Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija heats up Cubs rotation competition

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It looked like six pitchers for five spots initially, but with Jeff Samardzija having made a strong early impression on new manager Dale Sveum, there are currently seven pitchers in the mix for the Cubs rotation.

The givens are Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, though Garza’s name has been a very popular one in trade rumors. After those two were expected to be Paul Maholm and Randy Wells, leaving newcomers Chris Volstad and Travis Wood competing for one spot. Samardzija’s emergence, though, has broadened the competition and perhaps left Wells vulernable to being replaced.

Volstad, for what it’s worth, has answered the bell early on. He pitched three scoreless innings in a win against the Giants on Tuesday, bringing his spring total to six scoreless frames. Samardzija has allowed two runs in his six innings and boasts a nice 6/0 K/BB ratio. Wells has pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, while Wood has allowed one run in 2 1/3 innings.

Since Wood, who came over in the Sean Marshall deal, has options left, he seems the most likely candidate to be bumped now. Samardzija then could take the spot of either Volstad or Wells if he’s promoted from the bullpen. Wells has seen his ERA jump from 3.05 in 2009 to 4.26 in 2010 and 4.99 last season, so there’s no reason he should be promised anything.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.