MESA, Ariz — MESA, Ariz. - Competition these days for the Cubs consists solely of the battles for the opening day roster spots.
There's understandably more talk of the relief depth and potential replacements for the fifth spot in the rotation while Jake Arrieta recovers from right shoulder stiffness than owner Tom Ricketts' declaration last week that the Cubs can compete for a playoff berth.
Players seem eager to start playing Wednesday with an intrasquad game, followed Thursday by the exhibition opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks at new Cubs Park.
"I think everyone is to the point where after seeing some pitchers throw and hitting off them, you just want to play some games," said Donnie Murphy, who is competing at third base. "Everyone is anxious about that."
The anxiety among Cubs fans is expected to heighten by the July 31 trading deadline, but the Cubs could have a better idea of whom their reinforcements might be during the next five weeks.
That could be essential with ace Jeff Samardzija receiving plenty of attention, starting Thursday when he starts before a capacity crowd that is expected to include scouts from several teams searching for starting pitching.
And with Arrieta unlikely to be ready by opening day, there will be no shortage of competition for the fifth spot, starting Wednesday with Kyle Hendricks starting in an intrasquad game and continuing Friday with left-hander Chris Rusin opposing the Los Angeles Angels.
"They brought in a lot of good pitchers, starters from the farm system and guys they signed," said Rusin, who had a 2.85 ERA in his first 11 starts in 2013 before getting tagged for 10 runs in his final two starts. "It's good just to have competition because it makes everyone better."
And motivated. James McDonald could play a prominent role if he can stay healthy and show a semblance of 2012, when he won 12 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. If McDonald's right shoulder stays healthy, he can stabilize the Cubs' rotation for at least the first half of the season and could bring value around the deadline.
"Last spring wasn't a normal spring," said McDonald, who missed the final five months of 2013. "Every time I was on the mound, I would think about my shoulder somewhere. 'How would I feel today?'
"I didn't have a free mind to be able to attack hitters. Now I feel like I have a free mind, not worried about how my shoulder is feeling or how it's barking. It's a lot better."
The addition of versatile Emilio Bonifacio could affect players competing for reserve roles. Players with less than six years of major league experience who signed one-year non-guaranteed contracts know what's at stake.
"Even though we worked out something in arbitration this off-season, it doesn't mean that anything is given to you," said Murphy, who signed a one-year, $825,000 contract. "I still got to go out there and prove to them they can trust me. I'm anxious to start playing games and show what I can do."
Fans will get an early look at the Cubs' Core Four of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler before they're sent to the minors for more seasoning.
"All of us are looking forward to seeing those guys out there," manager Rick Renteria said. "They're very excited the games are getting ready to start. As the spring progresses and we're able to get them in there and let them get a feel for the spring and facing major league players, I think it's going to be good for everybody.
"In any case, you're looking to learn as much as you can about all of them and learn what it is we need to do to improve our game as a team."