When the playoffs end and the season is finally over, the Cubs will have some tough decisions to make. They will have to decide which free agents to let go and which to try and retain. Some will be overpriced, while the Cubs can easily afford others. Once that has been determined, the Cubs will then have to figure out which of the 60+ eligible players in the system will be placed on the 40-man roster to avoid being taken in the Rule 5 Draft in early December.
Almost two-thirds of the 40-man roster is pretty easy to figure out as more than half of the 40 man is under contract at the major league level for next year.
Pitchers – Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Lackey, Pierce Johnson
Bullpen – Rondon, Strop, Edwards, Grimm, Montgomery, Spencer Patton
Catchers – Montero, Contreras
Infielders – Rizzo, Baez, Zobrist, Russell, Bryant, Candelario, La Stella
Outfielders – Heyward, Schwarber, Soler, Almora, Szczur
That gives us a subtotal of 25 out of the 40. Two of the players on this list will start the year at AAA: Pierce Johnson is not ready for the majors but Jeimer Candelario is close. Albert Almora, on the other hand, might have a spot on the 25-man roster depending on Dexter Fowler’s decision.
Retirees – David Ross
Hopefully, he will be with the Cubs in some capacity but it won’t be as a player.
Free Agents – Jason Hammel (team option), Travis Wood, Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler (mutual option), Aroldis Chapman, Trevor Cahill, Christian Villanueva, Gerardo Concepción, Joe Smith
I think Hammel’s option will be picked up as cheap as he is. I don’t know about Travis Wood. He should cash in on his last two years, which have been very good, which means he is going to be a tough sign. In my opinion, he is the player the Cubs should seek out because of the dearth of left-handed pitching in the upper minors.
I don’t think Chapman comes back, In fact, I think he heads back to New York. Smith, on the other hand, is 32 and reportedly enjoys being a little closer to his ailing mother, so he could be persuaded to return. I think with Schwarber’s return, Coghlan is a goner. For Villanueva, he will be coming off a broken leg. That will be a tough choice as the Cubs may not have much of a look at him before making that decision.
Hammel makes number 26.
Question Marks – Zac Rosscup
Lefties don’t grow on trees, but Rosscup’s age (he’ll be 29 in 2017) and injury history may work against him. I think the fact that he’s a southpaw and because pitching coach Chris Bosio likes him, Rosscup will be back. That’s 27.
Highly Unlikely – Dallas Beeler, Andury Acevedo, RJ Alvarez, Aaron Brooks, Giovanni Soto
While the Cubs have Beeler under contract for 5 more years, his age is becoming a factor. Do they bring him back or send on his way for a shot with another team? None of the others have worked out very well as minor leaguers and you can kiss them goodbye.
That leaves somewhere between 11 and 13 spots. I would imagine the Cubs front office will leave 5 spots for acquisitions over the winter. So in all, that leaves anywhere 6-8 spots to fill.
Here are players the Cubs have in their system who I think they should place on the 40 man roster. Most of them are no-brainers, but there are a couple of surprises for you.
Top tier – Rob Zastryzny, Jose Rosario, Ryan McNeil, Bijan Rademacher, Duane Underwood, Victor Caratini, Jordan Pries, Jack Leathersich
These will be interesting selections. The Cubs will have a plethora of spots with a myriad of choices. On the list above, Underwood, Caratini, Leathersich, and Zastryzny (with his newfound cutter) are no brainers. I picked McNeil because he has improved so much this year and is back to his pre-draft level of 95 mph three years post-injury.
I am hoping Rademacher gets a slot, but he doesn’t profile as much beyond a bench player. Rosario has shot up to AAA one year removed from TJS and he throws in the upper 90’s as a reliever. I don’t think the Cubs are ready to give up on that kind of talent. Pries, who was acquired in the Dan Vogelbach trade, could be given a spot, but that’s only to have some AAA starting pitching depth for next year. However, the Cubs may just go out and find someone else they may believe has more upside, rather than give that slot to a prospect with a lower ceiling.
Other Possibilities – Felix Pena, Brian Matusz, Jose Paulino, David Garner, Jake Hannemann, Armando Rivero, Tim Federowicz, Cael Brockmeyer, and Manny Parra
No one could have blamed the Cubs for leaving lefty Michael Heesch off the 40-man last year. He finished at Myrtle Beach and they didn’t see a ton of projection. Then again, he was left handed, not exactly the Cubs forte. This time around, the Cubs could be protecting assets like Heesch who other teams might covet an might take a chance on.
To be honest, the Cubs don’t have enough spots to protect all the players they need to and they likely won’t for the next few years. I think Pena and Garner could get snapped up along with Rivero and Federowicz, and maybe even Cael Brockmeyer. These players are not destined for stardom at the major league level, but they all could play a bench or bullpen role for other teams.
Hannemann is the toughest choice. He is an elite defender and has great speed, but the bat lags behind. Conversely, he has the potential to do well. Yet, he has not lived up to those expectations. If unprotected, I think he gets taken. With the players in front of him and those coming up behind, that might be a good thing for him.
Conversely, Jose Paulino might be the biggest risk. He’s only at low-A now, but he’s also 21, left-handed, and has a good slider and changeup. Out of all the players who are eligible, I think other teams would find Paulino as the most appealing over the long term, despite his lack of experience. Still, it’s a tough call to give a 21-year-old kid a 40-man spot when he has not even pitched at the advanced-A level.
The hardest thing to determine in this instance is which players appeal to other teams. Then add that you really have to project what players in your own system appeal to you right now and in the future and you’ve got some difficutl decisions. In the end, I think we will be surprised by who the Cubs protect and who they choose to leave exposed.