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As has been discussed here before over the last few weeks, the Cubs have a relatively crowded 40-man roster. Sure, they pared it a bit at the end of the season with a number of removals, but with so many young players (including many who had to be prematurely added to the 40-man roster like Jorge Soler, Gerardo Concepcion, Junior Lake, and Matt Szczur), the Cubs still face a number of difficult decisions as they construct their roster for next season.

The most immediate obstacle is the Rule 5 Draft. As Luke addressed last week, the Cubs have several interesting young players who will be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft on December 6 if they are not added to the 40-man roster later this month. Further, free agents are going to start signing any day now, and 40-man roster spots could go quickly if the Cubs want to be in on their prime targets.

When you add it all up, you can see that the Cubs may have an issue when that Rule 5 roster date rolls around, unless they clear another spot or two and wait to sign any free agents until after the Rule 5 Draft (which they may not be able to do, depending on when their desired free agents are looking to sign). At best, without any additional roster moves, it’s looking like the Cubs will risk losing a player or two that they’d like not to lose.

I don’t want to overstate the Rule 5 Draft risk. Even in the Cubs’ situation, if they were unable to protect a single additional player, they are not likely to lose any future superstars. Yes, it would suck to lose Logan Watkins or Nick Struck or Trey McNutt or Christian Villanueva. But they aren’t likely to lose a future core piece (they wouldn’t risk it), and heck, the players might come back if they can’t stick on a big league roster next year.

Even if I ignore the Rule 5 risk, and say that isn’t a motivating factor in making these difficult roster decisions, here’s what is a motivating factor: if the 40-man is already at 36, and want to add at least two starting pitchers and a center fielder, probably a third baseman, probably a reliever or two, probably a Rule 5 selection of their own (they pick second), and possibly a veteran back-up catcher to pair with Welington Castillo … well, you can see why they’ll need to clear space no matter what.

Below is a pictorial representation of the Cubs’ 40-man roster as it exists today. In green, you have the virtual locks to remain on the 40-man throughout the Winter. Obviously you never say never with this front office, but they are the guys whom we are all expected to be on the team at the start of 2013.

In blue, you have the players who are likely to be with the team in 2013, and thus likely to be on the roster until after the Rule 5 Draft (but some of whom could be legitimate trade candidates for most of the offseason).

In yellow, you have the players who have too much value to risk losing for nothing in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, but who could be traded before then in order to open up a spot (I’m not saying these guys are likely to be dealt (in most cases, they aren’t) – I’m saying only that they have too much value to risk losing for nothing, but not so much value that they are presumed members of the 2013 roster). These demarcations aren’t perfect.

And in red, you have the players that the Cubs could – and in some cases should – risk de-rostering. By removing them from the 40-man roster, the players could depart via a waiver claim or free agency, depending on their individual situation; but such is the difficulty of the pre-Rule-5-Draft roster dance.

Some notes:

  • I’ve said for some time now that it’s hard to see the Cubs not trying to make a move with a guy like Junior Lake or Matt Szczur sooner rather than later. Neither is a lock to contribute to the big club in 2013, which means a couple blocked up 40-man spots, and another option year used up by each. Perhaps there is a team out there that would be better situated to bear that minor burden for a year (or that is willing to give them a shot next year). Can the Cubs really put together a deal in the next couple weeks, though?
  • Gerardo Concepcion is a tough one, and was almost a red. While I am by no means interested in giving up on him as a prospect based on one adjustment-and-mono-filled half-season, I do wonder whether his contract (on which he’s still owed some $3 to $5 million, depending on how his signing bonus is being paid out) would make him sufficiently unattractive that he could clear waivers if he were outrighted off the 40-man roster. I tend to doubt it, in which case the Cubs would have to ask themselves whether they’re willing to risk losing him for nothing (nothing but salary relief, that is). We also don’t know the details of his contract, which may preclude this kind of maneuvering.
  • Because the Cubs picked up Carlos Gutierrez and Zach Putnam after the season and knowing these decisions were going to be coming, I’m assuming the Cubs are planning to keep them.
  • Chris Rusin as red and Brooks Raley as yellow is a really fine distinction, but I suppose I see just a bit more upside in Raley. I tentatively expect both to stick on the roster, though.
  • With the Cubs looking to pick up a veteran catcher (well, if they aren’t, they should be), Steve Clevenger becomes expendable. There are some very nice aspects to his game, and he could be a decent back-up in the future. But when it comes time to make difficult decisions, you don’t really hang your hat on “could be a decent back-up catcher in the future.”
  • Many of these designations are debatable. The point here is less about drawing hard lines, and more about pointing out the areas where the conversation becomes difficult. Some of these guys are probably going to have to go.
  • BluBlud

