chicago cubs logo featureMajor League Baseball teams have two rosters with which to work: the 40-man roster, and the 25-man roster. The rules surrounding the latter are pretty simple: those are the 25 guys who can play for the team on a given day, and each of the 25 must also be on the 40-man roster (thus, the 25-man roster is a subset of the 40-man roster). The rules for the 40-man, however, are pretty complicated.

The best way to describe that roster is something like “these are the guys you want to have available to the big league team, even if they aren’t all currently playing on the big league team.” They are all on “Major League” contracts, as opposed to minor league contracts. The guys not on the 25-man, but on the 40-man, are said to be on optional assignment – they’re usually in the minors somewhere – using one of their “option years”, of which players typically have three (unless they were added to the 40-man with very little pro experience, in which case they might qualify for a fourth option year (I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole for the purposes of this post)).

Heading into the offseason, much of that is superfluous. Because, as you can figure, there is no 25-man roster in the offseason – there are no games. There is just the 40-man roster. The guys on big league contracts. And you’ve got to have space on the 40-man roster if you want to sign (or trade for) a big league player, or if you want to be able to add a prospect to the big league roster over the offseason. The reason you’d do that second one is to protect certain prospects from the Rule 5 Draft in December.*



*(Short version: in December, there’s a draft where teams get to take prospects from other teams if those prospects have been in the minors a really long time, but have never been placed on the big league roster. It’s a way to prevent hoarding, and keeping guys down who deserve to be in the bigs.)

The Cubs’ 40-man roster currently looks like this:

Pitchers

Jake Arrieta
Dallas Beeler
Felix Doubront
Kyuji Fujikawa
Justin Grimm
Kyle Hendricks
Edwin Jackson
Eric Jokisch
James McDonald – 60-day DL
Blake Parker
Neil Ramirez
Hector Rondon
Zac Rosscup
Brian Schlitter
Dan Straily
Pedro Strop
Jacob Turner
Carlos Villanueva
Arodys Vizcaino
Tsuyoshi Wada
Travis Wood
Wesley Wright

Catchers

John Baker
Welington Castillo
Rafael Lopez

Infielders

Arismendy Alcantara
Javier Baez
Starlin Castro
Mike Olt
Anthony Rizzo
Chris Valaika
Luis Valbuena
Christian Villanueva
Logan Watkins

Outfielders

Chris Coghlan
Ryan Kalish
Junior Lake
Justin Ruggiano – 60-day DL
Jorge Soler
Ryan Sweeney – 60-day DL
Matt Szczur
Josh Vitters

Total: 39, plus 3 on 60-day DL (who have to be activated before the offseason maneuvering gets going). So, effectively, the 40-man roster stands at 42.

Heading into the offseason, the Cubs will almost certainly want to pare that figure down into the low-30s to accommodate free agent signings and prospect additions for Rule 5 purposes. (On the latter, you can see the list of eligible prospects here at TCR. We could debate a few names – C.J. Edwards is the only completely obvious, no-doubt-about-it name.)



Now, let’s create some broad buckets into which to put each player. (This assumes, by the way, that there are no trades on the way – that is to say, when I call a guy “obviously retained,” I’m not saying he couldn’t possibly be traded. I’m merely saying he’s at no risk to be booted off of the 40-man roster.) From there, we can estimate how many spots will be easily opened up, and how many tough decisions there might be.

These are based on nothing more than my own best, educated guesses, and where I would put each player.

Obviously Retained

Jake Arrieta
Justin Grimm
Kyle Hendricks
Neil Ramirez
Hector Rondon
Pedro Strop
Jacob Turner
Arodys Vizcaino
Welington Castillo
Arismendy Alcantara
Javier Baez
Starlin Castro
Anthony Rizzo
Luis Valbuena
Chris Coghlan
Jorge Soler

No real discussion necessary here. Some of these guys could wind up traded or something crazy like that, but they certainly aren’t going to be waived/outrighted/non-tendered/etc.

