Inbox: Putting right field, rotation under microscope

Cubs beat reporter Carrie Muskat responds to fans' questions

Right field, starting pitching and third base 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.

Are the Cubs looking to sign another free-agent right fielder or trade for one, or will Nate Schierholtz take that position?
-- Chad G., Baton Rouge, La.

Apparently, it's Schierholtz's job. GM Jed Hoyer said the outfielder will get the majority of playing time in right.

"We feel he's a guy who has been undervalued and a guy who with more at-bats can thrive," Hoyer said Wednesday. "[After] playing in the NL West, playing 100 games in tough hitters' ballparks -- I think he can certainly thrive out of that environment. As we look at our roster today, he'd play in right, probably in some kind of platoon."

Don't look for the Cubs to fill a spot with free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. He received a qualifying offer from the Braves, and if signed, would require the Cubs to give up their second-round Draft pick (the Cubs' first-round pick is protected). Plus, Bourn, 30, was reportedly looking for a $100 million deal.

In an interview Thursday night on Boston's WEEI radio, Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, stressed the importance of keeping top Draft picks because of changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

"There aren't multiple paths into the amateur marketplace anymore," Epstein said. "In the past, you could give up a high pick and realize you were going to overpay someone later on. You could give up a couple Draft picks and realize that you'd just go out and try to dominate international free agency that year. You just don't have the ability to do those things anymore.

"So, when you surrender a Draft pick and the pool space that goes with it," he said, "you're really admitting that you're not going to have as impactful a Draft that year as you would otherwise, and that's something that's really hard to do, given the price of free agents these days and just how meaningful it is to develop your own talent and have that player under control for six years. It's really hard to say, 'Hey, we're trying to build a healthy organization, but we're going to do it while admitting our Draft is not going to be quite as impactful this year.'"

I haven't heard much about Jorge Soler this offseason. Is he playing winter ball? And is there a chance we'll see him in the bigs this coming season?
-- Sean M., Skokie, Ill.

Soler, who turns 21 on Feb. 25, did not play winter ball. He only played in 34 games in 2012, including 20 with Class A Peoria. Expect to see him a lot this spring, but he's projected for 2014 in the bigs.

When will the list of former and current Cubs players attending the Cubs Convention be released?
-- Ben H., New Lenox, Ill.

As soon as the Cubs' marketing folks release the list, it will be posted on Cubs.com. So far, players expected to attend include Darwin Barney, David DeJesus, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano. The 28th Cubs Convention will be held Jan. 18-20 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, 301 E. North Water Street, Chicago.

It seems the Cubs have gone from not enough starters to having too many. Who do you project as the starting five, and what will happen to the rest? I know some have relieved in the past, but my guess is they signed with the Cubs with the understanding they would start.
-- Ken A., Oswego, Ill.

I can give you three: Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Scott Feldman. Because Scott Baker is coming back from Tommy John surgery and Matt Garza is returning from an elbow injury, both could be given extra time. Lefty Travis Wood also is in the mix. They hope it's enough. Last year, the Cubs used a franchise-record 30 pitchers.

Do you think that eventually the Cubs will just mold Javier Baez or Junior Lake to play third or second? If the Cubs plan on keeping Starlin Castro at shortstop, I feel they should stick with molding that duo into different positions.
-- Dave J., Sheboygan, Wis.

The emphasis now is on development at the plate and in the field, not "molding." Because Baez and Lake are both very athletic, they could move to another position if necessary. Lake played left field, third base and shortstop in the Dominican Republic this winter, and Baez did get some time at third in the Arizona Fall League.

Have the Cubs given up on Josh Vitters as their third baseman of the future? He's only 23 and has limited time in the Majors, yet he is never mentioned as a candidate to win the third-base job out of Spring Training. Everyone is handing the job to Ian Stewart, who has played in 103 games the last two years, hitting a combined .183. Why is everyone giving the job to Stewart?
-- Dylan P., Shiloh, Ohio

If Vitters had done better when called up, you wouldn't be asking that question. Stewart has the edge in big league experience, plus he was trying to play despite a wrist that ultimately required surgery. Vitters batted .121 with the Cubs. He's done better in his second year at a level than the first, and they hope that trend continues.

Why isn't Alfonso Soriano being considered as a potential third-base option? With his middle-infield experience and power numbers at the plate, I think a Soriano at third experiment this spring could offer the Cubs flexibility and more run production out of the lineup. The worst that happens is Soriano goes back to left field.
-- Raker D., Huntington Beach, Calif.

The Cubs are not considering this. Soriano turns 37 on Monday. He has not played the infield since 2005, when he made 21 errors as the Rangers' second baseman. Think about how Soriano throws (sort of side-arm) and imagine that at third base. It's not going to happen.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.