Finalizing the Cubs Opening Day Roster

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...

Starting Rotation

  1. Jeff Samardzija
  2. Edwin Jackson
  3. Travis Wood
  4. Scott Feldman
  5. 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)

  1. David DeJesus, CF
  2. Starlin Castro, SS
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
  5. Nate Schierholtz, RF
  6. Welington Castillo, C
  7. Luis Valbuena, 3B
  8. 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.

Platoon players

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.

Disabled List

  • Scott Baker
  • Matt Garza
  • Ian Stewart
  • Arodys Vizcaino

Roster Maneuvering

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


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  • I said it before & I'll say it again - Stewart is a joke! This guy is not physically able to play anymore on a daily basis. The Cubs should move on and give Clevenger a shot to back up third. Lake is also an option in a month or two.

    Even for the cheap price for Stewart - is just not worth it!

  • In reply to jaxx51:

    It's been frustrating with Stewart almost since the day they acquired him. However, I see little benefit to releasing him other than opening up a 40 man roster spot -- a spot that would likely go to a fringe player anyway.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Well, they would save $2 mil, but that's not very much in baseball money.

    We just have to muddle through this year. Between Villanueav or Baez I think we have the long-term answer in our system, just not for this year

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed, I don't think the money will be a big factor in the Stewart decision. It's one of those years at 3B again, we Cubs fans have seen plenty of them between Santo (and 2 years of Madlock) and Aramis Ramirez. We should be used to it by now!

    I think the Cubs will have the 3B answered one way or another by trade dealine. Either a prospect emerges at that position or the Cubs will acquire one.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Olt has had a miserable spring. I do wonder if that increases the odds the Rangers move him at the deadline, assuming Theo is still interested.

    I like Christian, though. The power looks like its coming around. He isn't going to be a Hall of Famer, but he could be an above average third baseman in an infield that will have every ground ball pitcher in the league fighting to pitch for.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John -- that was 3 years of Madlock. Don't cut him short. The trading away of Madlock was the beginning of my education (read: disillusionment) about the Cubs' baseball management. Bobby Murcer -- please!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    To me Stewart has no short term or long term upside. He is definitely not in their long term plans and even if he comes back and has a monster first half, when we try to flip him it will be the same old injury issue brought up and his value will be minimal.

    I just keep getting frustrated with these guys like Garza & Stewart who make a living on the DL. I do understand injuries happen, so hopefully they both can prove me wrong and come back strong.

  • In reply to jaxx51:

    Yes, injuries do happen. To all teams; to almost all players at some time in their careers. Although it may be frustrating, to find fault at a player being injured is pointless. No professional "makes a living on the DL"; they want to come back, albeit often too soon for their own good. That's why teams have doctors and trainers.
    Keeping Stewart on the DL until he is-- or isn't-- able to recover, costs the Cubs next to nothing. As with the Soriano situation, he's not blocking anybody.

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    In reply to jaxx51:

    I think all of Stewart's upside is as a trade asset come July. If he comes back and has a monster year, teams will be looking to add him. His salary would not be a block to any team, and he will have at least proved he can stay on the field short term. With no additional commitment based on his contract, I would expect a return beyond the million dollars owed. Time will tell, but power from 3rd base for a small salary hit would be of value to many teams.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Has Bougesevic ever played infield? I only remember him as an outfielder, and I believe he was a converted pitcher.

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    John, I have a question. If you are a put on the 60 day DL, what type of baseball activities are you allowed to do? This question is in the case of Vizcaino

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    You are allowed to go to extended spring training and rehab. In the case of Vizcaino, the likelihood is that he goes to Ext. spring training first, then on rehab assignment (likely Daytona and then maybe Tennessee) and then he'll go to Iowa.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    So essentially it costs the Cubs nothing in this case because that is what he was most likely to do anyways?

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Exactly. In fact, it helps open up a roster spot. The only thing is it reduces flexibility since you can't bring him back before 60 days -- but that wasn't going to happen anyway.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    can they make the dates retro active - like they do in the regular season? For instance - Stewart on the 60 day DL retro active to the first intra squad game where he hurt himself?

  • In reply to deport soriano com:

    Yes,, they can make it retroactive to the last game played -- even in the spring. I'm not sure if intrasquad game counts and I do think there's a limit how far you can go back. Want to say it's 5 days, but not sure.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm 85% certain that only the 15-day DL can be retroactive, not the 60.

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    In reply to Demarrer:

    I'm not John, but you are allowed to to stay in Extended Spring Training or EXST as long as you like, and you are allowed to make a certain number of minor league rehab appearances during those 60 days (not 100% sure how many or how long, but something like 2 weeks worth).

    For Vizcaino, he would probably spend all that time in EXST, and maybe an initial start or two at lower levels before heading to Iowa

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    John, I think your analysis is spot-on. With a full 40-man, players already on the roster like Rusin have a leg-up on players like Takahashi who don't. I don't know who we could DFA right now if we had to; maybe Raley, but everyone else is either on a ML deal already, or is too promising to risk (McNutt, Dolis, Cabrera, for example)

    We have a 40-man roster crunch that probably won't work it's way out until we start trading guys toward the deadline (or someone gets seriously hurt)

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    In reply to Zonk:

    One option the Cubs are exploring if we need a 40-man spot is undoubtedly trading Marmol; they have said as much. I think the interest out there, however, is tepid, otherwise he would be gone already. Even if Cubs pick-up most of the salary tab, doesn't seem to be tons of interest.

