In some years the deadline to add players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from selection in the Rule 5 Draft causes a flurry of moves and plenty of concern from fans regarding the club’s decisions. This will not be one of those years.
At this moment the Cubs have six open slots on their 40-man roster, and only one prospect who absolutely must be protected (starting pitcher Cory Abbott). Another top prospect, Christopher Morel, is also eligible and I’m 99% certain will be added as well. Morel is raw, and a couple of years away (at least) from contributing in the Majors, but he is one of the few high upside position players in the upper levels of the Cubs system. With room on the roster, there is no reason to risk losing him.
The clubs could certainly choose to protect an additional player (check out the full list of eligible players over on TCR). AZ Phil continues to push for P.J. Higgins, just as he did last fall. I don’t see that happening, not with the Cubs already carrying three catchers on the 40-man, but I wouldn’t hate it. If the Cubs do add a third player it likely comes in the form of a bullpen arm. It is nearly impossible for me to give an honest prediction given I did not get to see the likes of Juan Gamez, Jerrick Suiter, Bryan Hudson, Keegan Thompson or any other dark horse candidate pitch this season, but the Cubs should have a good feel for all of these guys. If they believe one of them can be a contributor to their 2021 bullpen, I could see the Cubs adding him, but for now I’m working under the assumption the team will only add the obvious candidates, Abbott and Morel.
Those two additions will bring the Cubs roster up to 36, which gives them plenty of flexibility to add players through free agency and trades. In fact, I believe the Cubs will be aggressive throughout the day looking to capitalize on roster crunches that other teams will be experiencing. Teams will be removing players from their 40-man roster by placing them on the waiver wire, and they will also make players they do not have room for available in trade, at discounted value, rather than risk losing them for nothing in the draft. This is how the Cubs acquired Rowan Wick from the Padres two years ago, and Jharel Cotton last November. The former move obviously worked out far better than the latter, but last year’s disappointment should not dissuade the team from trying again.
I’d even suggest taking multiple swings today if presented with the opportunities. I’ll frankly be shocked if the Cubs don’t add at least one player via trade and another via waivers today. While the addition of multiple players would eat up much of their remaining 40-man slots, the loss of flexibility will only be temporary. It is no secret the team intends to trade at least one of their core position players, and reports have surfaced that the front office has made every player available as a means to facilitate reshaping the roster. Not only will the Cubs likely trade a couple of roster players for prospects, but several players currently occupying roster spots are not likely to be tendered contracts for the 2021 season which will free up additional room to add free agents later this offseason.
The Cubs need depth, especially for their bench, and even more so if they truly intend to move a couple of their current starters via trade down the road. Today’s deadline offers the first real opportunity of the offseason to address that concern. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed the Cubs are able to take advantage today.