Pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday … and if you listen close enough you can almost hear Pat Hughes and those seven wonderful words. With that said, is the Cubs Opening Day roster almost set?
Many players have already reported to Fitch Park, in some cases 10 days before their reporting date (Thursday, February 18 is first on field workout for pitchers. Position players report on February 22 with the first full squad workout on Tuesday, February 23). Reportedly many of the players are excited to compete for jobs this spring.
With health concerns aside, do the Cubs have any spots available on their Opening Day roster? Due to high-priced contracts and players out of minor league options that provide little flexibility, there are only a few spots that are open for competition this spring. Players on the 40-man roster can still make impressions, as well as players that received non-roster invites to big league camp. Just because a player does not break camp with a team does not mean he will not have a chance to contribute during the season.
An active Major League roster constantly changes throughout the season as the grind that is the 162-game schedule always takes a toll on players … not to mention those that shine in the sun in Arizona do not always perform under the bright lights of a big league park … remember Carmen Pignatiello?
If healthy, the following players are locks to be on the Cubs 2010 Opening Day roster:
- Carlos Zambrano
- Ryan Dempster
- Randy Wells
- Tom Gorzelanny
- Carlos Marmol
- John Grabow
- Angel Guzman
- Sean Marshall
- Carlos Silva
- Geovany Soto
- Koyie Hill
- Derrek Lee
- Ryan Theriot
- Aramis Ramirez
- Jeff Baker
- Alfonso Soriano
- Marlon Byrd
- Kosuke Fukudome
- Xavier Nady
19 of the 25 spots on the Cubs’ active roster appear to be filled, which leaves just six spots … with four of those possibly occupied by Jeff Samardzija, Sam Fuld, Mike Fontenot and Andres Blanco. Here is the breakdown:
Ted Lilly should begin the year on the DL … and as long as it is a short stint as expected, Lilly’s time on the DL could benefit the Cubs. That could allow them to keep a player on the active roster that is out of options … and give them a little more time to evaluate and possibly move a player (or players) to another team.
Regardless of how they perform in Spring Training, several pitchers may end up in Triple-A that have minor league options left … a “casualty” of the numbers game. Tom Gorzelanny and Angel Guzman are out of options while Sean Marshall has one left but would have to clear optional assignment waivers in order to be sent down.
Jeff Samardzija, who has one minor league option left, is the wild card in the equation. Reportedly the Cubs want him to be a starter and are done with moving him back and forth between the pen and the rotation.
The Cubs like the improvement Samardzija made with his secondary pitches in winter ball. But with an option left, if he is not in the Cubs rotation when the team leaves Arizona (they finish their Cactus League schedule on April 3 after back-to-back games against the D’Backs at Chase Field) he will begin the year in Ryne Sandberg’s rotation.
The Cubs figure to begin the season with a 12-man staff, but could break camp with 11 due to the fact they do not need a fifth starter until they leave for a long road trip on April 19.
If Lou and his staff choose to go with a 12-man staff and a four-man rotation, three spots are available in the pen.
Esmailin Caridad has an upper hand for one of the spots going into camp, based solely on his performance last season. The Cubs are also real high on Jeff Gray … and in recent days Jim Hendry has talked about Justin Berg being in the mix for the bullpen.
All of the young arms in the mix for spots in the pen have minor league options left … Esmailin Caridad (3), Jeff Gray (1), Justin Berg (2), Jeff Stevens (2), John Gaub (3), Blake Parker (3) and David Patton (3).
Again health concerns aside, there should be competition for the final two or three spots on the pitching staff.
Unless Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill get hurt, both will start the season with the Cubs … and for the record, both players are out of options. While Welington Castillo appears to be close, it is highly unlikely the Cubs would begin the season with a rookie as their backup catcher.
Castillo was added to the 40-man roster this winter and will be a phone call away from his big league debut. Welington Castillo needs to put together a good Spring Training. His defense made strides last year as his offense took a backseat. Castillo has been compared to Yadier Molina … and defensively the comparison is accurate.
Infielders, Outfielders and the Bench
There will be competition for the starting second base job as well as backup jobs in the infield and outfield.
Andres Blanco and Jeff Baker are out of options while Mike Fontenot would have to clear optional assignment waivers in order to be sent to the minors. Both Sam Fuld (1) and Tyler Colvin (3) have minor league options.
Reportedly Starlin Castro will get every opportunity to make the big league team out of Spring Training. The Cubs are not going to rush him. At nearly 20-years old (March 24, 1990), the thought is he could use more seasoning. But Starlin Castro could end up changing the direction the Cubs take out of camp.
Ryan Theriot’s future with the Cubs figures to be at second base. And if (please keep in mind this is a big if) Castro pushes him to second base earlier than many expect, Mike Fontenot could find himself on another roster.
Lou Piniella has said Andres Blanco will be one of his bench players. Starlin Castro could have an impact on Blanco’s future with the Cubs, but as the 40-man roster is currently constructed, the Cubs do not have another backup shortstop. Jeff Baker, if he is not the Cubs’ starting second baseman, will take another spot on the bench. Baker will also receiving playing time in the outfield this spring … as the Cubs attempt to transform him into Mark DeRosa.
With Xavier Nady in the mix, the Cubs fifth outfielder figures to be Sam Fuld. Fuld gives Piniella a late inning defensive replacement for all three outfield spots … as well as a little speed off the bench. Piniella has said in recent days he likes Fuld as a backup in the outfield.
Mike Fontenot is penciled in as the Cubs’ starting second baseman, but he has a lot to prove during Spring Training. If Fontenot cannot produce at the plate, his defense (and lack of versatility) is not good enough to keep him on the roster.
In order for Kevin Millar to make the Cubs, there will have to be injuries that prevent a couple of the locks from beginning the year on the active roster.
The Cubs need a left-handed bat off the bench. It appears Micah Hoffpauir, Chad Tracy, Bryan LaHair and Brad Snyder will compete for that role. Hoffpauir is the only player in the group currently on the Cubs’ 40-man roster but he gives Lou Piniella little flexibility of the bench, especially late in games. Hoffpauir is a first baseman that can play in the outfield where Tracy can serve as a backup at first and third. Snyder can play all three spots in the outfield and LaHair can play the corners in the outfield as well as first base.
But there does not appear to be an opening …
If Mike Fontenot makes the team, the Cubs bench should consist of the following: Xavier Nady, Jeff Baker/Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Andres Blanco and Sam Fuld. Not much punch …
The competition this spring will be for the final six spots on the roster … will any of the young players and non-roster invitees force the Cubs to make a tough decision?
Players to Keep Eye on this Spring
- Mitch Atkins*
- Andrew Cashner
- Casey Coleman
- Thomas Diamond
- John Gaub*
- Blake Parker*
- Welington Castillo*
- Robinson Chirinos
- Darwin Barney
- Starlin Castro
- Kevin Millar
- Chad Tracy
- Tyler Colvin*
- Bryan LaHair
- Brad Snyder
*On 40-man roster
Stay Tuned …
CCO Radio reports to Spring Training on February 23 with the first show of the new season.
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