Fearless Roster Prediction (Early Spring Edition): Cubs likely to have very few roster battles

Okay, so maybe it's not quite that fearless.  Usually when you have a bad team with a whole lot of turnover on the roster, you'd think there would be quite a bit of competition for spots in the lineup and the rotation.  Apparently there won't even be a whole lot of spring battles for spots on the entire opening day roster.   According to new manager Dale Sveum...



“I don’t know if fight-for-a-job is right, but there’s competition for the last couple spots, no question about it.’’

The "last couple of spots"? Seems like the roster is pretty much set.  Here are the spots that may offer some competition

The 4th and 5th starters  

I mentioned before that I believe that Chris Volstad and Travis Wood are the favorites to fill the bottom of the rotation while Randy Wells will be given every opportunity to keep his job.  Samardzija is in the mix but he's an extreme longshot, especially now that the Cubs need quality arms in the bullpen.  They have lost hard-throwing righty relievers Andrew Cashner and Chris Carpenter this offseason.

The last spot or two in the bullpen

Let's assume the Cubs go with 12 pitchers and 7 bullpen arms. The following pitchers are locks...

1. Carlos Marmol

2. Kerry Wood

3. James Russell

4. Jeff Samardzija

  • Reliever Marcos Mateo is also likely to make the team because he is out of options.  The Cubs have kept him on the roster despite multiple opportunities to let him go this offseason.  This tells me they intend to give him every chance in the world to make the team.
  • Sveum reportedly wants a second lefty in the bullpen.  That pits 4 pitchers against each other for what is likely one spot: John Gaub (who has been out with back spasms so far), Scott Maine, Jeff Beliveau, and non-roster invitee  Trever Miller.
  • The loser of the 3 way battle for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation will likely have a job as a long reliever/spot starter.  If Wood doesn't win the job, he could also serve as the second lefty in the pen, which would mean Randy Wells is the fifth starter.
  • If the Cubs decide to use Wood as their 2nd lefty reliever, there would be one more spot open.  That would give Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo an opportunity to make the club, but there will be competition from Andy Sonnanstine, Casey Coleman, one of the lefty relievers, Manny Corpas, and possibly Rafael Dolis.

Backup Catcher
The battle to fill Koyie Hill's shoes...

  1. Steve Clevenger.  He's the favorite, in my opinion, because he's cheap, he's on the roster, he's good defensively, and as a bonus he has a nice lefty bat.  What's not to like?
  2.  Welington Castillo.  Has some good skills, including a great arm and emerging power, but he'll probably be better off playing everyday in Iowa.  He may have a future as a starter.
  3. Jason Jaramillo. He's probably more of a fallback plan in case Clevenger isn't ready.  He provides some experience.  He's not on the roster, so he would require that the Cubs waive a player...and do your really want to do that for a backup catcher?  If a roster spot opens up naturally (i.e. through compensation for San Diego), that would increase his chances

Utility infielder(s)
I'm going to assume Jeff Baker has one spot locked up.

  1. Adrian Cardenas.  He has two big advantages, a) he's the only other utility infielder on the roster and b) he hits left-handed, which complements Baker and likely starter Darwin Barney.  His disadvantage is bad defense, which means he really isn't a candidate to start everyday unless that improves significantly.  But with a good defender as a starter, the Cubs would probably choose offense over defense for the backup spot.
  2. Alfredo Almazega.  I like Almazega. He fits the profile in that he is a good athlete with good speed off the bench, he defends many positions well, including SS, and he has some plate discipline.  He would make a nice 25th man if the Cubs decide to go with an extra position player -- or he could even take the spot of two roster players.  But more on that later.
  3. Blake DeWitt.  He's similar to Cardenas in that he's a lefty bat (albeit with lesser OBP skills) and a fringy glove.  Cardenas has one thing DeWitt doesn't, however -- a spot on the 40 man roster.
  4. Matt Tolbert. Tolbert was once a ranked prospect with Minnesota (#22 in 2009 per BA).  He's an intelligent, versatile player who can play all 4 infield spots.  He also switch-hits.
  5. Edgar Gonzalez.  Gonzalez provides a decent RH bat and ok defense at 2B and 3B.  In other words, he's a poor man's Jeff Baker.  The poor part being that he doesn't own a roster spot.  That likely relegates him to AAA, but should the Cubs trade Baker to a contender at some point, Gonzalez makes for a reasonable replacement.

5th outfielder
Reed Johnson gets dibs on the 4th spot here.  He will provide defense and a solid RH bat to spell David DeJesus against some lefties.

