There is two weeks left to open the season and the Cubs have sent down star prospect Javier Baez and Jorge Soler to minor league camp. It's a signal that the Cubs are going to get down to the business of finalizing the Cubs roster. Much of it is set, as it has been all spring, but there have been a few tight races. Here's the outlook right now...
- Jeff Samardzija
- Edwin Jackson
- Travis Wood
- Scott Feldman
- Carlos Villanueva
Manager Dale Sveum has already announced this rotation, so not much wiggle room here. LHP Chris Rusin has outpitched the #4 and #5 guys but it looks like he may be the sixth starter right now.
- Carlos Marmol
- Kyuji Fujikawa
- Shawn Camp
- James Russell
- Michael Bowden
- Hector Rondon
There is probably one spot available here and the Cubs could go with a second lefty. Chris Rusin is the easy choice based on spring performance but the Cubs may want to make him the "6th" starter. However, the Cubs expect to have Matt Garza and/or Scott Baker in May, so the need for a 6th starter is likely to only last the month and pushing Rusin to 7th or 8th starter seems like a waste when he can help the team now. He has options so they can send him down and stretch him out later if there is a need based on multiple injuries and/or trades. In fact, they can send him back to Iowa as soon as Garza or Baker return to the rotation.
Hisanori Takahashi has been given a long look this spring and the veteran could give the Cubs option of keeping Rusin stretched out in Iowa. He hasn't been as good as Rusin, but he's been solid, posting a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings.
Veteran farmhands Casey Coleman and Blake Parker have both pitched very well and Sveum has said good things about both pitchers in the past. Both pitchers have not given up a run. Non-roster invitees Drew Carpenter and Zach Putnam have also thrown the ball well. All are more likely to be sent to Iowa as depth but have pitched well enough to receive consideration.
Starting lineup (vs. RHP)
- David DeJesus, CF
- Starlin Castro, SS
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Alfonso Soriano, LF
- Nate Schierholtz, RF
- Welington Castillo, C
- Luis Valbuena, 3B
- Darwin Barney, 2B
Ian Stewart is the big question mark here as Sveum has said he's running out of time to open the season as the starting 3B. He's scheduled to have another MRI on his quad. There's a good chance he starts the season on the DL right now. If he isn't healthy, then Luis Valbuena is your starter and the Cubs will have to make a decision whether to DL Stewart or cut him. It's almost certain that they will DL him if he isn't ready.
Scott Hairston should get the bulk of the starts vs. LHP and Dave Sappelt laid a claim to do the same in CF with some solid play recently. Sappelt could actually be the fastest man on the team, which also gives him value as a pinch-runner. Brent Lillibridge may get time at 3B vs. LHP.
- Scott Hairston, OF
- Dave Sappelt, OF
- Brent Lillibridge, IF-OF
- Steve Clevenger, C-IF
- Dioner Navarro, C
If Stewart is cut (unlikely) or sent to the DL (much more likely) to open the season, then it opens up another roster spot on the bench as Valbuena would move into the starting lineup. The problem is that almost all the choices are non-roster players. 40 man roster infielders Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Logan Watkins, and Christian Villanueva have already been assigned to the minors. The same holds true in the outfield where Matt Szczur and Jorge Soler have both been sent down and the Cubs have said Brett Jackson will open the season in Iowa. The logical choice would be an infielder since the Cubs would create a hole by moving Valbuena into the starting lineup. The one roster-friendly solution would be to use Steve Clevenger as the 3rd catcher, backup 1B, and emergency 2B and 3B. That is the most likely to me since it will not cost a roster spot. Sveum has raved about Clevenger this spring and in the past about his ability to come off the bench and hit -- particularly pinch-hitting. Edwin Maysonet has been outplayed this spring by defensive whiz Alberto Gonzalez, so if the Cubs go with a pure infielder to replace Stewart, then Gonzalez is likely the guy. The player who has had the best spring, Brian Bogusevic, is at a disadvantage because of the combination of being lefty and an outfielder, though he has seen some time at 1B. He may have earned himself a top depth spot in Iowa, however.
- Scott Baker
- Matt Garza
- Ian Stewart
- Arodys Vizcaino
The Cubs need to open up at least one spot on the roster for Brent Lillibridge and that will likely be created by placing top pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino on the 60 Day DL.
They may also need to open up a roster spot for an extra bullpen arm and/or bench player. It's unlikely the Cubs will want to remove a player off the 40 man roster to keep a short-term middle reliever or utility infielder, so the fate of non-roster invitees will hinge on what happens with Matt Garza and Ian Stewart. If the Cubs don't feel they'll be able to return quickly, they can place them on the 60 Day DL and create two additional roster spots. If the Cubs are going to do this with Garza, they'll likely do it very soon so he can return in mid-May. Stewart's fate rests on his MRI results and we'll update that when it comes. Of course, the Cubs can free up a roster spot simply by releasing Stewart, but I don't see that happening.
Final roster spot(s) prediction...
It seems the Cubs are prepared to fill out there Opening Day roster no matter what happens with Garza and Stewart.
- If Vizcaino is the only one to go to the 60 day DL, then I believe the Cubs will keep Chris Rusin and Steve Clevenger.
- If Garza goes to the 60 Day DL, then Hisanori Takahashi could be the choice for that first opening while Rusin becomes the 6th starter at Iowa..
- If Stewart goes to the 60 Day DL, then that spot could go to Alberto Gonzalez if they want a true IF'er as a short term solution. However, his use would be limited as the Cubs would be unlikely to use him much --since neither Starlin Castro nor Darwin Barney will get many (if any) days off early in the season, Gonzalez wouldn't provide much on offense, and neither Castro nor Barney need a defensive replacement. An alternative is to get by with one utility infielder (Lillibridge) and reward Brian Bogusevic with a spot. He may have more use for the team as a pinch-hitter for the first month or so of the season. If there is an emergency infield situation, then the Cubs could switch Gonzalez in for Bogusevic. However, the Cubs would seem to benefit more by using Steve Clevenger as the 25th man because of his versatility and his ability to pinch-hit. They could then leave that roster spot open to pick up a player off the waiver wire or to save until needed for an emergency call-up. That's the simplest solution and the route I would take in this last scenario.
Filed under: Roster decisions