Thoughts on Cubs "likely" 2013 spring training roster and the CF situation

Jed Hoyer spoke with Jim Bowden today and said,

“never say never ….but likely this is the team we go to spring training with”

I think while they’ll keep their eyes and ears open for any chance to improve, we have every reason to believe that this is the case right now.  Here are some of my thoughts on where the Cubs stand as far as their OF glut.

The 40 man roster and the current CF status

There is technically one move left to be made.  The Cubs need to make room for power-hitting RH outfielder Scott Hairston.  The roster stands at 41 as we speak.  If we include Hairston, that roster includes 9 outfielders.  The other teams in the NL Central have between 5 and 7 outfielders on their 40 man.

The Cubs do have a unique situation, however, in that they are carrying two outfielders on the 40 man roster because of contractual obligations:  Matt Szczur and Jorge Soler.  Neither figure to be a factor until at least 2014, so for all intents and purposes, the Cubs (including Hairston) have 7 OF’ers on their roster.  However, that’s still toward the upper end of the scale of how most NL teams construct their rosters.  It seems likely that the Cubs will shed an OF’er this time around.

How does it all shake out?  Here are my thoughts on the matter and, with apologies and a respectful nod to our resident cultural guru Felzz, I’m reaching back into one of my own old musical favorites for a little help on this one…

Magic Toy Missing

If the Cubs are going to flat out DFA a player, the most likely candidate is Tony Campana.  I’ve overstated the Cubs willingness to do this in the past.  One reason may be is that Campana may be the only CF other than AAA bound Brett Jackson who has legit MLB range in CF defensively.  Without Campana and Jackson on the opening day roster, the Cubs backup CF’ers are Scott Hairston and Dave Sappelt.  If DeJesus was at least average in CF, you can live with it, but the Cubs are planning on starting a CF’er with below average range.  Without Campana, there are only downgrades as backups.  There is no possibility of a late inning defensive upgrade in close games.  Campana’s defense ranges from superb to spotty, but he’s fast enough that even when he does get a bad jump or read, he still has enough speed to cover his mistakes.  He may be inconsistent in the OF, but (assuming Jackson starts in AAA) he still covers more ground than any other opening day OF candidate — even on his bad days.


Dave Sappelt’s value to the team is pretty well-established.  There’s not a lot of huge upside but there’s not too much downside either.  He has value as a young, cost-controlled 4th OF’er who can mash LHP, run, and play good corner OF defense.  He has good value as a 4th OF/role player, a younger version, perhaps, of Reed Johnson.  His inability to play a good defensive CF is what limits his overall upside on this particular roster, however.  Ideally, you’d like him to be able to fill in for DeJesus against some LHP where he can be a big boost offensively without hurting the CF defense.  If outfield guru Dave McKay can work with Sappelt in CF as well as he did with Soriano in LF, then maybe Sappelt can fill that void adequately — at least to the point where he wouldn’t be a big dropoff from DeJesus defensively.  Most optimistically, the hope is that Sappelt can translate his good speed and athleticism into solid CF defense.  That would represent a big step upward for both him and this team in 2013.

The Cubs could also swap Sappelt out and look to replace him with a true CF.  One team looking for an OF bat is the NY Mets, who were going to make one last run at Hairston before the Cubs snatched him up.  The Mets don’t have a fit, however, as far as exchanging a RH hitter who could help spell DeJesus in CF.  They have Collin Cowgill, but his CF defense is no better than Sappelt’s and it’s probably worse.   If the Cubs do trade Sappelt, it would likely be to create 40 man roster space and pick up some help for further down the road.

Split myself in two

It’s no coincidence that two of the Cubs recent non-roster signees/spring training invitees are RH hitters capable of playing CF: Brent Lillibridge and Darnell McDonald, but the two to me present very different solutions to the roster issue.  McDonald is a long shot to me as his CF defense is no longer worth carrying on it’s own and his bat has always been questionable.  Lillibridge’s ability to split time at two positions of need for the Cubs is his biggest asset at this point and gives him a slight edge over McDonald in the early going.

