Cubs' Villanueva takes Samardzija's spot

Carlos Villanueva will take the spot of the traded Jeff Samardzija when the Chicago Cubs face Washington.

WASHINGTON -- Carlos Villanueva took the place of injured Jake Arrieta in April, and now Villanueva will take the spot of the traded Jeff Samardzija when the Chicago Cubs play the Washington Nationals on Saturday.

This also could serve as an audition for Villanueva, who has value because of his versatility. Villanueva was 1-3 with a 9.68 ERA in four starts in April, but he has a 3-2 record and 3.54 ERA in 18 games since returning to the bullpen.


Villanueva attracted interest from the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees before this season.

With the trade of Samardzija and fellow starting pitcher Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics, the Cubs can now focus their efforts on smaller but important bargaining chips.

Most of the recent speculation has fallen on shortstop Starlin Castro, who has rebounded with a .290 batting average with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. The New York Mets and Seattle Mariners are among the teams searching for a shortstop, but a source said last month that the Mariners have taken a look at Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox.

Also, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Triple-A Iowa shortstop Javier Baez would probably get a look at other positions later this summer.

Left-hander James Russell attracted interest from the Kansas City Royals in spring training. Super utiliity player Emilio Bonifacio could be a trade target once he is activated from the 15-day disabled list, although that might not occur until the end of July, at the earliest.

Other trade possibilities are second baseman Darwin Barney (who can play shortstop) and left-handed-hitting outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who can become a free agent after this season.

Meanwhile, the trading of Hammel and Samardzija saves the Cubs about $5.7 million.

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