By Bruce Levine--
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- As the Cubs prepare to defend their championship, there are a few laundry list items they must circle and check off. In that regard, nothing appears more essential than finding qualified fifth and sixth starters for 2017.
With 15 wins from Jason Hammel leaving in free agency, Chicago is looking for a mix of replacements from a short list of hopefuls. In the spotlight is the contest for the fifth starter's job between left-handers Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson. Montgomery, who had the save in Game 7 of the World Series, earned the trust of Joe Maddon last season and is the odds-on favorite for the No. 5 starter's role. Anderson has been solid when he's healthy. If he wins the job, Montgomery would go back to being a versatile bullpen force for the Cubs.
Injuries, not ability, have been the major stumbling block for the 29-year-old Anderson, who has a career 3.86 ERA. Anderson has found much of his success with a sinker-ball style, but he's only had two fully healthy seasons in the big leagues. Signing a one-year, incentive-based deal with the Cubs could represent Anderson's last great chance in the big leagues.
"I am taking it a day at a time," Anderson said Monday. "I threw a 7:45 (a.m.) bullpen today. That was the earliest pen I ever threw. This was the third or fourth time I have thrown here. Knock on wood, my body feels pretty good overall. That is all I can ask for at this point."
Anderson missed almost the entirety of the 2016 season, first because of a back injury and then because of wrist and finger issues. Only twice in his eight-year career has he started 20 or more games. One of those times was in 2015, when he went 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 31 starts.
"I like my chances when I am healthy," Anderson said. "Right now, I am healthy. It is always good to have healthy competition. That type of thing pushes you. Right now, I am right in that middle group age wise. Hopefully I can help out the younger guys and at the same time learn from the veterans at the top and fit in."
With the Dodgers in the past two seasons, Anderson watched Clayton Kershaw work his magic on the mound. Now, he wants to gather more knowledge from the likes of Cubs teammates Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
"From all of them, you can learn," Anderson said. "Those guys have been around and have seen just about everything. It's always good to think, when in doubt follow their lead. You hope to pick up on things here and there."
Anderson won't rush to make an impression, but the competition for the No. 5 starter's spot will be real and intense.
"The adrenaline will be running high," Anderson said. "Still, I like my chances when I am healthy. It is important to have good competitors going after these job. They have a good group of people here. It's about getting to know the guys and personalities. I am more like Lester except in the social media, I am sarcastic and kind of an ass on Twitter. I sit back and kind of observe. I am not a big talker in person. I do show some candor and personality on (social media)."
Anderson's mindset and sinker-slider style gives the Cubs hope he can make a difference.
"You can't dwell on the negative," Anderson said. "I am kind of a cynic by nature. You still can't worry yourself sick. You do not want a black cloud over you. Pitching is fun -- good, bad or indifferent. Nobody wants a black cloud over you, especially in this upbeat clubhouse."
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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