  1. Tony Campana.  The 5'8" rookie provides a lot of speed and hustle, both of which endear him to both Dale Sveum and Cubs fans.  There's no doubt that his legs are a significant weapon off the bench and that gives him a good shot at the 5th OF'er spot.
  2. Dave Sappelt.  At 5'9", he doesn't exactly tower over Campana, but he swings a much more potent bat.  His defense is better suited for the corners but he can play CF on occasion.  In terms of size and good RH bat, he's a little like Reed Johnson, so it's likely the Cubs won't choose to have two similar players on the roster.  He makes an ideal replacement for Johnson should the Cubs trade him during the season.
  3. Alfredo Almazega.  Didn't I have this guy in the IF competition?  Well, he can play OF pretty well too.  The Cubs could throw a curveball and keep the versatile Almazega as the 5th OF/7th IF'er...or even the 6th IF'er if they want to save another spot for a pitcher.   Creative? Yes. Likely? No.

There's not a whole lot of drama, but here's my early roster prediction for 2012..

Position Players

C: Geovanny Soto

1B: Bryan LaHair

2B: Darwin Barney

SS: Starlin Castro

3B: Ian Stewart

LF: Alfonso Soriano

CF: Marlon Byrd

RF: David DeJesus


C: Steve Clevenger

2B-3B-1B-OF: Jeff Baker

2B-3B-OF: Adrian Cardenas

OF: Reed Johnson

OF: Tony Campana

  1. Matt Garza
  2. Ryan Dempster
  3. Paul Maholm
  4. Chris Volstad
  5. Travis Wood


  1. Carlos Marmol
  2. Kerry Wood
  3. Jeff Samardzija
  4. James Russell
  5. Marcos Mateo
  6. Jeff Beliveau
  7. Randy Wells

Of course, a whole lot can change between now and opening day, but based on the names we have now, these are the guys I think the Cubs will be taking north.




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  • Yeesh. o/u on 74 wins? I'll take the under.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    It's not the '27 Yankees...or maybe not even the '67 Yankees.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The '67 Yanks, led by the great Horace Clarke...
    I don see any of the starting outfielders there in 2014, maybe only Castro in the INF.

  • In reply to Munce:

    Nice! Could be right about the lineup too. None of those guys are sure bets to stay.except for Castro.

  • I agree with your roster picks. Sveum will just have to see, during spring training, which of the backup players has what his looking for.
    Like I said before, I don't want the AAA roster full of veterans who
    don't have what it takes to help the team later.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Thanks! It seems somewhat set as it stands right now. I'm sure there will be changes but that's what editions 2,3,4, and 5 are for ;)

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    Do you think Almazega's ability to play SS gives him a stronger chance. Or will he park at AAA against a potential injury to Barney or Castro?

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    I think he's more likely to be at AAA as insurance, but I like his versatility. He can probably replace two players (Cardenas/Campana), as well as the ability to play SS...it would create an extra roster spot if the Cubs wanted to keep an extra pitcher, for example.

    Still, in the end, Campana's speed and Cardenas bat off the bench are probably worth more than a 13th pitcher.

  • Yikes. Now that the Theo compensation drama is over (for the most part), the focus on the actual roster is scary - at least for 2012.

  • In reply to Hawks12:

    It's one where the Cubs have to hope to hang on early with pitching, defense, and a bit more speed. If things look good, then I can see them trying to upgrade the offense. If they don't, maybe they trade Garza since they might be further away then they think.

  • If Soto has another down year, and Wellington tears it up in triple A, any chance they'll bench Soto and promote Castillo or even give the job to Clevinger? Will Sveum bench players regardless of status if they don't produce?

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Castillo's the more likely starter but it's possible. Have to keep in mind that to this point Soto hasn't come all that close to reaching Soto's offensive upside. Castillo's ceiling is probably something like a .250-.260 hitter with 15 HRs...but doesn't have Soto's OBP skills. If he hits .250 with a a 6,7% walk rate he'll have roughly the same OBP Soto did last year with the same power. He's simply not as good a player unless he drastically improves.

    Only reason to go with Castillo is if Soto gives you younger cost controlled players in return and those guys + Castillo can surpass Soto's value.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I guess what I'm saying is I'm okay with going with Castillo,but not until Soto is traded for some value.

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    In reply to Break The Curse:

    Castillo needs to improve his footwork on blocking pitches in the dirt, that's his biggest glaring hole right now. Watch him in spring training once the games are on tv to see if he's gotten any better, but he was just plain awful last year when any pitch went in the dirt. He's slow to react, slow to move his feet, etc. He's definitely got the arm to be a big league catcher, and has enough power to challenge for a starting job despite his likely mediocre average in the majors, but unless his defense improves he's going to have a hard time holding on to a starting big league job.

