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.