There are just three days left of Spring Training Games – those two Diamondback games on Friday and Saturday are “exhibition” games – and the Chicago Cubs still have some roster decisions to make. Let’s take a look at where things stand.
The Cubs will presumably carry 12 pitchers, and we know the majority: Samardzija-Wood-Jackson-Hammel-Villanueva-Veras-Strop-Russell-Wright. The other pitchers that are vying for the remaining three spots are Chris Rusin, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, and Hector Rondon. If Rusin makes the team, it will likely be in the rotation, bumping Villanueva to the pen, and leaving one of Cabrera, Grimm, and Rondon out in the cold. If, however, Rusin heads to AAA to start the year – still my slight guess – then all of Cabrera, Grimm, and Rondon could make the bullpen. If the Rusin bump occurs, my guess is that it’s Grimm who gets bumped (and then maybe slides into the rotation at AAA). But, as I said, I’d guess Rusin heads to AAA Iowa, and all of Cabrera/Rondon/Grimm make the bullpen.
On the positional side, things are a little more complicated.
The Cubs will 13 spots for position players. Castro-Barney-Rizzo-Castillo-Sweeney-Lake-Ruggiano-Schierholtz-Valbuena are locks, if healthy. That leaves four spots, one of which will have to be a back-up catcher. (An interesting wrinkle: According to a Tribune report, citing Cubs sources, the Cubs are considering both utility man Ryan Roberts and catcher John Baker to make the team. Each would surprise me.)
I can’t see the Cubs carrying three catchers, so Baker makes the team only if he beats out George Kottaras, who cannot be optioned, is three years younger, offers an additional year of control, and has far more offensive upside. I really can’t see it. I think Kottaras gets the spot.
As for the other three spots, Emilio Bonifacio is pretty much a lock at this point. That leaves two spots to be divvied up among Mike Olt, Donnie Murphy, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Roberts, and Chris Coghlan. With Bonifacio on the team, the Cubs don’t *have* to carry a fifth outfielder, though Kalish has had a great Spring. Murphy is on a big league deal, so it seems unlikely that he’ll be bounced unless the Cubs decide they simply have to carry Roberts. And if Olt makes the team, Roberts’ chances would drop even further. All in all, I have a hard time seeing Roberts make the team unless Olt is headed to AAA to start the year, and the Cubs aren’t going to carry a traditional fifth outfielder. Otherwise, a spot opens up for Roberts only if there’s a trade or injury. My guess is that the spots go to Bonifacio, Olt, and Murphy, with Kalish coming up at some point soon. Bonifacio’s versatility, in that instance, is what makes that configuration possible.
Of course, Starlin Castro starting the season on the disabled list could throw all of this for a loop. If that happens, you probably see Murphy stick around regardless of the Olt decision. Trades are another bugaboo here, and these are the kinds of guys who do often get swapped around the league at the very end of Spring Training.
The other issue here is the 40-man roster, which is currently full. Kyuji Fujikawa could be transferred to the 60-day DL to open up a spot (though that would guarantee that he couldn’t return until the very end of May). But the Cubs will add Bonifacio, which will eat up that spot. That means, if they want to add any of Roberts, Baker, or Kalish, they’re going to have to drop some guys from the 40-man to make room.