    Clevenger could/should have a decent MLB career, he makes consistent contact, although not for a lot of power, and he's a solid defender.

  • I just realized we have completely forgotten about a guy who deserves a legitimate chance at a spot in the pen. After all, Esmailin Caridad had earned it before the injury problems. Why isn't he acknowledged at all in these battles?

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    He's a longshot. I think it's more likely he's trying to play his way back into their depth plans. He didn't do well in his one opportunity either, so the Cubs aren't holding a spot for him.

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    Caridad's name reminds me of another former Cub who has tried battling back from arm troubles. I'm not expecting to see him again, but what was the latest report on Angel Guzman? Seems that he was pitching again late last season in the minors? The guy seemed to have a great attitude, even with a lot of crappy things that have happened to him. He's a guy I can cheer for, again, even if I don't expect to ever see him with the big club again.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    Guzman signed with some team, I think. I want to say Dodgers, but I'm not sure.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    Guzman is with the dodgers last I heard.

  • In reply to socalcub:

    cool. that's what I thought. I'll still root for him. Had such great stuff as a prospect, just couldn't stay healthy.

  • For some reason I really want to see Clevenger play, I know he's a backup but it would be nice to see a good backup catcher for once. I'm hoping Castillo plays well this as well as Soto. That way if the Cubs decide to further rebuild Soto could be a nice trade commodity and then you can slide Castillo from the minors.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    I get the feeling that Clevenger will hit but I also get the feeling that the more he plays the more we think he should be a backup. But if he could hit for a bit more extra base power and some OBP, it could get interesting.

  • I know I am drinking the Theo colored Kool-Aid hard John, but I don't know that I've ever been this excited about a Cubs team that will have to get a couple lucky breaks to crack .500! At least there is hope (even if its maybe not 2012 hope)

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    I'm very excited for the season as well. I'm not sure about .500 but I'm looking forward to a team that just plays better -- and you're right there is some hope. Last year they were stuck with an aging overpaid team and no prospects ready to help. That should change this year.

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    BTW, John, nice post. Your roster predictions look spot on, unless there is an injury or two in ST.

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    In reply to Just Win:

    It's also kind of funny to have a team that looks like a 70-something winner with almost no open roster spots, no position battles, etc. lol

  • In reply to Just Win:

    It really is odd. I guess it's about Theo and Jed getting the guys they wanted to get (under the circumstances) and rolling with them.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Thanks! Injuries and minor deals can still affect it. It will probably require another edition or two, but this pretty much looks like what it's going to be.

  • John,

    Depending on how ST goes, what are the chances that they move T. Wood to the bullpen in the meantime?

  • In reply to lokeey:

    I think they're low but not out of the question. The Cubs dealt Marshall and felt good about it because they were getting themselves a cost controlled starter. It also gives them a second lefty in the rotation, which isn't necessary, but it does help a bit.

  • I think it borders on being delusional that a team coming off a 91 loss season could think that there are very few roster spots open. I think every OF position (and most IF positions) should have a competition. I'd love to see Szczur or whomever have a chance to win a starter's job if he outplays ther others. Soriano doesn't deserve to start, in my opinion. Byrd is blocking Jackson, and I'm not sold on DeJesus. I live outside Oakland and I couldn't believe that he got that huge contract out of the Cubs, and neither could a friend of mine who works for the Coliseum. Is Stewart good enough to trade Colvin and LeMahieu for? He should be able to prove it in a competition with Vitters or whomever. If Vitters needs his at bats and games at third to get better, he might as well do it in the majors - at least he'll get better coaching under better lights and other conditions. If Barney is better than Castro at SS, I'd switch them.

    Its hard to reboot an organization without an open mind.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I think it's more of a case where the Cubs don't want to rush these guys. Playing the veterans ensures a couple of things. One is that the Cubs don't call up Jackson, Szczur, etc. until they are ready and the second is you might get lucky with one of these guys. Stewart may have had a tough year, but he's considered to be a better player with a higher ceiling than either Colvin or LeMahieu. If he plays well, the Cubs have solved their 3B issue until Baez or whomever else is ready.

    Cubs are playing for the long term, which is why they won't switch Castro yet. Barney would be the better defender, but is he a long term fixture for the Cubs? Maybe not. The Cubs will be better off in the long run if Castro can stay at SS.

  • I know you could be rushing a few of these guys, but nobody worried about rushing Castro.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Castro is also a special kind of player. Most guys aren't ready with so little minor league time. The Padres learned that the hard way with Rizzo last year.

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