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.
The battle to fill Koyie Hill's shoes...
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
I'm going to assume Jeff Baker has one spot locked up.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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..
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
- Matt Garza
- Ryan Dempster
- Paul Maholm
- Chris Volstad
- Travis Wood
- Carlos Marmol
- Kerry Wood
- Jeff Samardzija
- James Russell
- Marcos Mateo
- Jeff Beliveau
- 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.