    Brett, Why don’t the Cubs DFA Soriano. He not going to be claimed on waivers. Plus, if he chooses free agency, he loses his contract, correct. Plus, if he a team player, we explain that this helps the team short term, and that its nothing personal. I don’t see why he wouldn’t help the team. Would this be a possibility.

    • Kyle

      Because it would be asinine and hurt the Cubs’ reputations with future free agents. Then, after the 10 days were up, he’d just refuse the assignment to the minors and nothing would have been accomplished.

    • MichiganGoat

      The money is guaranteed regardless of what we do, if we DFA him we still pay him and another team can pick him up for the league minimum. Not a good business decision since he still has value via trade.

      • BluBlud

        I wasn’t sure about the free agency, money owed thing. However, if he’s claim of waivers, I pretty sure the Cubs are no longer responsible for his contract at all.

        • MichiganGoat

          True but no one will claim him and then either we keep him or release him either way he will get paid his contract by the Cubs, so it’s really a non-issue since just cutting him is a bad move.

        • Kyle

          That’s true. Which is why nobody claimed him on waivers two seasons ago, nobody claimed him on waivers this season, and nobody would claim him on waivers this offseason.

  • nkniacc13

    yeah I totally expect the cubs to make atleast 1 trade to clear a couple spots off their 40 man

  • Fastball

    I might have to think real hard on protecting McNutt. We should have traded him to Tampa and kept Archer. I keep Struck and Zych if he needs protected probably Watkins as well. That’s 3 add’s to the 9 cuts I make as GM. Leaves me room to get 6 pitchers, a 3B, and 2 OF, back up catcher.

  • Fastball

    One this is for sure. You remove a bunch of these guys from the 40 man you will soon find ut what the rest of baseball thinks about them. Probably not much. Can’t fall in love with players who aren’t part of the long term plan. If you don’t get too attached it doesn’t hurt as much when they have to go. Baseball is a cold business to be in.

    • BluBlud

      Agree 100%.

      Bowdon, Brigham, Coleman, concepcion, Putnam, Raley, Clevender, Stewart and Valbeuna are all gone. If Valbeuna and Stewart take minor league deals, welcome back. That 8 slots, and it took me all of 1 minute. Get to work Jed and Theo.

      • Carew

        Bowden, Concepcion, Putnam i think are staying, with Raley a possibility.

        Bowden b/c the FO seem to love him.
        Concepcion b/c he is still young and missed HALF the year due to mono or some illness.
        Putnam b/c they just picked him up not long ago.
        Raley b/c he is a lefty that could possibly be alright, and is a lefty.

  • Jason

    They better not lose Christian Villanueva because then we’ll have just sat through a half year of Justin Germano for nothing!

    In all seriousness, I’d put Watkins, Villanueva, and Mcnutt on the roster, and take off Brigham, Clevenger, Campana, Coleman, and Conception. I’d rather have Conception on there than Putnam, but, like you said, they claimed him so there’s no way they won’t keep him.

    That keeps it at 36 and makes room for a backup catcher, 2 SP’s, and a center fielder. Stewart could go either way, but I don’t see any better options out there, so why not?

    If they really see someone they like in the rule 5 draft, then I wouldn’t have any problem if they de-rostered Raley or Coleman. Or, if it comes down to it, I’d take Watkins or McNutt any day over those two.

