Cubs Roster Coming into Focus with the End of Spring Training in Sight

The Cubs inched closer to finalizing their Opening Day roster after the Rangers claimed Donnie Murphy off waivers, George Kottaras was released, John Baker was named the team’s backup catcher and the announcement was made Eli Whiteside would start the season in Iowa. The Spring Training roster officially stands at 32 players and the 40-man roster has two spots open that has not been filled. The Cubs have not reassigned Eli Whiteside to the minors or added John Baker to the 40-man roster.

CubsMesaLogo-pubThe two open spots on the 40-man roster will be taken by Emilio Bonifacio and John Baker. The Cubs will gain another roster spot once Kyuji Fujikawa is placed on the 60-day DL. That spot will be used to add one of the three position players still competing for a job. Ryan Kalish, Ryan Roberts and Chris Coghlan are in the mix for a roster spot, but all three players are in camp on minor league contracts and will have to be added to the 40-man roster before they are eligible to be on the active roster by Opening Day. The Cubs could gain another spot if they place James McDonald on the 60-day DL. Plus, the front office has to make a decision on Alberto Cabrera. Cabrera is out of options and if he does not make the Opening Day roster it is highly unlikely he would pass through waivers and stay in the organization. Cabrera has shown how good, and bad, he can be this spring.

The fifth spot in the rotation is still undecided. And neither pitcher did anything to improve their stock this week. Both Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin struggled in their last outings while Hector Rondon is the only one of the three relievers (Rondon, Alberto Cabrera and Justin Grimm) still in the mix for a spot in the bullpen that has done his job lately.

It appears Mike Olt has made the roster and the Cubs will start the season with Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena as the infielders on the active roster. Emilio Bonifacio can play multiple positions in both the infield and outfield. And Ryan Roberts and/or Chris Coghlan could be options in the infield and outfield if they make the roster.

As for the outfield, four of the five spots appear to be filled. Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano, Junior Lake and Ryan Sweeney are the top four with Ryan Kalish pushing for a job.

Once the front office decides where Chris Rusin should start the season, the pitching staff will fall into place. Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel and Travis Wood will start the first four games of the season. And Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, James Russell and Wesley Wright will make up the backend of the pen.

Of course if a team like the Tigers step up and pull the trigger on a deal for Nate Schierholtz and the Cubs receive the right offer for Darwin Barney, the decisions the front office and the coaching staff must make become a lot easier.

While the win-loss record has not been good (4-10), Cubs Park and the team’s new complex have been a big hit this spring while receiving rave reviews. The Cubs have set new attendance records this spring while providing their players with the best facilities in the Cactus League. The City of Mesa really stepped up and hit the proverbial home run. The Cubs have the right facilities in Mesa and in the Dominican Republic, and maybe the Cubs will receive the green light to restore and renovate Wrigley Field soon.

The Cubs break camp after Thursday’s exhibition against the White Sox. The equipment trucks leave Mesa for Chicago on Friday loaded with the players’ gear. There are only three more practice games left before the team flies to Pittsburgh to prepare for the opener on Monday.

Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija said he felt good following his last spring outing and declared he is ready for the season. Samardzija was asked about the “possibility of setting deadlines or negotiating a contract extension during the season” and Samardzija’s response was “no comment.”

According to a report from Comcast SportsNet, Samardzija can’t wait for the season to start and he’s really liked what he’s seen in camp this spring.

After addressing his situation, Samardzija talked about Mike Olt and the Cubs’ Opening Day starter has liked what he’s seen from Olt in Spring Training. Samardzija told the beat writers, “We didn’t really know what to expect, but you can definitely throw him into that category (with Javier Baez). The way he’s been hitting, it hasn’t been a fluke. You watch him hit, he looks comfortable. He looks confident. He swings, man. He swings hard. That’s what we need. We need guys like that who come in and know they’re going to hit. Not hoping they’re going to hit. He’s definitely one of those guys.”

Ryan Kalish

Ryan Kalish reported to camp healthy and ready to compete for a job on the Cubs roster. And he might be on the verge of making the Cubs Opening Day roster. Kalish has been impressive and he appears to be in the Cubs’ long-term plans.

Nick Cafardo reported Wednesday that he spoke with Theo Epstein about Kalish. And while Epstein would not say if Kalish will make the team out of camp or not, he did tell Cafardo, “Either way he looks great. Brings a lot to the table and is in our long-term plans.”

According to Nick Cafardo, Epstein appears to be trying to clear a spot for Kalish on the roster and “one possibility is to deal outfielder Nate Schierholtz somewhere before Opening Day.”

Jake Arrieta

Lost in the roster moves that were made Wednesday was Jake Arrieta completing another simulated game. Arrieta threw a 50-pitch simulated game with Rick Renteria and Theo Epstein among those in attendance.

According to reports from Carrie Muskat and Bruce Miles, Arrieta is feeling good and “progressively getting stronger.” Wednesday’s sim game served as a reminder to Arrieta of where he should be a couple of weeks.

The next step for Arrieta is a 60-65 pitch simulated game. Arrieta is not expected to stay behind in Mesa, he will travel with the team, for now, and get his work in until it is time for a rehab assignment.

Starlin Castro

With the Cubs in Scottsdale and the roster moves that were made, updates were not provided on Starlin Castro. The Cubs’ shortstop was expected to play six or seven innings in a minor league game at the Cubs’ facility. If everything went well Wednesday, the next step for Castro could be Thursday’s Cactus League game against the White Sox.

News and Notes

According to a report from the Sun-Times, the Cubs are planning on keeping “their top three pitchers on fifth-day cycles as often as possible.” Chris Bosio told Gordon Wittenmyer that would mean “skipping and backing up the fifth starter routinely, especially in April.” Wittenmyer pointed to the Cubs plan as being one of the reasons Carlos Villanueva might begin the season in the rotation and not Chris Rusin. Villanueva could spot start while keeping Rusin pitching every five days in Iowa while the team waits for Jake Arrieta to take a spot in the rotation.

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