Brent Lillibridge had a surprisingly good year as a reserve in 2011 before crashing back to more customary levels of production in 2012.  He has some support among some Cubs fans because of the power, speed, and versatility he showed for the crosstown Sox in 2011.  If you keep Lillibridge, he can not only fill in at CF, but he can also alleviate the IF depth problem. He can play the 3 IF spots, though he only plays 3B with any kind of competency.  In essence, you’d be trying to use one player to help fill two 25 man roster spots with one player (RH hitter who can play 3B and CF).  It would also make it easier for the Cubs to keep Campana as a defensive replacement/pinch-runner.  In my opinion, however, he just doesn’t do any of it well enough to make any kind of real impact.  In a way, it’d be like Joe Mather, part 2.  Lots of grit, some athleticism…just not enough pure baseball skill to make any of it really matter.


There is one player who can solve all the Cubs CF problems at once:  Brett Jackson.  Jackson is slated to start the year in Iowa to keep working on his revamped swing.  Both the Cubs and Jackson are reportedly very pleased with his progress but we can’t get too excited until we see it succeed consistently against live pitching.  As much as we don’t like to admit it, we also need to see Jackson fail with his new swing to see if he can continue to make adjustments as pitchers adjust to him.  In MLB, being able to adapt is key, but it’s not a one time, one-size fits all situation.  It’s an ongoing process.  If he solves his contact issues to an acceptable level, then he has everything else this organization desires — the defense, speed, athleticism, OBP skills, and power — to be a long term solution in either CF or LF.

Lake of Fire

Junior Lake is a real intriguing name now based on his winter league performance, so much so that he was recently written up by national prospect guru John Sickels.  He mentions the usual things we hear — the natural skills, the inconsistency.  You can either love or hate Lake depending on the day you see him.  Given that, how does he fit this season?

The honest truth is that he probably doesn’t.  At least not right away.  What Lake likely needs is lots of repetition against gradually higher levels of competition to be able to translate his tremendous physical ability into usable baseball skills.

But if you’d indulge me for just a little here on a creative, but decidedly radical solution here for a moment…

Sometimes you make exceptions with elite athletes.  When it clicks, things can progress rapidly and you can throw out the rules.  Think about what Lake can provide as a RH with speed, power, and versatility off the bench.  You can roster him as the RH half of your utility IF duo (Luis Valbuena being the lefty, of course).  But he can potentially be much more than that. It’s easy to dream on what OF guru Dave McKay might be able to do with Lake when you consider his athleticism and arm strength.  There’s no shortage of tools to work with and you have one of the best teachers in the game to shape them.

The question is going to be the bat.  Lake hasn’t played above AA and he has shown inconsistency at that level.  He has improved his pitch selection but he’s still vulnerable to sliders away.  You have to think that even an average MLB pitcher has the potential to give him fits, much as what what happened with fellow prospects Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson last season.

In the end, Lake ends up in AAA but even so, I’d like to see the Cubs take this course of development with him.  The prototype  I envision for Lake is a versatile player who played all over the field for the Cubs in the mid-to-late 90s: Jose Hernandez, but with perhaps more speed and value added with the ability to play CF.  Given the right match-ups and situations, I think Lake can eventually be a super-sub type player for the Cubs.

We’re Here

Occam’s Razor tells us the simplest solution is often the correct one.  The Cubs will probably to go with what they currently have on hand.  Depending on what happens with the next roster move, the Cubs will go with David DeJesus as the primary starter in CF and then choose among Tony Campana, Scott Hairston, and Dave Sappelt as his complement.  Campana has the edge defensively in CF, but the Cubs need to evaluate whether RH hitters Hairston or Sappelt can adequately fill the part-time CF role until either Brett Jackson is ready to take over full-time or it’s decided a different outside solution is required.




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  • fb_avatar

    John, i'm convinced that Theo and Jed like the formula used with Rizzo and are gonna apply it BJax, regardless of Sveum's man crush on the kid...The thing that pisses me off about Campana is his weak arm and his inability to get on base...I'd trade him

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    I'm surprised the Cubs have been this patient with Campana so far, but they certainly look like they don't want to just give up on him. I know that the ability to play CF and create runs with his legs will be strong arguments for keeping him, especially early in the season when it's tough to score runs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The problem as I see it John is, you have to platoon for center field, same deal in right. Not to that $18 million a year player in left that's not going to accept a trade anywhere, in my opinion.

