The Chicago Cubs have an off-day on Monday in Cactus League play, although the players will still participate in workouts and some will play “B” games or minor league games to stay fit. In the meantime, we have this to anticipate:
Cubs likely to make cuts next Wednesday, after Tuesday’s B game and regular game vs. A’s. Maddon doesn’t expect any surprises.
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 21, 2015
It’s unfortunate that, if what I’m about to outline turns out to be the case, a few of the players who participated in the Respect Bald charity event won’t see the Opening Night roster, but at least it was for a good cause:
So you know that we’ve already outlined our projected Cubs Opening Night roster here and talked about how the team can maximize production to try to get to the playoffs in 2015. There are likely going to be some guys who get designated for assignment, then outrighted to the minors or released, but we’ll get into that later on (I did have a cool conversation with some Twitter buddies if you want to check that out). The 40-man roster is still full, and there are a number of players who have no options left so the Cubs will either have to sneak them through waivers or just lose them for nothing if a suitable trade can’t be worked out. These are:
- Drake Britton
- Welington Castillo
- Felix Doubront
- Neil Ramirez
- Hector Rondon
- Pedro Strop
- Jacob Turner
- Travis Wood
We pretty much know that Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop will be in the bullpen on Opening Night barring catastrophe. Jacob Turner will start on the disabled list with a minor elbow boo-boo so the Cubs can buy some time with him. Welington Castillo and Travis Wood have played well enough this spring that if they can’t be traded (or the Cubs chose to just keep them around), they’ll be on the MLB roster to start the season. I argued on Twitter that Britton and Doubront won’t make the bullpen so the Cubs will try to sneak them through waivers.
So let’s go ahead and look at the 25-man roster as it’s shaping up before the cut date…
That’s 19 guys out of the 25 spots available, with six to go.
ON THE BUBBLE
Of the six remaining spots, we need one more starter, at least two more relievers, and three or so bench players. So now let’s look at guys on the bubble:
This is pretty much a battle between Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, but I think Wood has the inside edge. There’s a possibility that whoever doesn’t get the fifth spot in the rotation becomes the long man in the bullpen, but there are some thoughts out there about potentially keeping both guys in a sort of piggyback or pitcher platoon. Tsuyoshi Wada doesn’t much matter because he’s been nursing minor injuries all spring and his contract is relatively cheap anyway, so whatever.
There is at least some need for a lefty specialist, and although he’s not on the roster, Phil Coke is pretty much a favorite to land a job; the Cubs just have to figure out which guy to dump off the roster to make room for Coke. The other candidates that make any kind of sense to me are Drake Britton and Zac Rosscup, but since Rosscup has an option remaining, the Cubs have flexibility with him. I believe the only lock is Coke unless he spectacularly bombs in the remaining days of spring training. The other righties on the roster are just depth and they haven’t done themselves any favors so far to supplant the five locks.
This is a big if, but if the Cubs decide that they can’t or they won’t trade Welington Castillo, a very intriguing three-catcher rotation could result, or it could open up a lot of late-game pinch-hitting/defensive options for Joe Maddon. It’s not out of the realm of possibility and we’ve been stumping for this forever.
Javier Baez is on the bubble, as there is a debate on whether he’s best served adjusting to MLB pitching (he will likely struggle for a while) or if he should just start out in Iowa. Tommy La Stella has shown he can handle both second and third base at least competently and he will likely be on the team either as a starter or as a utility guy. Because Alcantara can play anywhere on the field, having an extra infielder past La Stella (and Baez if he isn’t shuttled off to Des Moines) isn’t absolutely necessary.
My favorite is Matt Szczur, but he’s got an option remaining (this is the final year of his special contract from when he was drafted, after which he must be kept on the active roster or be lost to either Rule 5 or waivers). Junior Lake and Ryan Sweeney are also in the mix, but I believe Szczur’s mixture of speed, defense, and a serviceable bat makes him an ideal fifth outfielder.
Will the Cubs trade Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, and/or Welington Castillo? This is something Dabynsky was pondering on Twitter, as in whether the Cubs would carry 13 pitchers or three catchers on Opening Night. I don’t think they can do both, but the versatility of guys like Mike Olt (corner positions), Tommy La Stella (2B/3B), Arismendy Alcantara (Ben Zobrist 2.0) plus the fact that Denorfia and Szczur can play all outfield positions makes this roster super-adaptable even if the bench is shorter than usual. If Javier Baez is sent to Iowa for extra seasoning, that gives the Cubs the spot they need to carry Welington Castillo until some other MLB catcher breaks and they can trade him.
I’ll update this thought after we see the next cuts. And we’ll probably have to update in sometime next month when Kris Bryant is finally ready for MLB.