This entire post should (and is going to) be prefaced with it is highly likely that the Cubs trade Welington Castillo sometime this January.
But, what if they don’t?
Keeping three catchers seems counter-intuitive and a poor use of available roster spaces. However, the Cubs have built a roster with enough flexibility that keeping Castillo may not be completely out of the question. Players like Arismendy Alcantara, Luis Valbuena, and Mike Olt can contribute at multiple positions around the diamond. The Cubs have already acknowledged that Olt will play around the corners of both the infield and the outfield. Javier Baez also proved himself a worthy back-up at short when Starlin Castro was lost for much of September to a high ankle sprain.
Having players who have the ability to play multiple positions is a major benefit for new manager, Joe Maddon. He has the ability to be creative when filling out his line-up each day, with a number of his starters being capable of playing other positions to allow for days off and a full utilization of his roster. With the positional flexibility of his starters, it will allow him to more liberally utilize the players on his bench. He can mix and match the players who best give his team the best chance to win on a given day. The card he carries in his back pocket that is “just dripping with analytics” can be used to its fullest extent.
Welington Castillo can be part of the flexibility of the roster. While his opportunities at first base have not been what could be described as significant (4 combined games between the minors and majors), it has happened. Having him work at first base to get an occasional start to give Anthony Rizzo a day off against a tough lefty is a way to get Castillo and his offensive upside some plate appearances in a more favorable situation, while also allowing him to be part of a three-headed monster behind the plate. It would be unfair to expect Rizzo to continue to mash lefties the way he did in 2014, while it would also benefit the Cubs to keep their star fresh. Allowing a combination of Castillo and Olt to take a start now and then is a good way to do it. Moreover, neither Montero or Ross are long-term solutions. Keeping Castillo around is insurance against injury and against the very real possibility that last year’s first round pick, Kyle Schwarber, fails to stick at catcher. For a team that says the future starts now, there is some benefit to hanging on to Castillo and using him in favorable offensive situations while working with him to improve his framing and game management with veterans Montero, Ross, and new QA coach, Henry Blanco.
At the moment, the Opening Day position players could break down something like…
Currently, the composition of the Cubs’ bench is very much in the air. There will likely be an added left-handed hitting outfielder, who would likely take the place of Ryan Sweeney in the projection. If they were to add Emilio Bonifacio back to the roster, he would fit the left-handed, top of the order type veteran the Cubs want. He also plays a number of positions around the diamond. There is also the issue of the impending call-up of Kris Bryant. He will take one of the spots on the roster, which will likely send the right-handed portion of either the left-field or third base platoon to the bench. Bryant’s spot on the roster could come at the expense of Mike Olt. He could also take the place of Tommy LaStella, who is pretty much limited to playing second base, and is easily replaced by Luis Valbuena on the bench.
In this early stage, it remains to be seen how the roster shakes out. There is still over a month before pitchers and catchers report. There are non-roster invitees who can potentially throw a wrench into any early roster projection by having a great camp. The Cubs could repeat their 2014 roster philosophy and keep 13 pitchers. At this point, that appears to be unlikely, but is entirely within the realm of possibility.
It bears repeating that Welington Castillo’s days as a Cub appear to be numbered. However, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are not in the position of having no alternative but to move Castillo. In that sense, they’re in a good position. If an offer that makes sense to the is presented, they can move him. Or they can continue to develop him while retaining him as insurance against injury or ineffectiveness from their two aging backstops. It may not be very likely, but it is an interesting idea.