With opening day nearly upon us (this Thursday!) and just two more Cactus League games on the schedule, the Cubs figured to begin finalizing their regular season 26-man roster very soon. And, indeed, they just took a few huge steps toward completing that goal with a series of roster moves this afternoon (reports here, here, and here).
In the bullpen, the “great stuff/high upside” arms of Rex Brothers and Dillon Maples both made the cut, which I’m happy to see given their unique ceilings (and Maples’ lack of minor league options (this is probably his final shot)). And on the positional side, former everyday big leaguers Matt Duffy and Eric Sogard get another shot to prove they can still be productive. I’m particularly interested to see what Duffy last left in the tank. His floor is certainly lower than Sogard’s, but his upside is higher. I bet the Cubs are eager to see if he can be more than a team’s 26th man.
This news comes in addition to the team DFA’ing Ildemaro Vargas (whom they’ll now have seven days to trade, waive or release) and signing Cameron Maybin to a minor league deal, so that he can stick around the organization and wait for his shot sometime after the season gets underway (I’m guessing we’ll see him in Chicago before too long).
Combine all of that with the prior news of Adbert Alzolay and Trevor Williams rounding out the rotation, while David Bote gets the nod over Nico Hoerner at second base to start the year, and your up-to-date Cubs roster looks a little something like this:
What we know on Cubs' roster:
Regulars: Rizzo, Bote, Báez, Bryant, Contreras, Pederson, Happ, Heyward
Bench: Sogard, Marisnick, Duffy, TBD
Rotation: Hendricks, Arrieta, Davies, Williams, Alzolay
Bullpen: Kimbrel, Workman, Winkler, Tepera, Chafin, Mills, Adam, Brothers, Maples
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 28, 2021
That’s five starting pitchers, nine relievers (including swing-man Alec Mills), eight starting position players, three bench bats (two infielders and an outfielder), and either P.J. Higgins or Austin Romine (if he’s healthy) as the backup catcher, making 26. Nico Hoerner is still the Cubs best backup shortstop option, though he’s not breaking camp with the team, so we’ll have to see how the Cubs find ways to give Baez a day off – maybe Hoerner won’t be gone for too long.
I’m also anxious to see how long the Cubs roll with a nine-man bullpen. That’s a lot of arms to work through, but I bet they’re cautiously expecting a lot of innings to cover, at least early on.
In terms of roster limitations, we know (1) that there’s not much fire power in the rotation (though Alzolay over Mills certainly helps), (2) that this team could struggle against left-handed pitching, and that the (3) bench is a little weak. But (1) the bullpen looks strong, (2) the everyday position players are *plenty* talented, and (3) the rotation does have some depth. Overall, this is a group that can defend the NL Central title.