While they won’t even start playing spring games for another week, the Cubs already have their Opening Day 25-man roster more or less set. That’s one of the benefits of assembling a core group that has remained healthy and (mostly) productive over the past few seasons.
There had really only been two question marks when it came to who would break camp when the Cubs head to Miami to open the season, but Joe Maddon came very close to answering both Thursday.
“When you look at the names among the relievers, it’s hard to imagine less than 13,” the skipper admitted. “And when you look at the position players, there’s so much versatility. I think the combination of versatility and looking for at-bats, why put another guy on the bench who you’re looking for at-bats for?”
Most had assumed that would be the case, and for exactly those reasons, so now the only thing up in the air is who actually takes that last roster spot. As we’ve pointed out here at CI (my take, one from Connor Johnson, and another from Ryan Davis), Justin Grimm is the obvious choice to fill out the bullpen. He’s out of options, though, and has some guys breathing down his neck, so he isn’t set in stone by any stretch.
The remaining question is who other than Willson Contreras will be working with those pitchers. After letting Alex Avila and Rene Rivera walk in free agency, Victor Caratini seemed like the heir apparent to the backup role. Until, that is, the Cubs signed Chris Gimenez to a minor league deal.
Many saw it as a savvy move aimed primarily at recruiting Yu Darvish, but Gimenez brings a boatload of experience and offers a wealth of intangibles. His connection with Darvish is among those positives, though the Cubs aren’t viewing Gimenez as a personal caddie.
“Of course, Gimmy might catch [Darvish], but Willson is our guy.” Maddon said. “Willson’s our catcher, and I want Willson to catch him. It’s never been our plan to match him up exclusively with Gimmy.”
There are a few takeaways here, not the least of which is that Maddon continues to carry on baseball’s time-honored nickname tradition of shortening a player’s last name and adding a -y. And in case you’re still wondering, the proper pronunciation of the G in this case is like a J, not an H. So it’s like “JIM-en-ez” or “Jimmy,” but not like GIF (I don’t care what the image file’s creator says).
Next is that the Cubs aren’t looking to match Gimenez exclusively with Darvish, which brings up the final note. Maddon isn’t coming right out and saying it, but this and other rhetoric since camp opened points toward Gimmy indeed making the roster as Contreras’s backup. Caratini has a ton of upside, but he’s an offense-first catcher whose incremental value is mitigated by a reduced role.
And as much as I downplayed it earlier, we really shouldn’t discount the Darvish angle too much. Even if Gimenez isn’t paired with his pal every fifth day, his expertise will be important as the Cubs look to unleash the full force of their new pitcher’s broad arsenal. What better way to do that than to utilize a guy who knows Darvish and has worked with him on side sessions during which he’s likely thrown all kinds of crazy stuff.
Hell, Darvish can even throw lefty.
Cubs sign LHP Yu Darvish to $126 million deal. pic.twitter.com/8EeQh80ADZ
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) February 11, 2018
Maybe the Cubs don’t need to carry eight bullpen arms after all. Okay, not really, but Darvish is mixing in different pitches while throwing with his off arm. What the what?!
A lot can happen between now March 29, but it sounds like we’ve got a pretty good handle on what the Cubs will look like when the season opens. Now it’s a matter of using these next few weeks to ramp up and get everyone working on the same page.