We’ve got some split-squad action coming up so just about everyone in camp will get a look-see before the off-day on March 21. Even though some of the guys are batting .500 or better, you can’t really look at those statistics as anything more than a fortuitous hot streak in spring training against mediocre or work-out-the-kinks pitching. However, good performances can only help a guy’s cause, and bad performances are more likely to do the opposite. Let’s take a look now at who’s done the best to make their case for leaving with the truck to go back to Wrigley Field.
As you know, there can only be 25 guys on the active roster at any given time during the season. I think there’s a provision in the new CBA to allow an extra guy during certain doubleheaders, but I’m not sure how that will work yet. Let’s just assume that there are 25 spots. Let’s also assume that Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo aren’t going to start the year in Chicago due to roster constraints and service time considerations.
We know the Cubs are going to employ a five-man rotation and have no plans to tinker with four-man or six-man rotations that have been theorized by baseball gurus and sabermetricians. So far, we know that Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster are guaranteed spots no matter how they do in spring training. Paul Maholm is most likely going to have a spot as well. Garza’s had a few rough innings so far, but Dempster and Maholm have been effective in their short stints. That’s three spots taken care of.
We know that Chris Volstad, Randy Wells and Jeff Samardzija have pitched very well to this point, while Travis Wood has struggled. I doubt they convert T. Wood into a reliever, but his struggles suggest to me that the Cubs will burn an option to have him fix his stuff in Iowa. That leaves three guys for two spots. I think Volstad has the inside track to a rotation spot as he’s shown himself to be a groundball machine (and we hope he keeps the other kinds of balls inside the park). I also think one of Wells and Samardzija will be in the rotation, and the odd man out goes to the bullpen. I base this on their salaries as all three are making over $2MM and you usually don’t want that salary burning away in the minors.
Since Wells is already somewhat established as a starter, we’ll give him the last spot. So we have five spots taken care of with Garza-Dempster-Maholm-Volstad-Wells (in no particular order), leaving 20 spots for bullpen dudes and position players.
Unless there’s a magical trade between now and Opening Day, Geovany Soto is the starting catcher. The only two viable options for backup catcher are Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. I’ll give Clevenger the nod because 1. he bats lefty and 2. he’s slightly older than Castillo so you let the younger guy develop more. I believe Clevenger also has better overall career minor league statistics, and he can spell Soto on certain days when the pitcher is right-handed to exercise the platoon advantage. So we have Soto and Clevenger as our backstops, leaving 18 spots on the roster.
From above, we know Dale Sveum has committed to Bryan LaHair as the first baseman. Ian Stewart is most likely going to be the starting third baseman. Nobody other than Starlin Castro should be at shortstop unless he’s hit by an asteroid. There’s three spots pretty much guaranteed, and we’ll figure out who the second baseman is later. 15 left.
Our starting outfield is Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd (until he’s traded) and David DeJesus. Reed Johnson makes more than a million dollars so he’s the logical fourth outfielder. That’s four spots, with 11 left to fill. We’ll figure out the fifth outfielder in a moment when we deal with the bench.
Jeff Baker makes more than a million and is pretty versatile, able to play 1B, 2B and 3B and also the corner outfield in a bind. I don’t think anyone is beating Darwin Barney out for the starting 2B job, but you never know. However, Barney hasn’t done anything to make them think he should be on the bench. The most likely candidate to unseat Barney is Adrian Cardenas, but in limited playing time, Cardenas hasn’t really shocked the world with his bat. On the other hand, he’s been okay defensively, and he’s a lefty bat, so that’s a plus. Blake DeWitt was DFA’ed and is also a lefty bat, and he’s been hitting the ball pretty well, so there’s a chance he’ll still get a shot. So let’s say Barney gets the starting 2B job, Baker is the primary backup and lefty-masher, while DeWitt is the last backup. Barney can also be the backup shortstop.
For the last outfield spot, it seems to be a competition between Joe Mather, Dave Sappelt and Tony Campana. Two of the guys are either hitting well or at least getting on base, and the other is Tony Campana. At this point we would have to say that Mather is the favorite here. Campana bats lefty, but if he can’t get on base, he’s just a pinch-runner/defensive replacement. Since Reed and Mather can play multiple spots as well, Campana is relatively useless despite his speed. Additionally, Mather seems to be capable of playing third base, so like Baker, he’d be a less godlike version of Mark DeRosa. The bench guys and Barney make up four spots, leaving 7 to fill. If the Cubs were carrying six bullpen guys instead of seven, I’d say Campana is the last man standing here. It’s a bit goofy to have six outfielders though.
From above, Jeff Samardzija was the odd man out of the rotation battle. Kerry Wood is the main setup man. Carlos Marmol is the closer even if you hate him. That’s three out of the seven spots taken up.
Andy Sonnanstine can be a swing man, but I think the Cubs might either release him or have him get starts in Iowa to keep stretched out and to figure out how to get outs again. Sonnanstine may still make the roster though assuming he doesn’t have any more meltdowns. James Russell is the primary lefty guy. Scott Maine scares the shit out of me, so I think the other lefty would be Trever Miller, who can serve as the crafty veteran in the ‘pen. They need one last guy and I honestly don’t care who it is. Let’s just go with Manny Corpas, because I think Casey Coleman should just stay in Iowa. Ta-da. Your 2012 Cubs!