September is a time for call-ups but it's also our first look at where the Cubs may be going with some 40 man roster decisions this offseason as they head in to the Rule 5 Draft.
The Cubs will soon start making decisions about who to drop and who to add to the 40 man roster. Because the roster situation is always a bit of a crunch, it's likely that he Cubs will only add the players they need to add this year. So when we are looking at roster decisions this offseason (and perhaps some as early as today), we have to look at players who are currently...
- On the 60 Day DL
- On their last option.
- Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft
From the 60 Day DL
We have already seen OF Ryan Sweeney activated from the 60 Day DL. And because the Cubs seemed to be rehabbing pitchers Scott Baker and Rafael Dolis in nearby Kane County, it isn't a stretch to think those two pitchers were under heavy consideration for the short trip to Wrigley. Dolis is in his last option year, so there was even more reason to get a look this month. Unfortunately, he appeared to get hurt after 9 pitches and was pulled from the game. He was throwing well -- in the mid 90s -- and the Cubs are always in search of power arms.
Scott Baker was signed on with the hopes he would be in the Cubs starting rotation by the second half. He appeared to make good progress leading into the spring but a couple of setbacks have pushed his timetable all the way until this last month. I did get a chance to see Baker yesterday as well and he appeared to be throwing free and easy -- and with excellent command of an upper 70s breaking ball, which I presume was his slider based on it's velocity in relation to his fastball, though it was difficult to tell at my angle. He was locating it with precision and getting swings and misses. The downside is the fastball was mostly 85-86 that day. If the Cubs think he can add enough velo by next year, they may take a chance and bring him back. Baker is reportedly willing to come back and was pleased at how he's been treated by the organization.
Of the other pitchers/players on the 60 day DL, only Arodys Vizcaino appears to be close to coming back, but the Cubs will wait until the Arizona Fall League to get him on the mound again. Kyuji Fujikawa won't be back until sometime next season while Zach Putnam, Matt Guerrier and OF Thomas Neal are on the bubble as to whether they will be re-added to the 40 man once they are ready to come back.
Teams have until 5 days after the last World Series game to activate players from the 60 Day DL and reinstate them on the 40 man roster.
On their last option
This applies to players whom the Cubs may add this September while also making it more difficult for Cubs to carry certain replacement level players long term. As we mentioned, Rafael Dolis was on his last option, so he was a likely candidate to get a call before yesterday's setback. Alberto Cabrera has already been called up and he will be out of options next season as well. The Cubs lack for power arms in the system and in their MLB bullpen, so it's likely Cabrera will be given every chance to stick for next season. Most of the other players who are out of options are veterans. The one exception is Thomas Neal, but the Cubs will likely let him go this offseason. The same goes for journeymen RHP Matt Guerrier, IF Cody Ransom, and OF's Cole Gillespie and Darnell McDonald.
Among the more interesting decisions on out of options players will be middle reliever Michael Bowden, IF Donnie Murphy, and OF Bryan Bogusevic. Murphy seems to have played his way into a utility role role for next season and possibly even the short-side of a 3B or 2B platoon should the Cubs need a stopgap at either position. Bowden has been the very definition of a replacement level player and his spot will be in jeopardy this season as the Cubs look to continue to improve their bullpen. It's hard to imagine the Cubs would keep him over Alberto Cabrera at this point should it come down to those two arms. Bryan Bogusevic, meanwhile, is locked in a battle with Ryan Sweeney for one of the LH outfield spots, though it's possible they keep both. Presuming the Cubs keep Nate Schierholtz, that would be 3 lefty hitting outfielders. If the Cubs make no additions, then you have to think Junior Lake has the inside track on one of the RH spots in the OF and, with Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur as the only other near ready RH outfielders currently on the 40 man roster, the Cubs may bring in a bargain free agent for the 5th spot. Sappelt appears on the outs and I consider Szczur to be more of a one level at a time type player and I expect to see him at AAA Iowa next year. Another candidate currently not on the roster is Jae-Hoon Ha, who played the 2nd half of the season at Iowa and would immediately be the Cubs best defensive outfielder at any of the 3 positions. Ha needs to be added to the roster if the Cubs want to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft in December.
The Rule 5 Eligibles
Deciding whom to protect from the Rule 5 Draft depends primarily on two things:
- Raw ability/talent and whether you can afford to keep them on the roster for the sake of poaching a top prospect.
- MLB readiness with an ability to at least play a minor role.
A combination of the two is most desirable, of course.
Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter has the full list and while the Cubs are adding some talent of late, only one name stands out as a must add this offseason and that is SS-2B Arismendy Alcantara, who is a possible top 100 prospect in baseball right now.
Other good prospects such as 2B Gioskar Amaya, SS Marco Hernandez, and C Willson Contreras are nowhere near ready to contribute to an MLB club, so we can expect them to be both unprotected and unclaimed for the Rule 5 Draft. Amaya is a one position player without a standout asset such as speed or power to bring value off the bench. He's also a good but not great defender, so there is not much utility there and he is especially difficult to carry despite being the top prospect in that trio.
The interesting decisions will be on guys who are likely outside that top 25 prospect range, yet are near MLB ready. That includes pitchers like LHPs Zach Rosscup, Hunter Cervenka, and Eric Jokisch. It isn't hard to imagine that with LHPs a scarce commodity, that any one of those pitchers could be plucked with the intention of using them as situational relievers or LOOGYs. It would limit their exposure while providing a cost efficient solution for contending teams that aren't in need of a veteran in that role. Rosscup in particular is at risk as a pitcher who reached AAA and has demonstrated an uncanny ability to miss bats. Cervenka and Jokisch have solid stuff for lefties and they have an outside shot of being selected as well. Complicating the matter is the presence of lefties Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley on the current roster. Both pitchers could fill a similar role and have more experience, especially Rusin. The Cubs will need to decide which lefties fit best short and long term.
