Cubbies Crib will bring our readers a two part series revolving around the 40 man roster. Headlines usually focus on rumored free agent targets and hyped upcoming prospects, causing the talk of 40 man rosters to take a bit of a back seat. The team would like to trim the list down so that they can add some of their top prospects to the roster and protect those kids from the Rule 5 draft.
This roster limit is the parameters with which the new front office will have to work within. The Cubs had their list trimmed down a bit on Sunday when a few players officially filed for free agency. Kerry Wood and Carlos Pena highlight the list of Cubs free agents that also includes Reed Johnson, John Grabow, Rodrigo Lopez, and Ramon Ortiz.
As a result the 40 man roster becomes trimmed down to 34. Even though Theo Epstein and company are now in charge of the Cubs, they figure to at least be in discussions with Wood and Pena to bring them back in 2012. On the other hand, the front office will most likely not pursue Grabow, Lopez, and Ortiz. James Russell proved to be a reliable option as the second lefty to Sean Marshall last season, making Grabow expendable.
That leaves Johnson as the candidate that is in a bit of a gray area. The scrappy veteran and fan favorite had a solid year and fits the Epstein mold of low risk, high reward players to fill in a MLB roster. The downside is that Johnson is not getting any younger and has had back issues flare up in the past, not to mention that outfield figures to be an area full of depth for the Cubs with Brett Jackson looking to force his way into the mix at Wrigley Field in 2012. Johnson returned on a minor league deal because of his familiarity with the Cubs and former GM Jim Hendry, and if he were to agree to fight for a spot next season on a minor league deal, Epstein and company would not have to make the decision of adding him to 40 man roster until Opening Day.
The first player related move the new front office made was to pick up the Cubs half of the mutual option on Aramis Ramirez. The 2011 Silver Slugger winner, however, made it a bit of a moot point when he declined his half. The move allows Ramirez to test the free agent waters. The positive for the Cubs is that they did not have to pay Ramirez a $2 million option buy out had they declined their half of the option, and the team also will receive draft pick compensation when the Type B free agent signs elsewhere. That brings the roster total to 33.
Moving on from the recent free agents, there are two names that the Cubs could let go. Cubbies Crib reader non favorite Koyie Hill can make a case for another pay bump this offseason as he is arbitration eligible. The back up catcher earned $850,000 last year and could easily command $1 million for 2012. With prospects like Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger knocking on the door and already on the 40 man roster, the front office would need to weigh the future potential of either young catcher to the steady hand Hill can provide behind the plate, even if the switch hitting back up has nothing to offer when at the plate.
The other release candidate is Lou Montanez. The fringe Major Leaguer had returned to the team that drafted him as a short stop (ahead of Chase Utley it should be noted) and was quoted as wanting to come back as a bit of a thank you to Hendry. While Montanez had some good moments during his call ups with the Cubs, the now converted out fielder is in the same standing as the earlier mentioned Johnson in the outfield pecking order.
If Epstein and Jed Hoyer want to get that roster figure down even further, we could also see names like Esmailin Caridad and John Gaub designated for assignment as well. All of the moves mentioned thus far could bring the final roster total down to 29.
Stick with Cubbies Crib to find out which of these moves will come to fruition and all the latest on the Cubs news now that free agency has begun. Part two of series will focus on the prospect names that Epstein and Hoyer will figure to promote to the 40 man roster and thus protect from the Rule 5 draft.