I had been bullish on Shane Victorino’s chances of capturing a roster spot when he first signed, but I think we all knew health would be the mitigating factor. Sure enough, the Flyin’ Hawaiian has been kept out of live action since March 8 with a calf injury and the Cubs just don’t feel he’ll be in game shape by the time the season opens. They still want to keep the veteran, but that would require that he accept a new deal and a demotion.
Because the contract Victorino is currently playing under would pay him a $100,000 retention bonus, the Cubs’ plan would be to cut him and then re-sign him to a separate minor-league deal. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs would then like Victorino to rehab his calf in Mesa before reporting to Iowa to play for a month or so. That would help him to catch up on the time he has missed — he’s only had 10 at-bats thus far — and allow the club more time to find room on the 40-man roster.
For his part, the four-time Gold Glover seemed disappointed but understood the situation.
“I just still want to play the game I love,” Victorino told reporters. “We all want to do that forever, but this time I really felt like I had made a turn for the better this offseason, going back to switch-hitting.
“I want to be nothing but a plus and not be a hassle or take any attention from the big club. Before I prove it to anyone else, I need to prove to myself that I am the player everyone thinks I am. I am my hardest critic, so if I feel like I am done, no one would need to make that decision for me.”
My initial thought was that the only way Victorino would stick with the Cubs at this point is if no other team was willing to take a flyer on him and he’s sort of forced to stick around. Then again, he could see this team as his best shot at getting another title before he calls it quits. His conversation with the media on Friday seems to indicated that that’s the case, as he says he’s planning to participate in extended Spring Training with the Cubs before deciding what’s next.
With one more name crossed off the list, that last bench bat role looks like it’ll come down to Matt Szczur, Tommy La Stella, and Munenori Kawasaki.
A few fans might have been holding out hope that Matt Murton had a shot or that Kris Negron could possibly sneak in there. Almora Almora has flashed some leather and John Andreoli has put on a show, but neither was every seriously considered for a roster spot. Those four, along with Brandon Gomes, Jesus Guzman, Jean Machi, Juan Perez, and Ryan Williams, were assigned to minor league camp Friday.
Those cuts have the Cubs down to 36 players in big league camp, 19 of whom are pitchers. Depending on how they choose to finalize the Opening Day roster, that leaves either six or seven pitchers and four or five position players to be pared down yet. I was already thinking they’d carry eight arms in the pen, but given Jake Arrieta’s recent blister issue — which he says wasn’t really a blister at all and will be no problem — I’m even more inclined to lean that way.
The presence of several swingmen helps things quite a bit, but I still see the Cubs erring on the side of caution as the season opens up. I believe they’ll roster Neil Ramirez in spite of his shaky performance and continued lack of velocity, which makes the eight-reliever idea a necessity. Ryan Davis took a really nice look at Ramirez’s issues over at BP Wrigleyville and he came to much the same conclusion I did.
In short, there’s very little risk in keeping the guy around in the hopes that he can rediscover some of the magic of 2014 or even reinvent himself as a pitcher who throws in the low 90’s. A lot of folks have brought up the idea of placing the struggling righty on the DL rather than expose him to waivers, but that’s probably not very prudent. It’d be a bad look to stash a healthy Ramirez on the shelf, particularly in a CBA year.
When the dust settles, I think we see La Stella and Ramirez occupying the final two roster spots still in question at this point. One could make a decent argument that Kawasaki has earned a shot as well, but I think the Cubs will opt for latent potential over a static commodity.
What are your thoughts? Should the Cubs go with an octo-pen or carry an extra bat? Is Ramirez worth keeping around? Is Kawasaki?
We’ll have answers in a little more than a week.