Chicago Cubs: Players battle for final two spots on 25-man roster

Sep 17, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Tommy La Stella (11) greets catcher Miguel Montero (C) and shortstop Addison Russell (R) after both players scored against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Tommy La Stella (11) greets catcher Miguel Montero (C) and shortstop Addison Russell (R) after both players scored against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs boast a good problem to have with the amount of depth and versatility on the roster. Who wins the final open spots come Opening Day?

Entering Spring Training, the Chicago Cubs had only a few decisions to make regarding their 25-man roster. With Opening Day less than two weeks away, Joe Maddon and the front office must choose between carrying an extra position player or eight relief pitchers.

The rotation, headlined by Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey, is set in stone and considered to be one of the best in the National League. They have a clear vision of what the lineup will look like throughout the season with three bench spots occupied by Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and David Ross

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The bullpen is filled with depth starters who could fill in on the sixth day or on account of injury. At this point, it looks like Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood are the two preferred spot starters, while Clayton Richard acts as more of a multi-inning reliever/matchup piece.

Adam Warren could potentially turn into a starter if the production of Jason Hammel or Kyle Hendricks is not to the Cubs liking. But for now, Warren has tremendous value as a reliever and could even make a case to be a closer or setup man as the season progresses.

Currently, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon will log important late-inning relief duties, but that situation is constantly fluid.

With all that being said, it leaves two roster spots open for realistic competition between six players: Tommy La Stella, Shane Victorino, Matt Szczur, Munenori Kawasaki, Spencer Patton and Neil Ramirez.

The Cubs must decide whether it benefits them to keep five bench players on the roster or 13 pitchers.

Joe Maddon appears to be swaying toward holding eight relievers in an effort to lighten his starters’ workloads. If that’s the case, then say goodbye to Munenori Kawasaki (for now) and Matt Szczur who will likely be claimed off waivers.

Neil Ramirez is on the road back from a major shoulder injury and abdominal issues that sidelined him for most of 2015. As a result, there has been a noticeable decline in velocity from when he consistently pumped 96 miles per hour. His fastball currently stands at 91-92 mph, but the bright side in his repertoire remains to be an effective slider.

Spencer Patton, in 27 games with the Texas Rangers last season, posted a 9.00 era in 24 innings while opposing batters hit .261 against him. Despite those ugly numbers, Patton has had himself a strong spring by not allowing a run in 7 1/3 innings.

Between the two, Ramirez looks to have a leg up. If the Cubs instead choose to add another bench piece or select Patton, Ramirez would be forced on waivers since he is out of minor league options, and would be claimed quickly.

It is unlikely the Cubs will give up on a player who showed so much potential in the early stages of his career, which means the 26-year-old will likely be the eighth reliever. With Ramirez acting as man No. 24 on the roster, one position player is left to compete for the final spot.

Joe Maddon voiced his support for Kawasaki to the Chicago Sun-Times but shut down the chances of him making the team by saying, “I don’t think so right now. I think more than likely it would almost take an injury situation to dislodge [someone]. I don’t want to be disingenuous about it.” 

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Kawasaki is having a nice spring and will likely be up with the major-league club at some point in the season, but not on Opening Day. That leaves a battle between La Stella, Victorino and Szczur.

Matt Szczur is a solid baseball player who can do a lot of things right for a team. However, his inconsistency with the bat and the fact he is not left-handed hurts him in the Cubs’ current situation. Since he is out of options, Szczur will likely find a new home for the summer.

That leaves an interesting scenario between La Stella and Victorino. A minor issue is that they are both hurt.

Shane Victorino was brought in on a minor league deal near the end of the offseason and can provide value in several facets. The Cubs have a plethora of outfield options, including versatile players like Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez.

Since the Cubs have so much outfield depth, and because Victorino has been limited this spring due to a sore calf, the fourth bench spot may go to La Stella. Victorino could start the season on the disabled list and find at-bats in rehab assignments before playing again every day. Eventually, the veteran outfielder will be on the Cubs 25-man roster.

And the winner is…Tommy La Stella.

Despite La Stella also dealing with a calf injury and missing time in the field, Joe Maddon is not concerned about the left-handed hitting infielder. La Stella has participated in minor league contests at the plate and is reportedly doing well.

The only question is whether or not he will be healthy enough to be able to do more than just hit and leisurely jog to first base come opening night. Maddon believes the 27-year-old will be ready to go. 

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La Stella is a lefty bat who produces a lot of contact, which is an area the Cubs are stressing this year, and acts as a reliable defensive option anywhere in the infield.

So there you have it, the Cubs have their 25-man roster with Neil Ramirez and Tommy La Stella acting as the final pieces.