With Spring Training past the half way point of the month of March and roster cuts having gone through a couple of rounds, now is a good time to start discussing how the Opening Day roster will unfold come April. Some decisions seemed to have been already made at the start of camp in February, while others have taken shape over the last few days, and still a couple spots left up for grabs between now and the end of the month.
It has been known for a couple weeks now that Samardzija will be the Cubs Opening Day starter. Just a few days ago it was mentioned that Edwin Jackson would be the starter for the home opener at Wrigley on April 8th. That confirms Jackson as the two man in the rotation, although having this pair of righties as the one two punch was assumed once it became clear Matt Garza would not joining the Cubs on time come the regular season. It is the final three spots where manager Dale Sveum and myself will disagree. Practically at the start of Spring Training, Sveum had penciled Feldman in as the fourth starter (prior to the bad news on Garza). Despite the rough Spring the former Ranger has had, the Cubs manager will most likely bump Feldman up a spot like he has with The Shark and Jackson. If I were calling the shots from the Cubs dugout, my choice would be Wood and his better numbers this Spring compared to Feldman. Yes, the argument is that Cactus League numbers do not tell the whole story, regardless of whether they are on the positive or negative side. But the concern is that Feldman has not looked good at all so far. The argument against Wood is the fact that the former Red has not lived up to expectations the last couple of regular seasons. Numbers aside, it would also be nice to break up a rotation dominated by righties with the left handed Wood.
Feldman would retain his original fourth slot in my rotation ahead of swing man Villanueva, who was ticketed for the bullpen prior to camp before injuries hit. To be honest, at this point differentiating the last three members of the rotation may be moot for a 2013 season that has low expectations, but the purpose of the exercise is to at least have some logic behind a roster projection.
It will be interesting to see if the Cubs front office will take advantage of the 60 day disabled list regarding Garza and Scott Baker, depending on their projected returns to game action. Baker is the most likely candidate after being shut down based on the MRI results from Monday. Baker would be allowed up to 30 days in the minors for a rehab stint, and placing him on the 60 day would open up a spot on the 40 man roster for one of the non roster invitees fighting to earn the right to join the Cubs on Opening Day.
The bullpen list is ordered from the closer down, so we start with Marmol and set up men Fujikawa and camp as the no brainers. Lefty Russell, who has a couple of seasons serviceable production under his belt, would also join the safe list. This list also assumes that the Cubs will only have 12 pitchers on their staff, especially considering the concerns surrounding the third base situation. Bowden is projected to make the Opening Day roster because he is out of options, although that is not to say he hasn’t earned a spot based on merit, as he has had a solid showing in Arizona so far. Rondon is another that would figure to be in Cubs road gray on April 1st due to a roster technicality, although his is regarding the Rule 5 draftee requirements. But he too has earned his spot to be on the 25 man roster with a good Spring so far.
Rusin would actually be a candidate for the starting rotation in my book, despite his not so hot cup of coffee with the Cubs last season. But the more veteran pitchers already listed above have a leg up on the youngster just based on experience, and there appears to be a home for Rusin as a second lefty out of the pen. I would have wanted to lean towards having non roster invitee Hisanori Takahashi as the second lefty in the pen since Rusin still has three options left. However, you would then have to deal with 40 man roster limit issues to add the Japanese lefty, and the Cubs will already have to walk that tight rope to address the depth issues at third base. That makes it unlikely that the front office will be able to find a third, much less a second player to cut to make room for Takahashi.
In the best interest of the Cubs, it would be the hope that non roster invitees such as Jaye Chapman, Jensen Lewis, and Zach Putnam can be assigned to the Cubs minor leagues for depth. With guys like Blake Parker, who have options remaining but are not on the 40 man roster, they will most likely be stashed in the minors until injury or lack of production gives them a crack at the Majors. Parker has had a nice Spring as well, but will be the victim of the roster numbers game.
