When the Chicago Cubs signed Joe Mather to a Minor League deal in early January, few believed his future was actually on the big team in April. I was not one of the few:

Mather, 29, split 2011 between the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies’ organizations. You may recognize his name as a former Cardinals farm-hand, who never quite put it all together. He had a good year with the Cardinals in 2008, but it’s been nothing but the minors and an occasional (unsuccessful) stint in the bigs since then. Most of Mather’s value comes from his ability to play all over the diamond, seeing time in the last couple of years at every outfield position, as well as first and third base. He hit quite well in the PCL (AAA) the last two years, but, then, who didn’t? …

Obviously [the move is] minor – both in a literal and figurative sense – but that doesn’t mean [it isn’t] also good. Although you want your upper levels of the minors to be full of prospects, the Cubs simply don’t have an abundance of upper level, top prospects. That means, unless they are going to continue the past practice of aggressively promoting youngsters, the Cubs were going to need some AAA depth. Thus, even if [Mather] never contribute[s] at the big league level (and, to be clear – it’s nice to have [him] as depth in that regard, too), it’s good to have [him] in the organization. [He isn’t] really blocking anyone.

Throw in the fact that [he] can play all over the diamond in a pinch, and it’s nice to have guys like that at AAA, just in case.

That all sounds pretty good now in retrospect, with one small change: instead of popping up to the bigs when there are a couple injuries in the outfield, it’s looking increasingly likely that Joe Mather will make the Cubs out of camp.

“I’d be lying if I said it was real close,” Sveum said when asked about Mather’s standing in the bench competition. “The guy’s doing everything he possibly can. He can play so many positions, he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. He’s hit all kinds of pitching so far. He’s hit velocity, he’s hit side-arm right-handers. He played a heck of a center field in Vegas. He can steal you a base.”

With Mather pretty much locked into a bench spot at this point, and the Cubs likely to carry seven pitchers in the bullpen, we can essentially lay out the Cubs’ five bench spots.

Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson, and the back-up catcher (either Welington Castillo or Steve Clevenger) are locked in. Mather makes four, and Dale Sveum always talks about Blake DeWitt like he’s got a bench job, as well. So, there are your five members of the bench to start the year, assuming no changes between now and April 5.

That would mean that guys like Tony Campana, Dave Sappelt, Adrian Cardenas, and the other catcher would head to AAA, and guys like Alfredo Amezaga, Edgar Gonzalez, Matt Tolbert, and Bobby Scales would either head to AAA or be released.

  • Edwin

    I like having a utility player that can play all over. It’s nice to have that kind of flexibility for the lineup and for late game situations. I’d still like to see Clevenger win out over Castillo, mostly because it adds another left-handed bat, and they seem to be pretty equal in almost all other areas.

    Is there any type of scouting report on what kind of defense Joe Mather plays? If he plays good defense it makes him even more valuable as a late inning defensive sub.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I don’t know much about his defense (other than Sveum seems to think it’s solid in the outfield). I also don’t know if he can play 2B in a pinch, which would go a long ways to addressing the non-need for Jeff Baker that Paul mentions.

      • colocubfan

        Just looked up his fielding stats. No record of playing 2B/SS.
        As nice as it is to have a versatile player like Mather, I’ll miss the
        fear factor of Tony Campana stealing a base in the 9th if he doesn’t
        make the team.

        • RoughRiider

          I, like “colocubfan”, was hoping that Campana would make the team as well. I love the excitment of having a guy like him on base and knowing that he could run at any time with the other team knowing it too. If he could only hit for average or at least get a good OBP.

      • Brady

        He made a pretty solid diving catch on a ball that had he let it drop would probably have netted 2 runs in Vegas (hence Sveum’s praise) I haven’t seen him look too bad so far this spring and he certainly hasnt lost the ball in the sun. (I am looking at you Byrd!)

    • ty

      Castillo probably needs to play every day at triple A and refine his work behind the plate and then next time he comes up he will be around for a long time. Clevenger can fall out of bed and catch that one game a week in relief of Soto.

      • RoughRiider

        And he bats lefty. Clevenger, that is.

  • CubFan Paul

    why is Jeff Baker locked in when Mather is a cheaper clone/version of him?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Baker has the clear background of success in recent years, where as Mather is a bit more of a risk. That said, their skill-set is very similar. Could make Baker expendable.

      • CubFan Paul

        yes, very similar. i’m not sure both guys will make the bench because another lefty would be nice – Campana

        my bench also has Cardenas/Barney on it and not DeWitt (pinch hitter/stiff defender that doesn’t walk)

        Clevenger, Reed, Baker/Mather, Cardenas/Barney, and then Campana who can work with Jaramillo everyday but still run for us late in games (april & may games especially)

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      Baker has proven that he can hit in the bigs with reasonable success – Mather has not

      Who is Baker blocking that you want?

