As we expected, the Chicago Cubs active roster – standing at just 29 names as of this morning – grew by a handful of players today.
Each of Hector Rondon, Albert Almora Jr., Spencer Patton, Tim Federowicz, and Munenori Kawasaki are joining the Chicago Cubs today, presumably for the remainder of the regular season – and potentially a bit more than that (Carrie Muskat, Mark Grote).
If you recall, any player on the 40-man roster before September 1 is eligible to start on a playoff roster – no strings attached. So even though today’s call-ups weren’t on the active roster on September 1, each* has a shot/is eligible to play in the postseason (obviously some better than others).
While each player listed above is returning on the same day (and benefitting from the expanded rosters), they don’t all have the same story. So, let’s take a look at each, see what their role looks like down the stretch, and determine their chances of playing in the postseason when the time comes.
Hector Rondon is finally making his (hopefully permanent) return to the Chicago Cubs. If you recall, Rondon had taken some time off (without a DL stint) near the beginning of August with a triceps issue, before attempting to make a return on his own a couple weeks later. Unfortunately, his first appearance back (August 15) after the brief hiatus didn’t go as planned (4 earned runs on 2 homers), and he landed on the disabled list four days later. After a few successful bullpen sessions, however, Rondon is back and feeling strong. He’ll return to a 2.47 ERA (3.08 FIP) and a 31.3% strikeout rate out of the pen. If healthy, there’s no question that he’ll be on the postseason roster.
Albert Almora Jr.
Albert Almora Jr., like Rondon, had been out since the beginning of August with a hand injury, and didn’t make an appearance on the diamond until August 27. Of course, that appearance came with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs – where Almora has been stationed since Dexter Fowler made his return to the big league team just after the All-Star break. In his 86 plate appearance with the big league Cubs this season, Almora slashed .265/.291/.422, good for an 87 wRC+, although his chances of finding a place on the post-season roster rest almost entirely on his defense. Luke recently put it best:
As for October – nothing is certain. The Cubs have a lot of outfielders, so Almora is unlikely to make the cut. On the other hand, his glove is the best of any of their current outfielders (with the possible exception of Jason Heyward, but the fact that it’s a legitimate question says everything), and an outfield featuring both Almora and Heyward would be a nice luxury in the late innings of playoff games.
Spencer Patton has been up and down a couple times over the past month (most recently sent back down in favor of Tommy La Stella), but was largely expected to return to the Cubs as soon as Iowa’s season ended and he regained eligibility. In his 17.1 IP with Chicago this season, Patton has collected a 4.67 ERA, but has looked a lot better since July 7 (3.38 ERA). However, with a crowded bullpen, his chances of landing a spot on the postseason roster are slim at best. You have to assume that each of Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., and Justin Grimm (plus one of the starters not in the playoff rotation (likely Jason Hammel)), will take six bullpen spots with all of Mike Montgomery, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood, Felix Pena, Rob Zastryzny, and others battling for the one or two remaining spots (at most). It’s not impossible for Patton to make it, but it’s fairly unlikely (given the continued health of the relief corps).
Munenori Kawasaki – everyone’s favorite Cub-with-just-three-plate-appearances-at-the-Major-League-level-this-season – also makes his return to Chicago. Although this stay will likely exceed that of his previous stints, both in terms of plate appearances and duration, he’s fairly distant from an appearance on a playoff roster. The Cubs versatility and other options will likely prevent such a scenario, but he’ll stay fresh at the Major League level just in case. At Triple-A Iowa this season, Kawasaki has slashed .255/.352/.312 (82 wRC+).
Tim Federowicz is the reason for the asterisk in the introduction of this article. Because Federowicz was not on the 40-man roster until today (September 6), he wouldn’t usually/technically be eligible for a spot on the playoff roster. However, because he was in the organization before September 1 and could be replacing someone on the disabled list, he would thus be eligible for the playoffs. That said, the only way he’ll find himself with the Cubs come NLDS-time is if a couple more catchers were hurt after today (knock on some serious wood), which would make him eligible anyway. Through 27 plate appearances in MLB this season, Federowicz is slashing .192/.222/.269. Through 293 PAs at Triple-A Iowa, however, he’s done quite a bit better: .293/.352/.450
So there are the rest of your expanded-roster moves. It’s always possible that some other names will pop-up (like Jeimer Candelario, perhaps) before all is said and done, but if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s very unlikely to happen later. The Cubs are deep, they’re versatile, they’re good, and most importantly, they’re ready for the playoffs.
UPDATE from Brett: To open the 40-man spot for Federowicz, the Cubs designated minor league pitcher R.J. Alvarez for assignment. Unless you’re an uber-nerd (which, well, if you’re here, you might be), you probably don’t remember that the Cubs snagged Alvarez, an elbow-surgery-recoveree off of waivers from the A’s back in June. The 25-year-old righty is a big fastball, big stuff guy, whose numbers at AA this year as he recovered from the surgery were mixed. The Cubs likely hope they’ll be able to slip Alvarez through waivers and hang onto him in the minors until next year. Because he was taking up a 40-man spot, there was a chance this was going to happen before the Rule 5 Draft anyway, since the Cubs have several interesting, young bullpen arms they’re going to have to roster come November. But we’ll get there later.