About two weeks ago, before pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, we took an early look at the anticipated Cubs 25-man roster (aka, the big league roster when the season starts). Normally, that’d be a tough exercise in mid-February, replete with “maybe this guy or this guy at this spot,” and “probably three from this group of seven,” and “gonna be a really tough choice here.”
For these Cubs, though, the questions are exceedingly limited. In fact, I’d argue that the biggest question on the positional side is at the back-up catcher spot (and that isn’t much of a question, with veteran Chris Gimenez the overwhelming favorite), and the biggest question on the pitching side is the eighth and final reliever to make the pen.
Absent injury, this Spring Training will be entirely devoid of roster drama.
And it’s not just us surmising as much – Joe Maddon now concedes that the roster is near set, telling Cubs.com: “You can pretty much write down what you’re seeing [regarding the 25-man roster] and be pretty accurate. Often times, when you’re a pretty good ballclub, that’s the case. When you’re not so good, you’re always getting additions.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean the spring can’t still be fun and laid back, again, presuming everyone stays healthy (please and thanks).
Here’s how the projected roster breaks down as of today:
Holy Lock Starting Pitchers
The easiest section of them all, as the Cubs have five starting pitchers right now projected to be the starting rotation:
- Jose Quintana
- Yu Darvish
- Jon Lester
- Kyle Hendricks
- Tyler Chatwood
They don’t necessarily have to be in that order, mind you, and it sounds like Jon Lester may be the early favorite to take the opener. Regardless, hopefully all five stay healthy through the Spring, because that’s a heckuva great group.
Depth Starting Pitchers
These are the guys who are not in serious consideration for a bullpen job out of the gate, and therefore exist solely as depth starting pitchers. They would presumably fall behind Mike Montgomery in the pecking order if there were an injury:
- Adbert Alzolay
- Eddie Butler
- Luke Farrell
- Alec Mills
- Michael Roth
- Jen-Ho Tseng
- Rob Zastryzny
Each of Roth, Butler, and Tseng will get starts this Spring in the first three games.
Butler is out of minor league options at this point, so he either makes the Cubs’ 25-man roster out of Spring Training, or the Cubs have to subject him to waivers before they can get him back to Iowa. It’s possible a rebuilding club would take a chance on Butler, and/or would try to grab him, and then sneak him through waivers a few days later.
Holy Lock Relievers
I’m taking the “holy lock” distinction seriously here, because you’ll see some names missing in this group that you expect – and I expect! – to make the bullpen. But these are the guys that have absolutely ZERO shot of not making the bullpen if they’re healthy:
- Brandon Morrow
- Pedro Strop
- Carl Edwards, Jr.
- Steve Cishek
- Mike Montgomery
Awfully Darn Certain Relievers
These guys are going to make the bullpen if they’re healthy. But I am leaving open the teeny, tiny possibility that something crazy happens (a signing, a trade, a couple youngsters whom the Cubs simply cannot leave off the roster), and one of these guys gets bounced:
- Brian Duensing
- Justin Wilson
Again, lest I be reamed: these dudes will make the bullpen. The financial cost of dropping Duensing is very non-zero, and even if Wilson were to be dunked for 30 days termination pay, his upside is so significant that it’s hard to imagine anything happening in the next two months that would cause the Cubs not to take their chances.
Could Win a Spot Relievers
If all seven of the above guys are healthy, and if the Cubs go with eight relievers to open the season (I suspect they will), then there’s one spot left up for grabs among these guys:
- Dario Alvarez
- Anthony Bass
- Justin Grimm
- Dillon Maples
- Randy Rosario
- Kyle Ryan
- Shae Simmons
The Yu Darvish signing, which pushed Mike Montgomery in the bullpen, probably made it less likely that lefties Dario Alvarez or Randy Rosario could make this bullpen right now. Both have a minor league option remaining, though, so it’s all good.
Dillon Maples can also be optioned, but he has significant upside. If he’s looking great and ready in the next month, he has a real shot at landing in this bullpen.
As we mentioned during his arbitration process, the Cubs could ultimately decide to let Justin Grimm go for 30/45 days termination pay, so his whole $2.2 million salary is not locked up right now. Alternatively, they could outright him at the end of Spring Training, and, if he went unclaimed, he’d have to decide whether he wanted to keep that contract and pitch at Iowa, or leave it and go into free agency.
Still, Grimm is the best option if he’s healthy and commanding his pitches, so I’d say he’s the favorite from this group right now.
Shae Simmons is probably Grimm’s biggest competition at this point, but he’s in on a split deal that would allow the Cubs to stash him at AAA out of the gate.
I probably could have put Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, Cory Mazzoni, or Rob Zastryzny in this group, but I just don’t see a realistic shot that any will be in the big leagues to start the season. I also already included three of these guys in the starter depth.
I included non-roster invitees Anthony Bass and Kyle Ryan here, since, out of that group, they seemed the most likely to have an outside shot.
Holy Lock Position Players
Very little commentary needed here:
- Willson Contreras
- Anthony Rizzo
- Javy Baez
- Ben Zobrist
- Addison Russell
- Kris Bryant
- Kyle Schwarber
- Albert Almora, Jr.
- Jason Heyward
Awfully Darn Certain Position Players
Again, this is like the other Awfully Darn Certain group. These guys are gonna make the roster, barring something crrrrrazy going down:
- Ian Happ
- Tommy La Stella
These two guys still have minor league options left, and, if the roster were shockingly shuffled between now and Opening Day, they might be among the redundant types who could be spared for a couple weeks. *I do not actually think this is going to happen.*
Well, it’s gonna be one of these two guys:
- Victor Caratini
- Chris Gimenez
My strong bet is on the veteran, Chris Gimenez here. I would not be the least bit surprised if the Cubs had already all but told him he was the guy, and the only reason he’s in on a minor league deal – for now – was for roster space and plausibly necessary future flexibility.
If the Cubs go with 13 pitchers, then you’re already full up there on position players. Sorry David Bote, Peter Bourjos, Victor Caratini, Mike Freeman, Jacob Hanneman, Mark Zagunis, et al. There are always injuries, so these are the types of guys who figure to see some big league action at some point this year. But as for making the team out of Spring Training, barring an injury in the near-term, I don’t see it.