Projecting the Cubs' Opening Day Roster Comes Down to Two Big Questions

Projecting the Cubs' Opening Day Roster Comes Down to Two Big Questions
Is Charlie Newhouse a starter or reliever? That's one of two big questions as the Cubs solidify the Opening Day roster.

By my count, about two-thirds of the 25 players on the Cubs' Opening Day roster is entirely uncontroversial. Shark, Wood, EJax, Hammel, Villanueva, Strop, Veras, Wright, and Russell are nine of 12 pitchers, and Wely, Kot, Rizzo, Castro, Barney, Valbuena, Lake, Schierholtz and Ruggiano are nine of 13 position players. A few of those guys might be traded tomorrow but the odds seem low at this point.

So that's three pitching spots and four position spots left. On Wednesday I guessed those would go to Rusin, Parker, Rondon, and Olt, Murphy, Sweeney, and Kalish, respectively.

Several readers instantly noted that I was probably wrong, because Bonifacio looks like a sure bet for the 25-man. Then the Cubs cut Parker, making me definitely wrong.

But it looks like I was right about a few things too. For example, Peter Gammons tweeted on Friday that the starting third base gig -- and the fourth spot in the lineup! -- are Olt's to lose. And Kalish is still sporting a spring OBP of .400 (I realize most spring stats don't matter but I think this one does).

If we add Bonifacio, Olt, and Kalish to the list of "pretty much sure things" on the Cubs roster, that leaves just one open spot for a position player, with two obvious candidates: Donnie Murphy and Ryan Sweeney. Sweeney has had an absolutely atrocious spring; he has just three hits, all singles, in 36 at-bats, along with 10 strikeouts against just one walk. His OPS is essentially zero (it's actually .191). Murphy's spring has been better, but far from sterling (.189 BA, .593 OPS, 10:3 K:BB).

If you think about it for more than a few minutes, the choice should be obvious. Sweeney is two years younger than Murphy, has put up better numbers over the course of much more playing time, and is left-handed. Murphy is a great story, and it's hard to pass on an infielder who hit 11 home runs in 46 games last year. But I have Valbuena ahead of Murphy 10 times out of 10, and even Luis might have trouble finding playing time the way things are lining up.

So that does it, Ryan Sweeney is the Cubs' 25th man. Now let's talk pitching.

Carlos Villanueva is on, but is he a starter or a reliever? A few days ago I guess he'd be in the 'pen, but I've since changed my mind on that. As is the case with the choice between Sweeney and Murphy, this actually ought to be a pretty obvious call.

Villanueva is a high-quality major league pitcher. He struck out more than 7 batters per 9 innings pitched last year, and walked fewer than three. Sure, he's a better reliever than starter, but that's anybody. And despite going 1-7 as a starter last year, he outperformed the young lefty Chris Rusin by every measure, even if you take out his relief innings.

Perhaps most importantly, Villanueva is a potential trade chip: he's a 30-year-old that has proven he can pitch in any role, and one whose deal is up at the end of the year. Shop him as a starter.

That means Rusin goes to Iowa, and the Cubs need three relievers. At this point I'll cheat by outsourcing: all-star Cubs blogger Brett "Ace" Taylor seems to think Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, and Hector Rondon are bullpen-bound if Villanueva starts, so I'll take his word for it.

New guess at the 25-man, in Quade-speak:

Wely, Kot, Rizz, Barn, Cass, Olt, Val, Boney, Lake, Nate, Rooj, Sween, Kaley

Shark, Eddy, Woody, Hammy, Charlie, Strop, Veras, Wrighty, Jimmy, Cabby, Grimmy, and Ronny


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  • fb_avatar

    Not to disagree but I think Carlos would be a great mentor for the young guys in the pen. Plus Rusin has earned it and it doesn't hurt to develop another lefty starter.

    I do think they had this team mapped out before spring and the stats impact are minimal-especially in the case of vets like Murphy and Sweeney.

    Roberts May bump Murphy because he can handle first.

  • Update!

    I wrote this on Sunday and a few things have come to light for me since then, so I'll mention them here.

    Pat Mooney at CSN seems to think Olt's shoulder pain will require that he start the year at AAA. I can't tell if that's Pat's opinion or him relaying information from sources, but I think he does great work so I'm going to assume it's legit. So, get ready for a downer, peeps, because Olt might be headed to Iowa, despite what Gammons said a while back.

    And then, about last night: Villanueva didn't put up great numbers in his start, and Justin Grimm still hasn't found his groove this spring. So maybe Rusin to the rotation and Villanueva to the 'pen makes sense again.

    Finally, Dale here in the comments may be right about Roberts bumping Murphy instead of Olt. Mooney tweeted to me that RR was making a case for being included on the trip to Pittsburgh lately.

  • fb_avatar

    Bummer on Olt if that's the case. Nevertheless, it's a long season...

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    I would think Olt would be back just as soon as he can show he can make all the throws.

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  • If Ott has a sore shoulder, he should be given plenty of time to heal;.There are plenty of options and the ML work will only improve someone. I think everyone is high on Ott. I haven't seen him play, but assume there are good reasons to protect his future.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    He looked pretty good today.

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