  • terencem

    I wouldn’t drop Clevenger. He may not be a star but we saw what the alternatives were when Brett Lalli had to play major league baseball this season (not to mention the return of Koyie Hill).

    I think they will drop Stewart and LaHair will be gone soon enough. That gets them down to 34.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    What am I missing, was Rizzo not eligible for rookie of the year? He didn’t even get one vote. Not saying he should have won(Miley deserved it hands down).
    Yet one of the hack St. Louis writers had Matt Carpenter on his ballot, and a San Diego writer had Yonder Alonso, and one did not even have 16 game winner, 3.33 ERA Miley on his ballot. Cubs always get hosed over on the awards and the HOF voting.

    • DarthHater

      Cubs always get hosed over on the awards

      Come on. The Cubs have had their share of ROYs over the years.

    • DarthHater

      Besides, I don’t think Rizzo was eligible. And even if he was, I’d rather see hack Chicago writers vote for the most deserving candidate (not Harper, btw), rather than emulate hack St. Louis writers.

    • ryan

      if you want to stop being a homer, you’ll realize that Rizzo wasn’t eligible and also probably notice that, no, there is no conspiracy to snub the Cubs from awards and HoF.

      Harper should have won like he did. Miley is fine where he is. Aoki has an argument for 2nd (and would definitely be 2nd if he had gotten more time in CF like he probably should have)

      • cubfanincardinalland

        Rizzo was eligible for the award, and it is ridiculous he did not get a vote.

      • http://bleachernation ferris

        miley season far better……he shoulda won hands down

  • MacPete

    They could trade a few guys like Lake, Rusin, Mcnutt, etc for a 3rd basemen and then non tender Stewart

  • jesus zuniga

    The cubs need to give texas a small package of players that where dumping for mike ott 3 base

    • chris

      It doesn’t work that way – no semi-competent business person will take 5 of one person’s junk for the best of their stuff. DUCY?

    • http://www.hookersorcake.com stoned agin

      Dude, we should trade Karl Rhodes and Brooks Kiesnick for Boog Powell! Maybe Weaver would throw in a keg of beer?!

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Maybe Weaver would throw in a keg of beer?!

        Or at least a good tantrum!

  • Cubs are Lost under these two losers

    If the Cubs FO locked up two Big Time Hitters.One that bats before Soriano and a Big One that Bats after Him that is a True Threat Teams would have to Pitch better to Soriano and the cubs could still make that Trade work out for them………..The Facts are the Major League owners made 7.8 Billion dollars this year and all 30 teams got another 75 million to spend on players from the national tv deal………Every team has money to spend and the Players union and agents know this and the cubs have money to spend and us fans that actually live here and go to the games pay to see those Big Name stars and the owners shouldn’t be selfish and should be dedicted to there loyal fans(that live in the city) and put a winning team on the field every single year………No respectable no selfish Billionaire owner should ever ask his fans to settle with losing and lie to them that they have no money when The Games Top Brass and the Games Top Agent and the Elias sports group proves it………Just because you are a youngin and are willing to accept lies don’t get mad at someone when they don’t swallow spoon fed lies……….You kids can’t accept anyone when they dare point out this guessing game by the New FO may not work…….Chance are high agianst them it never will

  • BWA

    If a player is drafted in the rule 5 do they have to stay on the 25 man roster or the 40 man roster. Also, how did we end up holding onto lendy castillo. Was he injured all year?

    • terencemann

      From wikipedia:

      If chosen in the Rule 5 draft, a player must be kept on the selecting team’s 25-man major league roster for the entire season after the draft—he may not be optioned or designated to the minors. The selecting team may, at any time, waive the Rule 5 draftee. If a Rule 5 draftee clears waivers by not signing with a new MLB team, he must be offered back to the original team, effectively canceling the Rule 5 draft choice. Once a Rule 5 draftee spends an entire season on his new team’s 25-man roster, his status reverts to normal and he may be optioned or designated for assignment.

