The Possibly Very Quick Seiya Suzuki Return and the Cubs Roster Implications
Chicago Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki has been out since the start of Spring Training with a moderate oblique strain. It’s an injury whose timeline is very hard to predict, and that easily could have had Suzuki out through the month of April, if not longer.
Thankfully, Suzuki seems to have been recovering exceptionally well, and has already been out facing live pitching.
I want to discuss the return timeline for Suzuki, and something specific Sahadev Sharma and Jordan Bastian mentioned when sharing bits on Suzuki’s round of BP this weekend. Bastian wrote about it here, and Sharma tweeted this:
Both mentioned the whole “backdating” thing. In short, an Injured List stint for a position player has to be a minimum of 10 days. If he hasn’t played recently, though, you can backdate that stint by however many days he’s already been sitting out (up to three days max). At the end of Spring Training, then, you can backdate as long as the guy hasn’t appeared in real Spring Training games.
If backdating is being considered as a factor in Suzuki’s IL stint, that means the Cubs believe there is a *CHANCE* he could miss only the first week of the season, which would be just six games (three at home against the Brewers, and then three on the road against the Reds). That’s unbelievable. And good!
The question is whether he’d be able to feel ramped up enough to face live, regular-season pitching at that point, having played no Spring Training games this year. Instead, he would have likely played a few minor league spring training games and maybe a rehab game or two with Iowa or South Bend. That’s what you’d expect for a normal rehab process mid-season, but not necessarily when a guy hasn’t been able to participate in all of Spring Training.
Which is to say, if it plays out that way, we could have confidence that the Cubs feel Suzuki is completely and fully healthy – since it was so fast – but there might be some timing kinks to work out at the plate. Then again, Suzuki ramped up very quickly last year in the abbreviated Spring Training and raked out of the gate.
One more big consideration if Suzuki misses only a week: it probably changes the Cubs’ 26-man and 40-man roster decisions in some ways.
Most specifically, if you aren’t going to be without Suzuki for multiple weeks to begin the season, you’re probably much less inclined to add Mike Tauchman to the 26-man Opening Day roster, knowing that it means you have to bump someone from the 40-man roster. You could easily fill those six games in right field in other ways, and then you don’t have to risk losing someone from the organization – especially if Tauchman would be sent out as soon as Suzuki returned.
Instead, if Suzuki is expected to miss only six or so games, it could mean the Cubs would be all the more likely to give that bench spot/40-man spot to someone who fills a totally different type of role (a Luis Torrens type, for example, who offers right-handed power off the bench, and who can play in the infield in addition to catching; or a Ben DeLuzio type who offers premium speed and outfielddefense off the bench).
Or, it could mean the Cubs would be all the more likely to carry Christopher Morel to open the season, knowing that they are going to have to send someone out when Suzuki returns, and Morel could be optioned, rather than dropped from the organization entirely. (Note that it wouldn’t HAVE to be Morel optioned out, of course – I’m saying only that since it’s a short-term fill in, the Cubs might be thinking about maximizing the number of guys they COULD easily option out.)
In other words, with confidence that Suzuki will be back sooner rather than later, the Cubs have to take a much shorter-term mindset on how they want to fill that extra bench spot. With a month+ in play for Suzuki’s absence, not only are you covering more games without him, but there would also be a lot more time for “something else” to happen, and thus forcing you to blow up your best-laid plans anyway. But if it’s just a week? It’s all the more likely that whatever you choose to do now will be the thing that stays in place until Suzuki returns.