Less vulnerable are some interesting RHPs who are eligible, including Matt Loosen, Zach Cates, Juan Paniagua, and Dallas Beeler. Paniagua is probably safe after a disastrous season that saw him struggle at the lowest levels of the system. He has a good arm, but it's doubtful a team will take a chance on him. Paniagua's unusual contract situation may mean he won't be eligible at all anyway, so the point may end up being moot.
It's no coincidence that the Cubs will be sending Matt Loosen and Dallas Beeler to the fall league to get an extended look after injury plagued seasons. Both have the stuff to be about a 4th starter in the majors and like Nick Struck, the Cubs will take the extra time to evaluate whether they'll be at risk of being taken. The Cubs decided against protecting Struck and it proved to be a wise decision. However, a strong fall performance in terms of stuff/command may put Loosen and Beeler into consideration for 40 man roster spots.
Zach Cates is a sleeper because he's been gradually adding velocity all year and it's peaking at 96 mph now that he's been pitching out of the bullpen. Cates has trouble commanding his breaking pitch at times, which gets him into trouble. But it does show potential. He also has a solid change, making him potentially effective vs. LH hitters as well as righties and indeed, his splits this season prove that to be the case. He's a good athlete with good size, so there's a lot to like here from a scouting standpoint if some team thinks they want to take a flyer on a pitcher who had modest success at the A ball level.
As far as position players, the only real borderline decision here is Jae-Hoon Ha. He can probably contribute as a 5th outfielder right now, but he won't give you much offense. His value right now lies strictly in his ability to provide good defense at all 3 spots. Two things work against Ha as far as gaining a roster spot. One is that most teams have a similar player at the upper levels or can find one off the waiver wire; and two, the Cubs have several extra outfielder candidates at the AA level in Matt Szczur, Brett Jackson, John Andreoli, and Rubi Silva. Ha is ultimately replaceable in the very near future. Dave Sappelt is also a possibility for a role, though we will find out a lot about his future if the Cubs pass up the opportunity to bring him up again.
I'd also like to get a look at Chang-Yon Lim if possible this September and make a decision on whether to keep him for next year. He would require a 40 man roster spot so perhaps the Cubs may take a pass and try to bring him back next year on a similar split deal as they did this past season.
The criteria above also means there isn't much sense in bringing up a pitcher like Kyle Hendricks right now since the Cubs don't need to add him and make the 40 man roster decisions more difficult than they already are. The same goes for superstar Javier Baez. As much as we all would like to see him play, it just doesn't make sense in terms of a roster management situation to bring him up to get a few September ABs right now.
Who Goes and Who Stays?
The decisions will revolve around shedding some short term players, including free agents to be, in favor of long term solutions whom the Cubs feel need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. It will also depend on organizational depth, as is the case with Ha and the LH relievers.
There is still plenty of time to make these decisions but the following player may lose their 40 man roster status this offseason.
Will be Removed from 40 man roster after the season ends
- Scott Baker (free agent, though they may try and bring him back on a minor league deal in the offseason)
- Kevin Gregg (free agent)
- Matt Guerrier (free agent)
- Dioner Navarro (free agent whom I think the Cubs would really like to bring back, so I think this is a wash in the end).
Those are at least 3 spots that can be opened instantly that can go to the following players:
- Arismendy Alcantra
- Arodys Vizcaino
- Zach Rosscup
Others Likely to be removed after the season...
- J.C. Boscan (below replacement level 3rd catcher)
- Cody Ransom (lost role to Donnie Murphy)
Players on the Bubble
- Dave Sappelt (replacement level player)
- Darnell McDonald (replacement level player out of options)
- Cole Gillespie (replacement level player and out of options)
- Michael Bowden (replacement level player and out of options)
That's as many as 6 other players that can be removed. By rule, players like Rafael Dolis and Kyuji Fujikawa must be added back to the 40 man roster within 5 days after the last game of the World Series, so two spots may go to them. If they find a way to keep them, the Cubs can put them back on the 60 Day DL in the spring and open up two more roster spots. The Cubs may also want to protect borderline players such as Jae-Hoon Ha, Matt Loosen, Eric Jokisch, Hunter Cervenka, Dallas Beeler, and Zach Cates. Or they may just want to leave a few of those spots open for free agents and waiver wire pick-ups if they don't feel they will lose those players anyway. It's very doubtful to me the Cubs would protect all those players (and maybe even none of them get protected) and would instead try to keep their roster flexible.
In the end, I think the Cubs are in very good shape. I haven't even had to delve into struggling and/or injured but talented players such as Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Brooks Raley, Hector Rondon, and Trey McNutt. They are by no means locks to stay with the organization, but it seems to me they may well get another chance to prove themselves unless the Cubs want to move them to add even more players through trades, free agent signings and other moves. The Cubs may also want to move them simply if they like one of the Rule 5 eligibles better (i.e. Jokisch or Cervenka over Raley)
It also tells me that, if they choose, they should easily be able to bring back players who showed well in limited time such as Donnie Murphy, Ryan Sweeney, and Bryan Bogusevic.
It will be interesting to see how it all shakes down, but I think the Cubs have managed their roster pretty well and should be in a position to add talent this offseason, both from inside and outside the organization. That's not to say the Cubs won't find themselves in a position to lose good players, but that is going to start to become a fact of life as the Cubs continue to add top talent and depth to their organization.
Consider this just a primer since not all these decisions need to be made now. The Cubs will likely get September to evaluate Raley. They'll need time to evaluate the long term health prospects of Dolis and Fujikawa, and they'll get the fall league to evaluate Loosen and Beeler.
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