Or And then there were 37
The big news today was that Blake Parker was sent down. At least that should be big news because it makes the opening day 25 man roster picture a lot clearer. The news that dominated today is that uber-prospect Javier Baez was sent down to minor league camp. This should not have been news since the Cubs have announced from the beginning that Baez would begin the year at SS in Iowa, but many people began various sky is falling type commentary because of this expected move. The various roster moves left the Cubs with just 37 in camp vying for the 25 spots left on big league roster.
First the Baez Thing
There seems to have been a strong reaction by a number of Cubs fans to the news that Baez was sent down. This was an anti-climatic move, but it still created a fairly large stir. The argument in favor of keeping Baez seemed to rest on two prongs. One: that Javier Baez is ready now; and two: that we as fans deserve the best product right now. Those two arguments don't particularly sway me, but lets examine them briefly.
On the one hand, Javier Baez has had an impressive spring with his .310/.310/.738 and 5 HR. On the other hand, Baez has struggled defensively at shortstop, a position which he is currently blocked. Cubs fans have seen the effectiveness of teaching defense at the major league level with Starlin Castro the past four years. Adding to the problem is the fact that Baez would likely be learning a new spot of either 2B or 3B. That also assumes that a player whose main offensive weakness is pitch recognition would not benefit facing more experienced pitchers with likely better command.
The other prong of the argument is that the Cubs owe the fans the best possible experience right now. The argument takes on various forms, but essentially the focus is take the best 25 man roster north. The Cubs aren't in a position at this point to worry about that. Javier Baez does not change the outcome of 2014 in any meaningful way. The Cubs are in talent accumulation phase and playing the roster games that every franchise plays does not help increase the talent base of the organization. The Cubs gain nothing by bringing Baez up immediately after playing only 54 games above A ball, but by being cautious they make sure that Baez is as ready as possible plus gain a roster advantage. I have faith in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer when it comes to developing talent with their track record, and I believe that when they think Baez is ready he will be in Chicago.
Blake Parker and the Remaining Pitching Spots
Parker being sent down was the real news to me at this point. I had written mistakenly in the early part of the offseason that the Cubs couldn't send Parker down freely. However, after rereading AZ Phil's wonderful 40 man resource I found out that Parker was eligible to be sent back down freely for a few more weeks of service time. That leaves 18 pitchers in camp.
The Cubs are going to carry 12 pitchers and the bolded names are locks for the staff. That is nine names which leaves nine more for three remaining spots. Three of those names are likely to begin the year on the DL in Jake Arrieta, Kyuji Fujikawa, and James McDonald. So that leaves six names for three spots with Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, Chris Rusin and Tsuyoshi Wada fighting to make the roster.
Cabrera is out of options and has pitched well enough to be kept. He is virtually guaranteed a spot since the other players listed can all be sent to the minors freely at this point. So the bullpen has five of seven pitchers with Veras, Strop, Wright, Russell, and Cabrera. The rotation front four is set with Samardzija, Jackson, Hammel, and Wood. The Cubs fifth starter battle will likely determine the make up of the bullpen. The fifth starter battle is down to Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin and Tsuyoshi Wada. If Villanueva wins the spot it is likely in my opinion that Wada and Rusin will head to Iowa. That would leave two spots for Grimm, Rondon, and Ramirez to claim with Grimm and Rondon the likely beneficiaries. If Rusin wins the spot that would move Villanueva back into the bullpen and leave just one spot for likely Grimm.
As a side note, since Bradley Woodrum wrote about Wada I've been pulling for him as the fifth starter but I doubt he makes the cut.
The Position Player Picture
The 13 position players on opening day is a lot murkier than the pitchers, but the picture is starting to come into focus. The locks again bolded from the position player side.
I was conservative with my locks, but it would be a huge shock if any of the bolded names were sent down or outrighted. The current locks give the Cubs 9 of 13 position players. Junior Lake and Emilio Bonifacio are close enough to locks that I almost bolded their names as well. That gives the Cubs 2 catchers, 5 infielders and 4 outfielders for 11 players. Most teams carry five outfielders, but Bonifacio's ability to play all over the field might mean that isn't a necessity for the Cubs.
Mike Olt is the wildcard in this equation as discussed by us here as one example. Mike Olt's inclusion on the roster would seem to make it harder for the Cubs to carry Donnie "You're Out of Your Element" Murphy and Ryan Roberts. With Ryan Kalish's spring that might make the most sense for the Cubs at this point. If Olt can't handle 3B full time at this point, then Murphy probably stays on the roster and Kalish is guaranteed a spot.
Predicted 25 Man Roster
Here is my roster written in pencil.
1. Jeff Samardzija
2. Edwin Jackson
3. Jason Hammel
4. Travis Wood
5. Carlos Villanueva
Middle Relief-Wesley Wright
Middle Relief-Alberto Cabrera
Middle Relief-Hector Rondon
Middle Relief-Justin Grimm
1st Base-Anthony Rizzo
2nd Base-Darwin Barney
3rd Base-Mike Olt
Left Field-Justin Ruggiano
Center Field-Junior Lake
Right Field-Nate Schierholtz