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    Hopefully they can use those platoons to get the most out of each player's strengths. As for Sori, he's particular but he's earned that right I guess -- and it was a couple of Cubs suits who gave him that right. I think he'll move in the right situation, though. Especially if it gets closer to the deadline and it appears the Cubs aren't going anywhere. We'll have to wait and see.

  • fb_avatar

    To maximize a return for Tony C, he'd have to be packaged somewhere, maybe with Garza or Soriano.. Has there been anymore news about him and Cleveland???

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    No news. That article was mostly for fun, more of a thought exercise. There was nothing substantial behind it. If I write a rumor that I think has legs I'll make that as clear as possible. I trust Jed when he says this is the likely team they go to spring training with.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Did you notice Jed said "but likely this is the team we go to SPRING TRAINING with"? I can't help but think if Garza shows he's healthy, that a trade doesn't present itself. But who knows, maybe it is just a coincidence that the Rangers have done nothing this offseason and could still use a front of the line starter and an outfield bat.

  • In reply to Ibleedcubbieblue:

    I did notice. I think I mentioned it either in the comments or twitter or something. You always have to leave that option open. Things change in the spring. Teams that expect to contend can always have a pitcher or player they're depending on get hurt. I think they go into the spring with this team, but it doesn't mean they're going to Chicago with it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It also seems as if the front office is willing to bend the truth (which is wise, in my opinion). Didn't Hoyer recently say they were probably done with their offseason work... And then they signed Hairston? I personally don't put a ton of stock into which T/J say about their future moves when it comes to red light/green light.

  • In reply to mosconml:

    He did say you "never say never", so he left the door open... but you always leave things open (and they did mention possibly adding in the OF shortly before signing Hairston, btw).

    I'm sure they've left themselves available for communication, but I think it's fair to say there's an excellent chance they open the spring with this group. The end of spring will probably be different though. Things can and will change as teams reassess their needs after spring injuries and perhaps a disappointing spring showing or two.

  • fb_avatar

    Cubs must be convinced that Campana will be claimed if he is DFA'ed. That is the only explanation for the wait.

    Perhaps they are trying to work a deal; even if we trade Campana, we can at least get something rather than nothing, but I can't imagine he has a ton of value.

    Cubs have a real 40-man roster crunch heading into ST; I have to beleive that alot of this will work it's way out in the coming months

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I wouldn't say it's the only explanation. The Cubs waited a month before clearing a roster spot for Villanueva.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    They probably won't get much. Just roster space, maybe a bullpen arm they don't have to roster.

  • If someone claims TC, I say so what? It's not going to help us get a ring.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I could see helping TC helping the right team. Just not convinced that's the Cubs right now. If he could get on base and hit LHP a little, I'd certainly keep him. But that's far from the case right now.

  • Meat Puppets. Arguello.....there's a reason you're the King... and I am but a servant.

  • In reply to felzz:

    I wore that album out growing up.

  • Nice article John - by the way I've never seen the Occam's Razor theory used in an article about baseball. I'm impressed!

  • In reply to SFToby:


  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. My favorite theory.

    Also: I almost hope Campana is traded to a contending team for his own sake. He can score a WS-winning run just like Theriot. We're on our way, but probably not before he loses that speed.

  • fb_avatar

    mets want hairston - why not trade him to them for a minor league pitcher? It's not like Hairston is going to make the difference between 75 wins/last place and 90 wins/playoffs.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SKMD:

    you cant trade a guy you just signed until June 15th
    (with out his permission)

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SKMD:

    Baseball rules prohibit trading a player you just signed to a Free Agent contract. You must wait until a certain date in the season; I can't remember exactly, might be June 1.

  • fb_avatar

    Is anyone else as interested as I am in the Bourn/Lohse situation? Clearly, the draft pick impact is much higher than anyone, particularly the player's union and Boras anticipated. It's having a very marked effect on the market for those players. It's getting very late in the game to find a team for both of them.

    For Bourn, the Mets are interested, and may ask for a wavier to sign him, but I can't imagine that being granted....why should they get a rule change?

