The past two seasons, Dale Sveum broke camp with at least one position player and one pitcher that wasn’t on the 40 man roster prior to opening day. Shawn Camp and Joe Mather were the surprises of spring training in 2012, and Brent Lillibridge and Hisanori Takahashi managed the same feat in 2013. These non-roster invitees provided one quality relief season out of the four players that Sveum chose. Those four players accounted for -2.7 wins in their time with the Cubs, granted the bulk of that amount was accumulated by “Not So Super” Joe Mather with -1.8.
The Cubs enter 2014 with no space currently available on the 40 man roster and perhaps nearly as little room on the 25 man roster as well. The Cubs pitching staff is set right now based on the ability to send players down. The Cubs had nine players that were locked into roster spots barring trade or injury as I detailed earlier in the off season. Since that point the Cubs have added Wesley Wright, Jose Veras, and Jason Hammel on major league deals. Now of course one of the NRI like Jonathan Sanchez, Tsuyoshi Wada, Chang-Yong Lim or Marcus Hatley providing a good enough option to force the Cubs to expose Blake Parker or Alberto Cabrera to waivers is unlikely. Parker is coming off a strong season and likely will get some high leverage innings next season, and whatever your opinion of Cabrera may be the front office is not going to let him go for free at a successful run as a starter in AA last year.
That leaves the Cubs 13 spots on the roster to be decided, but again the vast majority of these spots are spoken for at this point in time. The Cubs have two catchers, 5 infielders, and 3 outfielders. That list does not include Junior Lake who has all but been assured an outfield spot. Mike Olt is also not on that list and his inclusion on the big league roster seems assured with a very crowded Iowa infield already in place of Christian Villaueva, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Lars Anderson from left to right. The Cubs have 10 players that are locked in and two virtual locks for the roster. That leaves exactly one spot open for an NRI.
It would also seem likely given the presence of six pure infielders that the roster would need an outfielder. That means that the best shot for an NRI would be a player capable of handling at least some OF duty. That would give the leg up to Casper Wells, Chris Coughlan, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Aaron Cunningham, Mitch Maiers, or even Ryan Roberts. That also leaves open the possibility for new left fielder Josh Vitters to grab the last roster spot which would mean that the Cubs would not take a single NRI north after spring training. I already speculated that the selection of that fifth OF spot would tell us a lot about planned usage of Justin Ruggiano. But this is likely to be the only major roster decision that is truly in the hands of first time manager Rick Renteria.
It is curious the stark difference of roster situations inherited by the two managers selected by this front office. One has to wonder whether this is a natural evolution of improving the bottom of the roster or if the Cubs made a conscious effort to remove roster decision making away from their second first time manager. Some of speculated that the Cubs are attempting to implement the model of front office-manager relations implied in the book Moneyball. I am not certain I subscribe to such a draconian theory about the front office’s intention, but it is interesting how much has changed at least in terms of options for filling out a roster in the past two seasons. And it will be interesting to see what Rick Renteria decides with so little flexibility on his 25 man roster.