As the days dwindle down to a precious few before Opening Day, the Cubs roster is somewhat in flux -- but not so much because there are great mysteries as to who will make the team, but because the possibility of a late spring trade is more real this year than in past seasons.
Even with that possibility increased, however, it's still not particularly likely. The Cubs still have too many question marks and may not yet be able to afford parting with some of their new found depth (or you can say alternatives if you prefer to think that depth only applies to teams with too much talent).
So, I'm going to assume the Cubs won't make a trade before Opening Day for the purposes of this article. In the absence of sure thing everyday players, I'd rotate players in and out according to matchups early in the season with the hope that a) it maximizes each player's strengths and, therefore, their production and/or b) a player(s) emerges and proves they needs to be in the lineup everyday.
I'm not going to suggest match-up or how/when the players should rotate in and out of the lineup. I'll leave those specifics up to the Cubs computers, but here's a general outline of what I would do...
- Welington Castillo
- Anthony Rizzo
- Starlin Castro
- Mike Olt (assuming he's healthy)
- Darwin Barney would be the primary starter but not an everyday player at 2B. He's done enough to keep the starter's job.
- I would rotate Emilio Bonifacio into the lineup as much as possible, most often between 2B and the OF, though I'd sneak in some ABs at SS and 3B as well. The goal is to get him in the lineup and in the leadoff spot at least 4 times a week.
- Ryan Kalish makes the roster and leads off on the days when Bonifacio is on the bench. Kalish hasn't shown much power but he's hit the ball well and shown a good approach at the plate. If he can continue to mix in hits with walks to put up a decent OBP -- and then adds some speed on the bases, I'd keep him around to rotate with Bonifacio at the top of the order. I would like to see the Cubs have a leadoff man with a consistent OBP presence and some speed to utilize once they get on.
- I'd rotate Luis Valbuena in at 3B and 2B against some of the tougher breaking ball RHPs.
- Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Kalish, Emilio Bonifacio and Justin Ruggiano would all rotate in and out depending on matchups and weather conditions early in the season.
- With Kalish taking OF at-bats, I'd send Junior Lake to AAA to get everyday reps and decide between Donnie Murphy, Darnell McDonald, Chris Coghlan, and Ryan Roberts for that 25th man spot. Murphy is the favorite based on last year's performance and the ability to fill in at SS, but I also like McDonald's approach and clubhouse presence in a situation where there won't be a lot of ABs, though Roberts has also shown a nice approach and has greater defensive versatility. It pains me to send Lake to AAA but he just hasn't looked good this spring. It's not an unlucky spring. He's been every bit as bad as his .375 OPS suggests.
In other words, keep the lineup fluid and try to maximize player's strengths as much as is possible. Maybe that's easier said than done.
That's just me, though. I can easily see the Valbuena/Murphy platoon return at 3B with Kalish and Olt easing back at Iowa ( in Olt's case rotating between 3B, 1B, and DH to save his arm) and the Cubs sinking or swimming with Lake as an everyday MLB OF'er to start the season.
Anyway, we'll see what happens. In the meantime, here is the Cubs lineup today vs. the White Sox. It's an intriguing one where we may just see the first 8 players in an occasional regular season lineup -- at least by midseason.
- Bonifacio, 2B
- Lake, CF
- Rizzo, 1B
- Olt, DH
- Ruggiano, LF
- Baez, SS
- Kalish, RF
- Valbuena, 3B
- Baker, C
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