The Cubs roster crunch is real. Since we’ve already taken a look at the difficult case created by Neil Ramirez, let’s turn our attention to the bench, and try to determine if infielder Tommy La Stella can make the Cubs right out of Spring Training.
(For everything that follows, I’m going to assume everyone is healthy. Obviously, if something drastic happens, this conversation changes dramatically.)
To do so, let’s first take roll of the Cubs’ current 25-man roster. In addition to the 8 starting position players and 5 starting pitchers, the Cubs have just 12 remaining roster spots to divvy up. Assuming they go with eight men in the pen – a fair bet, at this point – that leaves just four spots remaining on the bench. Two of those spots will go to Chris Coghlan and David Ross, without question, and Javier Baez feels as close to a lock as anyone else to make the team.
Well, in short, maybe. But that discussion starts at another position.
We’ve been looking for the Cubs to add a right-handed, center-field-capable bench player the entire offseason. Jason Heyward might ultimately be a fantastic center fielder, but it’s not his natural position, and a quality reserve (think of the late-inning defensive substitutions at the corner outfield spots) could be key. La Stella is not that guy.
In fact, the Cubs don’t have one natural center fielder on the presumed roster. Kris Bryant spent some time there early last season and Javier Baez has been working on it throughout the winter, but I’m not sure if they can be relied on in a full-time capacity just yet if the need arose. Ben Zobrist also has some experience in center field (never with any regularity), but it’s been a while since he’s played there and he’s coming off a knee injury in 2015. With players like Austin Jackson still available in free agency, that spot can still be filled and that would change this conversation entirely.
Absent an external move like that, the center-field-capable player currently on the 40-man roster is Matt Szczur. Thus, he could be La Stella’s biggest competition heading into the spring.
Which wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world for the Cubs. La Stella does still have options remaining (unlike Szczur), meaning he can be sent to and from AAA Iowa, as needed, for the entirety of the 2016 season. With his nice, high-contact lefty bat, it might be hard to keep him away for long. Whether he makes the team out of Spring Training or not, the 27-year-old will still make an impact on this team at some point in some kind of role.
Given his oblique injury last year, we didn’t really get to see too much of what he can do – and it was at this time last year that we were thinking he could be an important utility player for the team. For even more on La Stella, you can read up on him here from shortly after he was acquired. Because of his abbreviated 2015 season, it’s pretty much all still relevant.