Almost Certainly Retained

Felix Doubront
Eric Jokisch
Dan Straily
Travis Wood
Wesley Wright
Rafael Lopez
Mike Olt
Justin Ruggiano
Ryan Sweeney

I really don’t see any of these guys de-rostered or non-tendered, but I don’t think you could argue that their roster security is slightly less than that of the first group. Most of the guys are right there on the border of “Obviously Retained,” but the Cubs have an exceptionally crowded roster and a busy offseason ahead. Even if you peg the guys in this group at 90% likely to be retained, there’s still that small chance that one of them is cut loose to open up a spot.



At Risk, But Retained Unless There’s a Serious Crunch

Dallas Beeler
Blake Parker
Zac Rosscup
Brian Schlitter
Christian Villanueva
Junior Lake

Each of these guys is relatively young and offers upside. But each may not represent a significant threat to crack the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, and you can carry only so many guys like that. There’s no one in that group that I’d be happy to see the Cubs lose for nothing, but there are tough choices on the way.

If Space is Needed, Likely Bumped

Matt Szczur
Logan Watkins

I almost had Watkins in a higher category given that he showed some nice things late in the year. But it was a down year at AAA Iowa, and it took multiple injuries for him to even get a look in the bigs. It seemed like Chris Valaika was higher on the pecking order for much of the year. As for Szczur, I did have him in the higher category, because there’s a lot that he does well. But the questions about whether he’ll hit enough in the bigs to be a serviceable bench guy remain, and it’s possible that the Cubs will be overloaded with 4th/5th outfielders this offseason. I think the Cubs would like to keep each of these guys if they can, but, like I said, tough choices are on the way. (This is where I would have had Chris Rusin, by the way, who was already waived and claimed by the Rockies this weekend.)

Likely Bumped

James McDonald
Chris Valaika
Ryan Kalish
Josh Vitters

McDonald hurt his shoulder in Spring Training – a recurring injury – and never pitched again. Hopefully he gets a chance somewhere to try again next year. Kalish was already de-rostered once this year, and it’s likely coming again. The Cubs will probably try to retain him on a minor league deal. Valaika was a tough one in his category, because there are some things to like. He’s a guy that you try and get on a minor league deal, though, not necessarily a guy you carry all offseason on the 40-man roster.

As for Vitters, I could be wrong on this one. But another unproductive year, and I think it’s going to be time to move on. He still has potential, but I don’t think it’s going to happen with the Cubs. Right now, the 40-man spot is probably more valuable than the chance he finally puts it together next year.

Free Agents and Tricky Options Decisions

Kyuji Fujikawa
Carlos Villanueva
Tsuyoshi Wada

If you wanted to know why the Cubs have such a roster crunch, here’s a big part of the reason: they have¬†only one free agent! Carlos Villanueva is it. As much as I like what he brings, both in the clubhouse and out of the bullpen (2.99 FIP as a reliever this year), I presume he’ll be allowed to walk in free agency. Even if the Cubs eventually bring him back, he will – for the purposes of the bulk of the offseason – open up a 40-man spot by reaching free agency.

Wada’s $5 million option is a tough decision, though, as I’ve said, it should probably be picked up. Fujikawa, on the other hand, has a $5.5 million option that will be declined. At that point, he’ll be a free agent. It’s possible the Cubs bring him back eventually, but, again, for our purposes here, it’s a 40-man spot opened up.

John Baker

John Baker

Baker, who gets his own category, is technically eligible for arbitration, although it’s likely he’ll be non-tendered, and become a free agent. I’m not sure he’s going to be brought back, but here’s hoping he can stick in the organization somehow if/when his playing days are over. He’s awesome.

Traded if Possible

Edwin Jackson

Another category of one, there’s the unique case of Edwin Jackson. I’m not sure the Cubs will out-and-out release him this offseason for nothing. But if they can find a deal that saves a few million or returns a bad contract on a guy they might be able to use, Jackson will be gone. Until then, it remains possible that he sticks around and compete for a bullpen job in the Spring.

***

So, with 42 names, we’ve bumped seven, with the possibility of Wada and Jackson also being bumped. Given the turnover we’re likely to see in the offseason, I doubt that’ll be enough to accommodate everything the Cubs want to do, so some of those tougher decisions will arise.

That’s just the nature of the beast, and why the Cubs have been protective of the 40-man roster heading into the offseason.




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