    • Kyle

      Because Jeff Baker can hit.

    • Spencer

      When Mather hits .314/.349/.463 against left handed pitching, then we can start to call Baker expendable. Yeah Mather might be cheaper, but we have a proven utility guy on the team that absolutely destroys lefties. Baker should start every game when there’s a left handed pitcher on the mound – no exceptions. I’d much rather have Campana or Sappelt off the bench than Mather.

  • hill really sucks

    Who cares… this guy wont be with the team next year, I dont know what is “good news” about this… Not every move the FO makes needs to be praised, imo this is pretty inconsequential…

  • Ron

    I am awesome blah..blah..blah.

    Ha, just kidding!

  • Kyle

    So we let some interesting minor league infield prospects in the Rule 5, and we give a roster spot to a 29-year-old with a career .OBP that Neifi Perez sneers at, and it very much appears that he’s getting it because he had two hot weeks in early March.

    We’re doing a very good job of filling out the roster with guys who have no long-term future with the team and no chance to accrue trade value.

    Epstein and Co. still have done more than enough to earn the benefit of the doubt, but my eyebrow is sneaking up towards a “raised” position.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I think there is a good chance that the Cubs get Marwin Gonzalez back.  In 23 ABs with Houston, he’s just .130/.200/.174 with five strikeouts.  Given that Gonzalez probably has a ceiling of a backup infielder, I doubt they can afford to keep him on the 25 man roster with those kind of numbers.  If the Cubs refuse to make a deal, he has a great shot of coming back to Iowa.

      Flaherty, I’m afraid, is going to stick in Baltimore.   I’d rather have kept him over DeWitt any day.

      • Spencer

        OBP higher than slugging? Yikes.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I’m not saying I love Joe Mather, but I wouldn’t be too worried about the lost trade value of a youngster sitting at the end of the bench.

      • Brady

        And if he decides to be a late bloomer and crush this year, I am fine with that too. It is his job to lose afterall.

  • Eric

    I have been assuming that Scales is trying to stay with the team in hopes of getting a minor league coaching spot after he retires. Is this likely?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You got me – but the Cubs aren’t going to give him a spot at Iowa if they’ve got other guys they feel are more likely to help the big club or develop as prospects. Maybe he immediately joins a coaching staff?

    • ty

      Scales has a teaching degree and has actually used it in off season. No doubt would be a prospective coach if he can swallow the low low pay.

    • daveyrosello

      According to Arizona Phil, Scales is interested in coaching, and the Cubs have already said they are interested in him pursuing that. Everyone in the Cubs organization seems to love Bobby Scales and his dedication to the game–a TEN-YEAR AAA veteran, you gotta love it to stick with it that long and never get over the hump. AAA guys only make about $50K/year.

      The players already look up to Scales as a mentor and semi-coach as it is, he’ll be perfect for this new career. If he follows the career-track of recent Cubs players-turned-coaches, he’ll probably start in Mesa or Boise and work up from there, just like the prospects do it.

  • Kyle

    I’m reminded of the episode of Sports Night in which one of the anchors is talking up the virtues of a recently released kicker. After every point, the other anchor simply replies “Can’t kick.”

    Finally, the original anchor goes with “He can kick in practice.”

    To which the conversation is ended on: “At this level, they really need you to be able to kick in the games.”

    You can list all the virtues you want of Joe Mather, my reply is always going to be “Can’t hit.” And if you bring up spring training, it’s like saying he can kick in practice.

    • MaxM1908

      Fair enough, Kyle, but for the Cubs’ sake, I hope Mather proves you wrong. I still think your conclusion that he “can’t hit” is based on a limited sample size of his big league experience. If he can get regular at-bats with the Cubs, he may surprise you. If he produces this year, I hope you’ll be willing to eat crow on this board.

      • Spencer

        If Mather is getting regular ABs with the Cubs then that means we’ve lost about 5 guys due to injury.

        • Kyle

          Two. One infielder and Jeff Baker.

        • MaxM1908

          With his positional versatility I imagine he’ll be a regular late-inning substitute and get 1-2 starts per week. I believe that will be more regular than he’s experienced in his previous stints in the major. Plus, if he lasts a whole season, we should have enough data to conclude whether or not he truly “can’t hit.”

          • hill really sucks

            If they plan on him starting 1 or 2 games per week then it’s really going to be an ugly year…

  • Kyle

    I’m not particularly impressed with his minor-league resume either.

    • MaxM1908

      Was he injured in 2009? He didn’t play very many games and that year appears to be an outlier in his stats. Otherwise, he seemed to consistently improve, particularly when he started regularly playing at AAA.

      • Kyle

        It’s pretty common for bad veterans to have decent-looking AAA numbers when they repeat the same league over and over. The minors are designed for prospects facing players of a similar age in changing environments, not old guys settling in and getting comfortable.

