This off-season is one that the Cubs, front office and business operations alike, and the team's fans have been pointing to as a time to step forward. The business staff is getting their much needed Wrigley renovation and the WGN portion of the games will be contracted at some point. As far as the baseball operations staff, led by Theo Epstein, is concerned, there is a lot needed to be done to transform the existing 40 man roster into one that has legitimate dreams of competing in 2015.
As currently constituted, the Cubs have 42 players to deal with in regard to the 40 man roster. Technically, the 40 man is at 39 after Chris Rusin was waived, but with James McDonald, Ryan Sweeney, and Justin Ruggiano all on the 60 Day Disabled List, roster moves will have to be made when the Cubs are forced to activate these three players when the season ends. The number of 40 man roster slots that need to be opened is based on how active the Cubs are in free agency, how many Rule 5 eligible players they seek to protect, and the nature of the player to be named later from the Oakland Athletics.
The pitching staff is likely to see the most transition. With the Cubs seeking to buy starting pitching, the roster slots are most likely to be opened in this area. It is also important to be noted that the top pitching prospect, C.J. Edwards, is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. He is sure to be added to the 40 man roster. The players who are most likely to be dropped are free agent Carlos Villanueva, Kyuji Fujikawa, and James McDonald, who is on the 60 Day DL. All three of these players are easily replaced by players already in the organization. In the case of McDonald, he injured his shoulder in Spring Training and never actually pitched for the Cubs, so his loss is one not felt at all. Tsuyoshi Wada is another player who could be allowed to leave. He pitched well down the stretch, but his age and limited upside make him an expendable commodity. If possible, the Cubs will likely seek to rid themselves of Edwin Jackson this winter, although the 40 man roster benefit could be negated by having to take on a player who would replace him on it. It is possible that Travis Wood is non-tendered after a horrific follow-up to his 2013 All-Star season. Brian Schlitter is another player who may be allowed to move on if there is a need to open a roster slot. The math here works out to clearing up to five new slots after subtracting six players and adding Edwards. That would move the 40 man down to 37.
Position players seem to be fairly well in place. There are not many players who would seem to be in jeopardy. The three who stand most likely to lose their 40 man roster spots are Chris Valaika, John Baker, and Josh Vitters. Valaika was a late season fill-in, Baker is an expendable, arbitration eligible catcher who will probably be non-tendered, and Vitters is the former prospect who, for various reasons, just has not panned out. Other players on the bubble are players like Logan Watkins, Ryan Kalish, Junior Lake, and Ryan Sweeney, who will be activated from the 60 Day DL. However, those decisions will probably only be made if and when there is a need to make them. Removing the three most likely to be dropped in addition to the five pitching spots opened would bring the roster down to 34.
With six available spots on the 40 man roster, and more fairly easily opened, the Cubs will have ample opportunity to fill the roster with players who will help push the MLB club into contention next season. Free agents will consume much of the freed space on the roster. Other factors to consider, which may force the Cubs to make further adjustments to the roster will include protecting additional players who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and/or keeping space on the roster open for players who are projected to be added to the roster early in the season, such as Kris Bryant or non-roster invitees who may make the team out of Spring Training.
In the end, by the time the Cubs Convention rolls around in late January, the Cubs will look very different than they do now. As the team makes the next step toward contention, the roster will invariably need to see a fair amount of turnover. Fortunately, the Cubs have put themselves in a position to where they have enough expendable assets to be able to make room for players who need to be added. One of the unspoken benefits of the rebuild, as it continued, was that the players added to the roster were interesting pieces who had the chance to become a viable part of the future, like Luis Valbuena, or could be easily moved on from, like Ryan Sweeney. That flexibility sets us up for the most interesting (and potentially exciting) winter of the Theo Epstein era.
Filed under: Chicago Cubs
Tags: C.J. Edwards, Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin, Chris Valaika, Cubs, James McDonald, John Baker, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Justin Ruggiano, Kris Bryant, Kyuji Fujikawa, Logan Watkins, Luis Valbuena, Oakland Athletics, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Sweeney, Theo Epstein, Wrigley Field