Quade.

Despite the success of that trio, however, much about the Cubs‘ rotation for 2011 remains shrouded in mystery.

Wells’ future may still be in doubt after a dreadful middle third of the season, leaving either two or three spots in next year’s rotation vacant.

Carlos Silva, who had a stellar season going through the end of June, made just five appearances after early July and posted a 14.21 ERA with eight walks in 12.2 innings during those games. Southpaw Tom Gorzelanny has a 4.98 ERA and 1.50 WHIP since returning to the starting rotation in June and struggled Friday after missing three weeks with a badly bruised left pinkie finger.

Right-hander Casey Coleman has muddied the waters still more by throwing six innings or more in six straight starts, needing 100 or more pitches to do so just twice.

If the Cubs hope to contend in 2011, they will need to shore up the rotation with one or two new faces next season. Coleman has been largely unimpressive, though consistent, and Jeff Samardzija has made it painfully clear that he will never blossom into the fire-balling ace for whom GM Jim Hendry hoped when he signed the former Notre Dame standout.

By all accounts, the Cubs will prioritize improving the offense this winter, which makes it difficult to envision the team adding a substantial free-agent starter. Cliff Lee, the market’s lone elite hurler, is well beyond their budgetary range.

There are a few in-house candidates to make the jump from either the big-league bullpen or the minors to the rotation, as well as some second-tier options on the open market. What follows is a full breakdown of the possibilities.


Free Agents

1. Jorge De La Rosa, LHP

De La Rosa is the least heralded of the offseason’s upside risks, and a recent quote by an unnamed executive comparing him to the infamous Oliver Perez could suppress his value. Still, it will take a contract approaching three years and $25 million to lure the Rockies hurler away, and he would cost the Cubs a second-round draft pick as well. This would be a highly intriguing move, but it isn’t very likely.

2. Justin Duchscherer, RHP

After two seasons virtually lost to injuries, Duchscherer will hit the market in search of almost anyone willing to give him a guaranteed big-league deal.

At 33 years old and having pitched just 28 innings over the past two years, he may have trouble finding it, but the Cubs might at least take a look: Duchscherer pitched 141.1 innings in 2008 for Oakland, posting a 2.54 ERA and walking narrowly more than a third as many batters as he whiffed.

3. Ted Lilly, LHP

Never say never to a return by Lilly, but it seems as though the team’s protracted payroll for next year and Lilly’s strong finish to the season with Los Angeles puts him outside the Cubs’ range. Still, the fans would flip for such a move, and Lilly had three-and-a-half great seasons as Chicago’s No. 2 starter.

Homegrown Talent

1. Andrew Cashner, RHP

Cashner is probably better suited to the role he has now, coming out of the team’s bullpen. The Cubs need him there, anyway, given the miserable performance of their relief corps this season. Because of his electric stuff and the 2008 first-round pick Hendry spent on Cashner, however, there will always be whispers of stretching him out when the rotation has holes to fill.

2. Jay Jackson, RHP

It was an up-and-down season for Jackson at Triple-A Iowa, but he entered the season as Baseball America’s fifth-best prospect in the Cubs system, and the second-best pitcher. He showed the best command of his pro career this year, striking out 119 and walking only 48 in 157.1 innings. Jackson will likely get a chance to win at least a bullpen role on next year’s team.


3. Chris Carpenter, RHP

He may need to change his name, but Carpenter is a good back-end prospect who could progress very quickly in what will be his third full pro season in 2011. He struck out 112 and walked 57 on the way to a 3.45 ERA in 143.2 innings at Double- and Triple-A this season.

4. Chris Archer, RHP

Almost no one would say Archer has even a chance at reaching the big leagues next spring. Then again, almost no one would have predicted that Archer would go 15-3 with 149 strikeouts in 144.1 innings this year at High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Although only 22, Archer will enter his sixth pro season in 2011 and could arrive in Chicago by midseason.


Matt Trueblood is a student at Loyola University Chicago and a B/R College Writing Intern. Follow him on Twitter.

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