        I can’t recall the injury off-hand, but he was hurt in 2009.

  • Mrp

    Mather was actually starting to put up pretty solid numbers back in 2007 and 2008 before he broke his wrist. If my memory is correct, wasn’t he a top 10 Cardinals prospect back then? Wrist injuries are huge for hitters so I’m hoping he has realized he isn’t the same hitter he was back then and has made the adjustments to compensate for whatever he lost with that injury. I guy can hope, right?

  • Sinnycal

    Baker is clearly the better/safer option, but the utility bench role should be one of the last pieces a good team needs to solidify–not one of the first for a bad team. Is it really so important to have an older lefty-mashing bench bat on a rebuilding team? If Mather can be serviceable in the utility role this year and maybe next, you can move Baker for a prospect and consider that prospect the ultimate gain of the Mather signing.

    • CubFan Paul

      ‘move Baker for a prospect and consider that prospect the ultimate gain of the Mather signing’

      agreed. Theo&Co see Baker as a short term asset just like the others they traded away

  • ty

    Ran into an old friend on Rockies staff at Salt River–I brought up Stewart trade and he had this wicked grin and said “gotcha”–I said what–he said oh you will find out soon enough. I know nothing about Stewart–is he a club house issue or does he think he is a wash athletically?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Rockies appeared to have pretty much given up on Stewart’s bat.  His glove is just fine at third, but his hitting as been fairly unimpressive in the majors of late.

      Cubs think there is still something there.  2012 will tell who is right.

      • CubFan Paul

        could Stewart be a 2 hitter? in between Dejesus & Castro? that would give him more strikes to look at, hopefully helping him offensively

  • http://bleachernation.com Tarheel Cub

    My only worry with keeping Baker and Mather is that both are right-handed and similar players, compounded by johnson being a righty, and two starting outfielders who are rights.Perhaps we can move Baker and keep a lefty middle infielder such as Cardenas, if he is worthy of a spot.

  • Eric S

    Assuming that Baker or Dewitt don’t get traded to Philly in a deal that would allow the Cubs to drop Lendy Castillo to the minors without having to give him back. That will allow a spot to open up on the 25 man roster for a speedster like Tony C or Sappelt to be an extra outfielder. You will have the lone survivor whether it’s Dewitt or Baker as your backup infielder, sharing time with a Joe Mather. This also frees up your bullpen for Russell, Coleman, Wells, Marmol, Wood, Trevor Miller and Dollis. With your starters being Garza, Demp, Maholm, Volsted, and Shark

    • CubFan Paul

      “Russell, Coleman, Wells, Marmol, Wood, Trevor Miller and Dollis”

      why Coleman? he should be sent to AAA to stay stretched out (mid season trades should/will open up 2-3 rotation spots)

      Mateo & De La Cruz are out of options & will probably push Coleman to AAA anyway.

      • PoopyPants McGee

        Is Maholm the 3rd starter you see possibly getting moved at the deadline? Would you really want to watch 2 months of Shark, Volstad, Wood, Wells and Coleman starting? If Demp, Garza, and Maholm are traded, I am fairly confident the Cubs would get getting back, at minimum, 2 MLB ready starting pitchers. There probably wont be a need for Coleman.

        • CubFan Paul

          yes Maholm is the 3rd starter i see possibly getting traded at the deadline. If he’s healthy & “dealing” of course, a contender would jump all over his low salary

          & the season ending rotation i’m hoping for is Samardzija, Volstad, Wood, Rusin, and Coleman/Jay Jackson/surprise aa/aaa guy -mcNutt? …end the season with young guys in the rotation so that we know going into the offseason for 2013 what we have

  • PoopyPants McGee

    Why does everyone want to get rid of Baker, a proven slugger against left handed pitching?This team is going to need every drop of expendable offense to be successful, yet people rather trade him for a lousy prospect. Hopefully, Campagna or Cardenas gets that final bench spot over DeWitt. There offensive talents exceed those of DeWitt, and in Cardenas case, can actually play SS.

  • Mick

    Does anyone know what’s up with Matt Tolbert? He’s only played in 4 ST games but he’s 3 for 6 with a walk , 0 Ks, and a SB. He seems stuck behind Mather, DeWitt, Baker, etc. Hopefully he gets a shot at AAA, he could prove valuable if anyone gets dealt or injured.

  • Spoda17

    To quote that famous movie Major League, “… who gives a shit; it’s gone”

    That is how I feel about Mather v. Campana v. Baker v. anyone… it really is insignificant… none will be there next year, and none will “impact” this year’s club. Parts is Parts…

  • Turn Two

    That’s an odd stance. Everyone who makes the team should make it for a reason. Either to make us better this year, which is the building block that builds trust in the new organization or they are potentially going to be here as part of the long term solution. Mather and Campana would fall under the later category, Baker the former. Either way no one on the team will serve no purpose.