The Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster has been over 40 players for a longgggg time thanks to the COVID outbreak that blighted the end of an otherwise dominant second half. Players on the COVID IL do not count against the 40-man roster, so the Cubs were at one point up to 45 players on the 40-man roster, and that didn’t count the guys on the 60-day IL because of long-term injuries, who were already off the 40-man roster (Nick Madrigal, Brad Wieck, Jonathan Holder, Kohl Stewart, P.J. Higgins, Jose Lobaton, Alfonso Rivas, and Michael Hermosillo).
But the thing is, those COVID guys have to be activated at some point, and then the 60-day IL guys all have to come off the IL when the postseason ends.
So basically, the Cubs are having to cull upwards of 13(!) roster spots before the end of the postseason simply to get to a lawful 40-man roster!
That process started a couple weeks ago when Austin Romine was released to get a head start on his free agency after, presumably, he came off the COVID IL. Per the team’s transaction log, there has been an additional flurry of moves:
⇒ Catchers Tyler Payne and Erick Castillo were designated for assignment. They will likely head into free agency shortly (after the DFA process resolves), where the Cubs could seek to re-sign them to minor league deals, or they could seek opportunities in other organizations. Each was a long-time member of the Cubs’ farm system, and got a chance to get into a big league game late because of the outbreak and a hip injury to Willson Contreras.
⇒ Righty Joe Biagini, infielder Tyler Ladendorf, and outfielder Johneshwy Fargas were outrighted to Iowa. That means they are also now off the 40-man roster, and remain under contract with the Cubs on their minor league deals until the season ends. At that point, I believe all three are eligible for minor league free agency, though it’s possible Fargas can be retained for one more year.
⇒ Meanwhile, David Bote, Patrick Wisdom, Nick Martini, and Tommy Nance were activated from the COVID IL. (Well, technically we are making that assumption based on all the available information. The players went on the IL at the time of the outbreak and did not count against the 40-man roster at the time. So the COVID IL was a reasonable inference.)
This set of moves gets the Cubs’ 40-man roster down to 39, officially, so the COVID outbreak is over from a roster perspective. Being at 39 is important, too, because it means the Cubs now have a spot open to grab a player on waivers in the event someone becomes available that they want to snag.
A reminder, though: all those other long-term injured guys are going to have to activated (or released) by the end of the postseason, AND you want to open up more spaces for free agency and Rule 5 Draft roster protecting, so there’s a lot more 40-man culling to come.
Some of it will come organically as certain guys hit free agency (for example, Zach Davies and Matt Duffy), some of it will be relatively easy decisions to move on with guys who didn’t work out, and some of it will be tougher decisions about who merits holding onto a 40-man spot all offseason (I expect feverish debate about the gentleman pictured above, for example (though I ultimately expect the Cubs will hang onto David Bote for at least one more year to see if he bounces back)).