carlos villanueva blue jaysWith the Cubs reportedly agreeing to terms with free agent outfielder Scott Hairston last night, and having looooong ago agreed to terms with free agent pitcher Carlos Villanueva, the Cubs will soon need to add a couple more players to the 40-man roster.

The problem? That 40-man roster is already at 40. And it has been for quite some time now.

The long delay in officially signing Villanueva – we’re well over a month now – strongly suggests the Cubs have been exploring options more beneficial and more creative than simply picking a player on the 40-man, and designating him for assignment. Perhaps the trade options they’ve been exploring have been conditioned on other moves around the league that have only just now shaken out. Or maybe the trade options are conditioned on other teams pulling things off that they haven’t yet been able to pull off. There’s so many possibilities that range from a big deal involving guys like Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Marmol, down to a minor prospect swap involving a Logan Watkins or Junior Lake. Clearly, things are being discussed – and have been for a while.

In any case, at some point, the Cubs are going to run out of time to be creative, and they’ll simply have to go the DFA route. With Hairston coming into the fold, the chances they’ll be able to clear enough 40-man space organically through trades is even smaller.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the current 40-man, and discuss which players the Cubs are most likely to DFA, and then likely expose to waivers (an exercise we performed earlier this Winter – the 40-man has been a constant issue).

Bringing Hairston on board would give the Cubs nine outfielders on the 40-man roster, which is a very healthy amount. It’s fair to assume that the Cubs will look to drop an outfielder, and it may well be Tony Campana. Valuable to the right team, Campana’s limited skill set (elite speed, fringe everything else) isn’t a perfect fit for a team like the Cubs, which is not expected to be so good that a 25th man like Campana is a desirable thing. If Campana was DFA’d, and then waived, would he clear waivers? He actually might. Teams’ 40-man rosters are very full this time of year, and the aforementioned skill set is really only attractive to a small subset of teams. If none of them can take him on, then he’d clear. Still, it’s a risk.

If the Cubs booted a pitcher to accommodate Villanueva, the names considered would probably be Lendy Castillo, Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley, and Hector Rondon. Assuming the Cubs were set on keeping their Rule 5 pick Rondon, and assuming they like the depth that guys like Rusin and Raley provide, the loser could be last year’s Rule 5 pick, Castillo. That might leave a sour taste in some mouths, given the lengths to which the Cubs went to keep him last year, but he might be the guy with the best chance of clearing waivers. He remains a talented, but unpolished arm, which could be difficult for a team to stash on the 40-man at this time of year.

Steve Clevenger is another possible DFA candidate, but I doubt the Cubs would pull that trigger unless they knew he would clear waivers, or believed that someone like minor league signee JC Boscan can adequately serve as a third catcher on the roster.

Thoughts? It’s a tricky issue when you have to discuss risking losing young players for nothing, but that’s the nature of a roster like the Cubs’, which features several young players who aren’t yet ready to contribute at the big league level.

Hopefully the Cubs can pull off a trade or two to moot this whole discussion.

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