This list is just from left to right for the top three spots, with the final two being the back up guys. With the way Brian Bogusevic has been tearing it up this Spring, he would have been my choice for the fifth outfielder spot regardless of right handed versus left handed bat balance. However what the Cubs have not mentioned is that taking Bogusevic over Sappelt would require the same issue as would adding Takahashi; making space on the 40 man roster. In the case a roster spot can be freed up (to be discussed at length under the infield section), you could see Bogusevic being considered here over Sappelt if handedness is not a factor. Sappelt still has two options left, so there would be no fear of losing him in a move to send him down to the minors.
Brett Jackson and his new look swing figures to have a place in the future of the Cubs, but that future will not be April 2013. It is in the best interest of both player and team to spend extended time in the minors with the new mechanics before making his way back to the Wrigley outfield. That return could come as early as June or July if one of Soriano, DeJesus, or even Schierholtz are traded to contenders prior the deadline.
The infield portion of the roster is where the front office and Svuem will put their collective brains through the wringer. Unless you have been living under a rock and not reading Cubbies Crib, you will know that the issue really revolves around the hot corner and the never ending injuries to Ian Stewart. The rest of the infield is a given between Castro, Barney, and Rizzo; names that are on place to be pre printed on Svuem’s line up card for the foreseeable future. But Valbuena will get the default nod at third and the back up infield spots will heavily consider a player’s ability to play some at the hot corner.
Both Lillibridge and Edwin Maysonet can play third in a pinch, with Lillibridge also being able to play in the outfield. Lillibridge gets the nod here because he has the edge on experience in the Majors over Maysonet, and the ex White Sox is just a couple of seasons removed from a 13 homer, 29 RBI year over 97 games played. However, even keeping Lillibridge will require a 40 man roster move and part of that decision will revolve around the TBD slot.
Maysonet or the previously mentioned Bogusevic and Takahashi have a chance at cracking the 25 man roster based on what happens with the TBD spot here in the infield. This wild card spot has been listed here because it really has to do with how the Stewart situation will be handled. Fans and Cubbies Crib readers may recall that the contract Stewart signed as not guaranteed. That means the Cubs would be able to cut him without having to eat the agreed upon salary at the time of the signing. However, during the rehab process for Stewart, word came out that the front office was considering some sort of agreement with the former Rockie to still compensate him at a Major League level while having him get the needed at bats to get back up to speed in the minors, since his time in the Cactus League has been reduced to practically nil.
Such a move would free up a 40 man roster spot and buy the Cubs time to make a corresponding move to add Stewart down the road when he is ready. That would make space for non roster invitee Lillibridge and still have flexibility with the final 25 man roster spot (assuming that player is on the 40 man roster as well). However, the list of candidates on the 40 man roster is a short one, consisting of players such as Steve Clevenger, Brett Jackson, or a pitcher that would provide unnecessary depth at positions that were filled.
If roster move are made to accommodate the previously mentioned non roster invitees, Clevenger and Brooks Raley may be the first considered to be trimmed from the roster. I only name them because I find it hard that anyone else on the roster would be dropped ahead of them, not because either player is considered a bust. Assuming no trades between now and Opening Day, this is the roster list the Cubs will have to play with (although at the time of this writing the Cubs have traded for outfielder Jose Dore of the Padres for a player to be named later, one that could be on the 40 man roster).
To round out the projections, we finish with the catchers. No room for questions or second guessing here, which kind of ends this post on an anti climatic note.
Topics: Alfonso Soriano, Anthony Rizzo, Brent Lillibridge, Brian Bogusevic, Brooks Raley, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Villanueva, Chicago Cubs, Chris Rusin, Darwin Barney, Dave Sappelt, David Dejesus, Dioner Navarro, Edwin Jackson, Edwin Maysonet, Hector Rondon, Hisanori Takahashi, Ian Stewart, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Kyuji Fujikawa, Luis Valbuena, Michael Bowden, Nate Schierholtz, Scott Feldman, Scott Hairston, Shawn Camp, Starlin Castro, Steve Clevenger, Travis Wood, Welington Castillo