Hope Springs Eternal: What to Expect with the Cubs’ Roster-Crunching
I’ve taken a lengthy sabbatical from writing, as some of you may have noticed, due to school and contract negotiations consuming much of my time. But I’ve noticed the news cycle on other blogs have dropped off a bit too. It’s hard to find topics to write about right now; we’re in the dead zone. Pitchers and catchers report in a week and free agency is essentially over.
Can’t baseball season just start already? I’m tired of the only legitimate baseball news being the countdown of days until Spring Training, cheating Little League teams being stripped of titles, and fake Cole Hamels trades that won’t come to fruition.
The first week or two of Spring Training will inevitably be filled with puff pieces written about infielders struggling to stay in the Majors, guys being in the best shape of their life, and guys coming off injury hoping to bounce back (seriously, just watch how many interviews you see with Jason Motte next week). The real interesting stuff doesn’t begin until the games start, and even then it’s usually just highlights and rarely televised games.
The Cubs are basically set with their Spring Training roster, which is a mixture of sure bets, bubble guys, prospects, and guys without a prayer of making the team. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect going into the next month of roster-crunching.
*Indicates a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.
What stands out here is the striking lack of position players that are guaranteed to make the roster. Rizzo, Castro, Montero, and Ross are locked into their spots, as are Coghlan, Fowler, and Denorfia. The Cubs have three starters that will definitely be in the rotation in Lester, Arrieta, and Hammel — barring injuries of course. I included Strop, Rondon, and Motte as obvious “sure bet” relievers.
Nearly Sure Bets
Tommy La Stella
You probably could make an argument for any of these guys going to the “sure bet” category, although there’s a slight chance any of them could not make the Major League roster. Sweeney signed an extension last offseason, however it’s not for much money. He needs to perform to stick. Soler, Alcantara, and La Stella make sense to make the roster as well, but a few questions remain. Can Soler stay healthy? Can Alcantara and La Stella get on base? I sincerely doubt Hendricks goes back to AAA due to his performance last season, and the same stands for Grimm and Ramirez.
On The Bubble
Castillo is “on the bubble,” but only because he has a high probability to be traded. Mike Olt has an inside edge on the third base spot with Luis Valbuena gone, but he’ll have to prove that he can hit. Junior Lake needs to do the same, but he has no such edge on a roster spot and would need a miracle plus several injuries to make the team. Matt Szczur has a slight chance, but only because he’s a solid extra outfielder.
Jackson, Wood, Wada, and Doubront all want to be starters but there’s only one spot. Some of them will end up in the pen, and others expelled from the roster. You’ll notice a lot of left-handed relievers in this category, which is because the Cubs aren’t exactly set at the position. It’s possible that two of Ortiz, Jokisch, Britton, and Rosscup make the team and the other two get sent to AAA or exposed to waivers.
Rivero, Schlitter, and Parker all have the credentials to make a case, but there aren’t enough spots. I threw in Turner because he’s out of options and pretty much has to make the team or go away.
So, You’re Sayin’ There’s a Chance
*Jorge De Leon
I’m sure putting Baez in this category is somewhat controversial. I honestly see it being very difficult for him to make the team. He was clearly not ready last year, and he needs to make a lot of adjustments. Time at AAA is likely in the cards. Lopez would need Castillo to be traded and an injury to either Montero or Ross to have a chance to make the roster. Teagarden needs the same scenario, plus outplaying Lopez, due to his status as a non-roster invitee.
Villanueva has an outside shot if he performs and Olt falters, due to lack of other options and the fact that he’s already on the 40-man roster. Because of the roster construction, Herrera or Valaika could conceivably make it. However, they’d need to be added to the 40 man roster first. Chambers and Baxter are depth and not much else. Beeler has options left and you’ve already seen the starting pitching battle, which effectively eliminates him. The list of relievers are all without a roster spot and would need a crazy good showing in the next month to make their way to Chicago.
This might as well be the prospect category, right? We all know Schwarber, Russell, and Almora won’t be ready on Opening Day. An argument could be made for Bryant, but we all know he won’t be going north from Arizona either. Johnson, Black, and Edwards are all starters and the Cubs aren’t ready to move any of them to the bullpen, which means back to the minors. No relievers are on the list because, frankly, none of their relievers are true prospects at this point and any of them could feasibly play their way into a roster spot (even if it is unlikely for some).
Not that you care, here is my prediction for the Opening Day roster.
Infield– Montero, Ross, Rizzo, Castro, Olt, Alcantara, La Stella, Herrera
Outfield– Coghlan, Denorfia, Fowler, Soler, Sweeney
Starters– Lester, Arrieta, Hammel, Hendricks, Jackson
Relievers– Rondon, Motte, Strop, Ramirez, Grimm, Ortiz, Wada
Not a ton of surprises. Herrera is my pick to make it as a backup infielder, but only because I don’t believe Baez will win a starting spot (and they certainly won’t use him as a backup). I think Olt and Alcantara will share playing time at third base, and the same for La Stella and Alcantara at second base. The outfield features the left field platoon of Coghlan and Denorfia, Fowler in center, and Soler in right. Sweeney, Alcantara, and whichever guy isn’t starting in left field will be able to back up outfield spots.
Jackson is my pick to win the fifth starter spot. He will have the inside edge, as the Cubs haven’t been able to deal him and they really need him to regain some value. I picked Ortiz and Wada as the lefties in the pen, but this is mostly an option-related pick. Rosscup and Jokisch can still be sent to AAA, as can Parker, Rivero, and Schlitter. Turner misses the boat in my mind, but there’s a decent chance someone starts the season on the DL and opens a spot for Turner.
The notable absence of Wood and Castillo is due to my assumption that they’ll be dealt prior to Opening Day, but it’s possible I’ve swung and missed on that. Overall, my feelings on the roster is that they’re average on offense, have good starting pitching, and a potentially dominant bullpen. Come on, baseball season. I can’t wait much longer.