    And why should there be interest? With his command problems, including this spring, I don't trust him to be my closer.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Trading is always an option, but that is the subject for tomorrow's article ;)

    Right now it doesn't seem likely but teams tend to soften their stance as Opening Day approaches.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thanks Zonk.

  • I like the idea of Clevenger as the 25th man. On one hand, he has earned it this ST and he did produce early last year when healthy. But also because it allows to search the waiver wire for gold. Okay maybe not gold, but we were pretty active last year and landed a couple of keepers from others discards.

    Looking forward to the days when guys like Stewart & Valbuena, etc are our cuts because the talent on the 40 man is top shelf. Right now, there's just too much fringy stuff on it...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Boy, I disagree on Clevenger. There is absolutely NOTHING special about him as a player, and outside of a 2 week stretch last year, he has never hit big league pitching. I also don't know why the Cubs would waste any more time on Stewart. He has not been healthy for four years now.

    Sveum already has his security blankets in Valbuena and this year's Joe Mather, Lillibridge. I really thought giving Junior Lake a shot at it this year might have been interesting, but that's a nonstarter right now.

    They need to go get third base help to tide us over until Baez gets here and pushes Castro over.

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    I don't think they are allowed to cut Stewart if he's injured, not that I think they would anyway.

    Also when Stewart comes back he makes the Cubs better. Dropping him for nothing is ridiculous. i think all of the concerns that Cubs fans have disappear as soon as he starts playing injury free baseball. I don't think he is an all star, but he provides plus defense and power that this team desperately needs.

  • In reply to Redrocket:

    When was that? 2009? Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee had big years that year, too. As did Brad Hawpe and Brandon Webb. All are out of baseball right now. So should Stewart.

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    Looks like we have another to add to the waves of Pitchers:

  • In reply to Louie101:

    We reported that almost 2 weeks ago, though we didn't have the signing bonus details.

  • "40 man roster infielders Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Logan Watkins, Christian Villanueva, and Javier Baez have already been assigned to the minors."

    Baez isn't on the 40 man roster.

  • In reply to Alex:

    Whoops...had too much Javy Baez on the brain, I guess.

  • Hey John, I have a couple of questions... First is... Soler was assigned to Daytona, but I can't find anywhere where Baez was assigned to, I'm guessing he's going back to Daytona, even McCleod said that, if I'm not mistaken, but I haven't seen anything official yet.

    Second question... The Cubs have to clear another spot for Ben Wells, since his contract stipulates he needs to be added after ST this year or become a minor league FA, I think... So, that's an interesting point there, do you have any insight about that?

  • In reply to Caps:

    Baez has not officially been assigned yet but I'm expecting that to be Daytona. AA would be a huge jump for him, though the Cubs have nobody really ready to step in at SS there. Alcantara hasn't had a full season at Daytona either.

    Wells was a fast riser in the draft but not enough to get into the first couple of rounds so the Cubs had to give him an overslot and buy him off college with that stipulation. Not a good practice, in my opinion, and it puts the Cubs in a tough position next year. This will be a big year for Wells.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Right, I expect Baez at Daytona, but if he goes to AA (which probably won't happen), then we can't rule out Baez getting up to the bigs sooner than expected.

  • John, excellent post, as usual. But I think I caught a typo. Under the "Platoon" section, you mention that Sappelt and Hairston will get most of their at-bats against RHP. You mean LHPs, right?

    Man, looking at that April / May rotation, I have a feeling that by the time Garza and Baker come to Wrigley, this team will be deep in the hole. Not optimistic about Feldman and Villanueva. Then again, if our platoon guys can just hit their career norms, we should have enough offense to win a few high-scoring games.

  • In reply to Taft: second typo. Thanks!

    It may be a tough start for the Cubs and that could end up deciding their course this season. If it's a slow start, then we're looking at a fire sale at the deadline.

    Then again, if they survive until mid May, this team may surprise once everyone starts coming back.

  • In reply to Taft:

    One better pray the wind is blowing in @ Wrigley on days that Feldman/Villanueva pitches.

  • Comcast has an interesting piece on the 'called shot' by Baez:

    Castillo challenged Villannueva and Baez to end the game.
    "Who wants to be the hitter?" Castillo recalled saying. "I told (Baez): 'If you don't want to be the hitter, just let me know, I'll take care of it.'. He laughed at me and just said: 'That's it.' "

    I like that confidence for both guys. It didn't happen quite the way it was first reported but nothing wrong with confidence in yourself plus I like the fact that the veterans seems to like Baez. There doesn't seem to be jealousy that he is the name in camp everyone wants to see.

  • Besides Lillibridge they also have Valbuena who can play multiple positions. That gives them enough flexibility to carry Bogusevic if they wanted. Not sure they do though with Sveum being so gaga for utility types.

    Any idea what's going on with Adrian Cardenas by the way? He still a free agent? Shame if he is with such strong OBP skills in the minors.

  • I think Baez would be fine starting at AA.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:


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