When the 2011 season ended, every Cubs fan had a list of players and front office types they never wanted to see anywhere near the team again. Some lists were longer than others, but many of them–including mine–featured starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez.
Lopez was a classic Jim Hendry pickup. The Cubs traded for him in May to help bolster an injury-ravaged starting rotation. After working out of the bullpen for most of June, he settled into the fifth spot in the rotation, making a total of sixteen starts. He was generally unremarkable–never so bad that he’d be dropped from the team, but never good enough to secure a long term job. And as a thirty-six year old journeyman, he was not the answer to any of the questions facing the Cubs at the end of the season.
So why are we talking about him now?
Because the Sean Marshall trade and the apparent promotion of Jeff Samardzija have left the Cubs with few options in the bullpen. And while Lopez never really had a shot to win a starting job, he seems suited to fill in as the Cubs’ long reliever/spot starter.
Think about it this way–I don’t necessarily want him taking the mound to start a game, but I won’t mind him taking the ball when Ryan Dempster can’t get through the second inning, or when Samardzija uses up his thirty-five pitches before the fifth. Someone has to eat those innings, and it might as well be Lopez. And with all the new faces we’re apparently going to see in the bullpen this season, it won’t be the worst thing to have a long-relief guy we know and (relatively) trust.
Would it be nice to have a better pitcher in that spot? Sure, but my guess is that if Randy Wells isn’t one of our starters, he’ll be trade bait. And no one wants to cement Travis Wood as a flameout in a thankless role when he could be getting useful experience in the minors. So who does that leave? That’s right–Senor Roster Vacuum Filler himself, Rodrigo Lopez.
Much like the rest of the 2012 Cubs, it could be better, it could be worse. Who else has Opening Day Fever?