Edwin Jackson, the bullpen and the bench are among the topics in this week's Cubs Inbox. Got a question? Send it to CubsInbox@gmail.com, and please include your full name and hometown.
How do the Cubs justify spending $52 million over four years on Jackson in a rebuilding phase? Sure, he's a slightly above average pitcher, but it seems like a lengthy deal given our current state of affairs. Can you shed some light on the reason behind this signing?
-- Mike A., Iowa City, Iowa
The current state is that the Cubs are lacking starting pitching in the system. Jackson, 29, is a durable, talented, young pitcher who the front office feels it can build around. He'll give the team innings and isn't as expensive as Zack Greinke, Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez. The Cubs' front office also has looked ahead to potential free-agent pitchers after the 2013 season. That list includes Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, Chris Carpenter and Tim Lincecum. Jackson is a solid investment now.
Who is projected to be the Opening Day starter?
-- D. Wayne K., Hesston, Kan.
My guess is Jeff Samardzija, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Wednesday.
How does the bullpen look this year, because I think that was our weakness last year.
-- Keith S., Trussville, Ala.
It should be better. The addition of Kyuji Fujikawa gives the Cubs an experienced late-inning specialist who can be used with Shawn Camp and James Russell to set up Carlos Marmol. Rafael Dolis and Alberto Cabrera are power arms who should benefit from their experience last season. Michael Bowden could be a long man; he did much better once he got regular work. Hector Rondon, their Rule 5 pick, has 520-plus innings in the Minors, including a brief stint at Triple-A in 2010. He is coming back from elbow surgery, but he pitched well in Venezuela this winter. Last year's Rule 5 pick, Lendy Castillo, was a converted pitcher who had just 131 innings in the Minors.
The key for all the Cubs relievers is to cut down on the walks. Last season, they issued the most walks (259) and fourth-most hits (491) in the National League.
Do you think Matt Szczur, Dave Sappelt and Junior Lake are ready to make the 2013 Cubs as utility players?
-- Ralph M., Chicago
Sappelt will likely get a spot on the 25-man roster as an extra outfielder. Both Szczur and Lake probably need more time. Neither has played above the Double-A level. Szczur did play in the Arizona Fall League and was part of the recent rookie development mini-camp in Chicago, and Lake has improved his value with his versatility, playing the outfield and infield in the Dominican Republic Winter League. Luis Valbuena, who has had a busy winter, will be an important part of the Cubs' bench, too. Valbuena is playing for Lara in Venezuela, and his team has advanced to the championship series against Magallanes.
How is the Interleague schedule determined? As a displaced Midwesterner and Cubs fan, I anticipate being able to see the Cubs in Baltimore at least once every six years. However, the Cubs have played in Baltimore once since Interleague Play began. However, they've played in Yankee Stadium and Fenway a few times over the years.
-- Sean M., Timonium, Md.
If you lived in Oakland, you'd have a legitimate complaint. This year will be the first time that the Cubs will play there. Since Interleague Play began in 1997, they've actually played only once in Fenway Park (2011) and Yankee Stadium (2011). The schedule rotates with the Cubs facing East Division teams one year, then Central, then West. They should play East teams in 2014, and perhaps the Orioles will be on the schedule then.
Since he is blocked by Anthony Rizzo, is there any chance Dan Vogelbach moves to third base or the outfield?
-- Zach S., Macomb, Ill.
Vogelbach -- ranked No. 14 by MLB.com on the Cubs' Top 20 prospects list -- will continue to play first base and work on becoming a middle-of-the-order hitter, which is how the Cubs project him. Right now, every first baseman in the Cubs' system is blocked by Rizzo, but that doesn't mean the organization doesn't stop developing first basemen.
Have they started building the Cubs' new Spring Training facility? When is it scheduled to be ready?
-- Terry L., Sun City Center, Fla.
Construction is under way, and I'll post some photos once I get to Arizona next month. It's scheduled to be ready for Spring Training 2014.