    As for Lohse, the only thing I have heard about him is the Cards expressing definitive disinterest in re-signing him. Lohse in particular looks like he will struggle to find a contract to his liking.

    I foresee the Player's Union asking for a change to that rule, and maybe the clubs granting it. Either moving the give-up pick to round 2, or having the old club get a pick, but new club NOT surrender one.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think they have a case in that one of the protected picks is the Pirates comp for not signing Appel, but I agree it's probably a hail mary pass.

    My opinion on Bourn is pretty well known by now. I also have no interest in Lohse. The Cubs staff is deep and I don't think there's a need unless you think you are sure you can flip him for something better than a #40-ish draft pick.

    I am interested, though, to see what happens overall. Will Bourn (or Lohse, for that matter) get paid or will he take an Edwin Jackson type deal and try the market again next year with an implicit promise not to get the qualifying offer at season's end?

    There's no question the system has some serious flaws right now. There's no way those two guys should be unsigned at this stage of the process.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    It never made a lot of sense to me for signing teams to give up a draft pick anyway. They're already bidding against other teams and paying more to win the bidding. I know the comp picks are only there from MLB's end to try and drive down interest and in turn put a type of brake on salaries. If teams that lose a player are no longer receiving the actual pick from the signing team, there's no reason for the signing team to surrender a pick.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Agreed. There is a bit of a disconnect there. I'm okay with compensating the team that makes a sincere effort to keep the player, but it limits what teams and players can do. I have to admit that if Bourn wasn't tied to a draft pick, I'd consider a 2-3 year deal. Still not gaga about signing him, especially for big money and multiple years. but the loss of the pick is the deal breaker for me.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I'd be interested in Lohse, possibly in both, if they would accept one-year deals for reasonable dollars. Cubs could agree not to offer them qualifying offers so they could become free agents after this coming season, when they don't have those nasty lost draft picks hanging over their heads. Seems to me the Cubs could get more at the trade deadline than they would lose by giving up their second round draft pick. Lohse would give them a front line starter, more depth, and make it easier to trade Garza should they decide to go that route. Money really isn't the issue, the question is whether or not Lohse would accept a one-year deal.

  • In reply to WSorBust:

    Lohse is a bum. His last 2 years were good, before that nothing special. Bourn should be considered.

  • In reply to Raymond:

    An ERA below three is more than good in my book. The fact that he's had two career years in back-to-back seasons makes me wonder if he's discovered something different that has made him a more complete pitcher. Maybe he just had some good luck, who knows? I'm just saying I'd have some interest if the price was right. It sounds like the Cardinals have shown no interest in retaining his services so he might just relish the chance to seek a little revenge and what better way to do that than to do it as a Cub?

  • In reply to WSorBust:

    I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Lohse to pitch as well as he has the last 2 seasons. Maybe if he returns to St. Louis where many players seem to drink from the Fountain of Youth, or something else enhances their performance.

  • In reply to Raymond:

    They got something going on down there. Remember Joel Pineiro...kind of seemed to disappear after he left St. Louis.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to WSorBust:

    I am not interested in either player, actually.......just commenting on impact on baseball

    We have plenty of arms besides Lohse, and Bourn is not in plans

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed, really want to see how this offseason works out with those two and how it impacts the CBA going forward.

  • I just don't like starting the season without a good defensively cfer.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I hear you 44, and I think that is the #1 reason Campana is still here -- and may still be here when the roster smoke clears.

  • Before Castillo was DFA, Theo must have shopped Castillo around for a Double A player, and were no takers..........same with Campana takers for now......proves both Castillo and Campana have no real value to any other teams.......

    Bleacher Report lists ....Garza, Marmol. Stewart, DeJesus & Wood as players that the Cubs can build on through trades.......

    With BJax.....Theo has him pegged to start at Iowa....BJax was a Hendry draft was Vitters......and Lake......I suspect all three are nothing more than AAA players or MLB bench players......all three can wiped off the roster in various deals that can include Marmol & Wood to build the farm system pitching.......we have better players in the wings with Almora, Soler and Biaz who will MLB starters..........expect something big to happen to clear roster spots before ST to start.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    There is no list that's split up between Hendry guys and Theo guys.