      To prevent the abuse of the Rule 5 draft, the rule also states that the draftee must be active for at least 90 days. This keeps teams from drafting players, then placing them on the disabled list for the majority of the season. For example, if a Rule 5 draftee was only active for 67 days in his first season with his new club, he must be active for an additional 23 days in his second season to satisfy the Rule 5 requirements.

      Any player chosen in the Rule 5 draft may be traded to any team while under the Rule 5 restrictions, but the restrictions transfer to the new team. If the new team does not want to keep the player on its 25-man roster for the season, he must be offered back to the team of which he was a member when chosen in the draft.

  • Cubs are Lost under these two losers

    Yes if selected they must stay on the 25 for one whole season

  • Cubs are Lost under these two losers

    but that player can be put on waivers and if they clear waivers the original team then can send them to the minors

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    miley jipped in favor of popular harper……..i get tired of this, why have the awards if your not gonna be fair..mccutchen winning the gold glove seriously!… had a great yr at plate but facts are he was only slightly above avg. def., im glad they didnt do that with barney…. miley won 16 games and had a 3.33 era harper had 270ba 22 hr..solid but not near what miley did, there were other rookies with comp. stats to bryce…m2c

    • EvenBetterNewsV2.0

      You realize this is a popularity contest right?

    • terencemann

      You can’t say Miley was jipped at all. Harper hit 22 HR and had an .ops of .817 while playing very well in the field. Harper was worth 5 bWAR, Miley was worth 3.2. It’s closer on Fangraphs here Harper was worth 4.9 while Miley was worth 4.8. Maybe it’s close but the voting actually reflects that.

  • Fastball

    Or the player can have a very convenient injury that keeps him on the DL. Castillo was on the DL most of the season. Its a scam on the system.

    • Kyle

      Sort of. If the player is on the DL too long, you have to make up the days next year before he can safely be sent down.

  • Frank

    Bryce Harper is 20 years old, plays a premium position, and lead the team with the best record in baseball in WAR, and threatens to do so for years to come. Case closed. Moving on.

  • Big Daddy

    Does it make anyone else sad that there are only 7 players in green and 2 of those are in the minors? Man this rebuild sux, and sadly I agree with it.

  • Curt

    what is the thinking behind keeping raley and rusin but dealing szczur and lake I saw raley and rusin neither were impressive.

  • SVAZCUB

    Who is expendable? For starters, Putnam and Gutierrez, two relievers who have had trouble getting out minor league hitters and are tenuous long shots–at best–to ever have productive MiLB careers. They cost nothing to acquire, and it won’t hurt any to release either one of them. There’s plenty more where they came from.

    Brigham is more than expendable–he has no business being on the roster to begin with. He has plateaued as a mediocre AA pitcher with mediocre stuff, and he most likely wouldn’t even make a list of the Cubs’ top 50 prospects. On top of that, he’s not close to helping at the big league level. Why he’s on the roster–and why the FO even wanted him in return for Soto–is a mystery to me.

    It doesn’t make any sense to dump a guy like Clevenger–a young player who could be a useful injury fill-in during the course of 2013, and possibly something more down the road–before cutting loose some of the pitching flotsam currently lurking on the roster.

    Also, it’s way too early to give up on a guy like Rusin–he looked good at times last year and has only had a few MLB starts. Why DFA the guys who are closest to being able to contribute? I understand that he is a mixed bag as a prospect, but he is also part of the corps of guys you’re going to need to have around when all these injury prone starting pitchers either get re-injured or get dealt.

    I know I’m in the minority on this one, but to me, even a guy like Casey Coleman is probably worth keeping around, as a guy who was rushed to the big leagues three years before he was ready by a Hendry regime whose minor league system was completely bare. If Coleman had been given one level per year in the minors, last season would have been his AAA year. Keep in mind he was a 15th round pick with a weak FB who made his pro debut as a 20 year old–not the kind of guy who had any skipping past multiple levels. His strikeout rates in the minors have been going up the last few years–a good sign–and he may be about ready to finally become a decent MLB pitcher.

  • SVAZCUB

    Oops. Meant to say “MLB” not MiLB in first paragraph.

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