I wanted to write a piece on spring training roster battles, but for a team that isn't expected to contend, it amazes me how the Cubs lineup, rotation, and even their 25 man roster is basically set. Barring injury or trade, there might be an opening for a bullpen spot or two, but the most open competition is for that 25th man spot. The likelihood is that spot will be taken by a second utility infielder, but that's not set in stone.
I realize it's just the 25th man, but what's interesting to me about it is that it will give some insight as to how the Cubs think about roster construction and player development. The team has the challenge of trying to balance the manager's day-to-day roster needs with the organization's long term development needs. Is roster flexibility important? How about righty-lefty matchups out of the bullpen? Do the Cubs prefer to give the opportunity to a young player or would they rather that player get more reps at Iowa? How willing are they to make a roster move in order to make room for a short-term non-roster player?
These are all questions that must be considered as you choose the 25th man.
As of today, this is my projected roster, minus the 25th man. Starters are in bold italics and defensive positions are listed in order of expected playing time.
- Matt Garza (R)
- Jeff Samardzija (R)
- Edwin Jackson (R)
- Travis Wood (L)
- Scott Feldman (R)
- Carlos Marmol (R)
- Kyuji Fujikawa (R)
- James Russell (L)
- Shawn Camp (R)
- Carlos Villanueva (R)
- Michael Bowden (R)
- Hector Rondon (R)
- Welington Castillo (R)
- Dioner Navarro (S)
- Anthony Rizzo: 1B (L)
- Darwin Barney: 2B, SS (R)
- Starlin Castro: SS (R)
- Ian Stewart: 3B (L)
- Luis Valbuena: 3B, 2B, SS (L)
- Alfonso Soriano: LF (R)
- David DeJesus: CF (L)
- Nate Schierholtz: RF (L)
- Scott Hairston: CF, LF (R)
- Dave Sappelt: RF, CF (R)
*Scott Hairston and Dave Sappelt could be interchangeable as far as defensive positions. Right now I'm listing Hairston as the backup CF because he has more MLB experience there, but Sappelt's superior speed combined with some tutelage from OF guru Dave McKay could be enough to make him a competent backup CF by the time the Cubs break camp. In fact, that's probably the best case scenario.
The 25th Man
In no particular order, here are the Cubs in-house options
Option #1: A utility player from group of non-roster invitees
- Brent Lillibridge: 3B, OF: Add some speed and a RH bat at positions where the Cubs need one.
- Alberto Gonzalez: SS, 2B, 3B: Best defender in the bunch but probably the worst hitter.
- Edwin Maysonet: SS, 2B, 3B: Another RH bat to occasionally fill in at 3B. Can also play SS. Best blend of offense and defense of this group, but that's not saying a lot.
- Josh Vitters: 3B, 1B, LF?, RF? A potential RH platoon partner at 3B and has the most AAA experience of the candidates from the 40 man roster. He's also probably the best pure hitter of all the utility candidates, even if he didn't show it last season with the big league team. Ability to play corner OF would help his chances. Defense at any position is a concern.
- Junior Lake: 3B, SS, OF? Another potential RH platoon partner, Lake hasn't advanced as far as Vitters but offers a more versatile, athletic player off the bench. He can run well and that would be an asset on an otherwise slow team. He may also be able to fill in at SS and CF, which adds tremendous positional value. Defense is a concern as well, however. He's erratic in the IF and inexperienced in the OF. Not having played AAA also hurts his chances.
Go with 5 IF'ers and take an extra pitcher
I give credit for this idea to reader Josh. It's outside the box but it would save the Cubs from making a move to accommodate a fringe non-roster player while keeping (possibly) non-ready prospects at AAA. The disadvantage is decreased roster flexibility, which includes having to carry two LH 3B (Ian Stewart and Luis Valbuena) who don't hit LHP well.
If the Cubs were to take this route, then I think the Cubs would take an extra bullpen arm. It would have to be a pitcher off the 40 man roster because otherwise it defeats the purpose, which is to keep the current roster intact.
Given the makeup of the projected bullpen, it makes most sense to bring an extra LHP north. That narrows it down to...
- Chris Rusin
- Brooks Raley
Both project as lefty specialists if they make the team. Rusin is older and perhaps more MLB ready. Raley had some success vs. lefties, but may have more upside, so perhaps the Cubs may choose to keep him pitching regularly at Iowa. Fun fact about Raley. He's pretty fast. He was a CF'er and leadoff man for Texas A&M and probably would have been drafted as a position player. In fact, he'd probably be one of the fastest players on the 25 man roster. I'm only half-joking when I say he would add value by giving the Cubs an extra pinch-runner.
Assuming the Cubs make no personnel moves in spring training (yes, I know that's very unlikely), which option would you choose?
Filed under: polls