    They'll keep players who can play baseball and add value. Period. They've already committed to 3 "Hendry" players as core players (Samardzjia, Barney, and Castro). Baez is also listed as a possible future core player. All "Hendry" guys.

  • Who, might I ask, is a decent RH CF? Theres only two answers I can even find remotely available. Peter Bourjos or Gentry from Texas. Who might we have who can interest them not named Garza?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Exactly. Just not much out there and while those would be nice players to have, I think they're too expensive to obtain when you consider they are likely just short-term solutions.

  • What can Boras do to get Bourn signed? if a team does not want
    to give up draft pick

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    He really can't do anything. He can make implicit promises, wink-wink, scratch my back now and I'll scratch yours later type stuff, but he has nothing concrete he can do. He's in a tough spot but if anyone can make it work, it's him.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Can't change the rules in the middle of the game.....Bourn & Lohse have 1st draft pick attached to them..........Boras will "grease" the palms of Selig to change the rules for next free agency.

  • fb_avatar

    Here's an idea to open up a spot on the roster: try and trade Michael Bowden for just about any lower-level pitching prospect. We seem to have a surplus of RH relievers right now (including the two guys who'll be left out of the rotation), and I don't think there's room on the team for both Bowden and Hector Rondon anyway. Bowden would probably be more helpful right now, but I'd rather have Rondon since he has a chance to be a starter in the future and since Bowden could at least bring something back in a trade. I'm sure there's a team out there that wouldn't mind adding a steady RH arm to their bullpen in exchange of some minor prospect.

    What do you guys think?

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Bowden is a Dime a Dozen type of value with him.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to CubsTalk:

    I'm sure that's not Theo and Jed's opinion, otherwise they would have just DFA'd him by now.

    In any case, my point is that Bowden is less valuable to the Cubs than any of the outfielders on the roster, even if we have too many of them. If the FO isn't able to pull off a trade, then I'd be okay with putting him on waivers.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    I am sure there is a board in Jed's office of ranking their players...,,and Bowden is near the bottom......Bowden is around to see how the pitching health is on this team.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Bowden has the inside track. It's his spot to lose.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    They've acquired him twice now. I'm pretty sure that's not their opinion :) He had some success after being sent down to AAA and late in the season with the Cubs. He's out of options too. If they wanted to lose him, they wouldn't waste their time holding onto him in the spring only to lose him if he doesn't make the team.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    They like Bowden, but it's an option. I think they'll find a different solution for now, though.

  • Bourn!


    If a trade were to open up two roster spots, could they add Castillo back to the 40 man or would he still have to clear waivers first?

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    They won't have to add him back. They can sign him to a minor league deal if he clears and keep him at AA without using a 40 man spot. If it works out that way it would be ideal.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I was wondering whether they could add Castillo back to the 40 man if say, Sappelt and Raley were dealt tomorrow, but I think I answered my own question. Looks like they can do that within 10 days of designating him.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I see what you mean. Misunderstood. They do have 10 days to decide what to do with him before they actually have to waive him.

  • Where do bad folks go when they die?

    Anyway, good piece!

  • In reply to Caps:

    They don't go to heaven where the angels fly :)


  • I know it's late-January blahs for Cubs and baseball fans, but I cannot get worked up about who'll be our 25th guy on Opening Day.

    In the second year of the rebuild, we have a placeholder team improved enough to win 75 games, 14 more than last season. That's nice, but inconsequential.

    Of course, I want our young, good players to keep improving and our temporary vets to do well so that we can get more for them at midseason and acquire more prospects, especially high-end pitchers.

    But, really, how our current top prospects fare in the minors is actually a lot more important than whatever happens with our many fringe players on the parent club.

    S Hairston, D Navarro are locks for the bench. Close to locks are "immortals" L Valbuena, D Sappelt. That leaves one, and I'll give a slight edge to B Lillibridge over T Campana. But not 'cuz either is particularly good.

    Lillibridge furnishes multi-position versatility. Plus, I think Sveum would like the option of being able to start Lillibridge (3B), Sappelt (CF), Schierholtz (RF) vs certain LHP. In April games, it appears we'll face a pretty normal percentage of LHP.

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