Officially, the Cubs have 34 players on their Spring Training roster, but only 31 of those players are healthy and one has not played in a big league game since March 2. The deadline to unconditionally release players with non-guaranteed contracts and pay only a quarter of their salary is Wednesday at 1:00pm CDT. So, there could be some clarity to the Cubs Opening Day roster in the very near future.
The Cubs have not made the announcement yet but Kyuji Fujikawa will begin the season on the 60-day DL. Fujikawa is not expected to be ready to pitch until late May at the earliest. Once Fujikawa is placed on the 60-day DL, the Cubs will clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Jake Arrieta is two to three weeks behind the rest of the pitchers in camp and will begin the year on the 15-day DL. The other injury concern is James McDonald. McDonald signed a one-year, non-guaranteed contract with the Cubs and he has not pitched in a game since March 17 when he took himself out after two pitches. It is unclear at this point if the Cubs will place McDonald on the DL or release him.
So with 31 active players in camp, the Cubs still have decisions to make. Two of the catchers will be reassigned to minor league camp, released or traded. As for which catcher will begin the year as the back-up to Welington Castillo, that decision apparently has not been made yet. When the Cubs claimed George Kottaras and agreed to terms on a one-year contract to avoid arbitration, most thought he was a lock to start the season as Castillo’s backup. But according to a report from the Tribune, John Baker could push Kottaras off the roster. The lefty-hitting backstop has put together a .286/.286/.429 line in 10 games this spring prior to Tuesday while Kottaras has managed a .150/.320/.350 line in 12 games. But according to Bruce Levine, the Rangers are “taking a hard look” at George Kottaras with the recent injury to Geovany Soto. So, a deal could be in the works with Texas on more than one front if Jon Daniels is willing to deal with the Cubs again.
As for the pitching staff, the last three spots depend on what the Cubs decide to do with Chris Rusin. If Rusin begins the year as the Cubs’ fifth starter, Carlos Villanueva will move to the pen with Hector Rondon, Alberto Cabrera or Justin Grimm taking the final two spots in the pen. If Villanueva is in the Cubs’ rotation and Rusin is optioned to Iowa, all three relievers start the year in the bullpen.
The last spots on the bench are still up for grabs and between Mike Olt, Donnie Murphy, Ryan Kalish, Chris Coghlan and Ryan Roberts because, while it is not official, Emilio Bonifacio has made the team.
Mike Olt and Donnie Murphy appear to be connected to the point it will be either Murphy on the Opening Day roster and Olt in Iowa or the Cubs will move on from Donnie Murphy. The Cubs avoided arbitration with Murphy and he is in camp on a non-guaranteed contract. Ryan Roberts is making a push for the roster according to reports from the Tribune and Comcast SportsNet. Roberts has done a good job at the plate this spring while playing multiple positions. Ryan Kalish has outplayed Chris Coghlan this spring but Coghlan offers more versatility in the field. Kalish’s upside and whether or not the front office feels he should play every day will have an impact on the decision to add Kalish to the roster or reassign him to minor league camp.
Teams are interested in Nate Schierholtz and Darwin Barney and if one of those teams step up and give the Cubs what they are looking for in return for Schierholtz and Barney, the Cubs will have two more open spots on the active and 40-man roster to fill.
The 25-Man Roster
After spending the off-season focused on the 40-man big league roster, it is always good this time of year to switch gears and discuss a 25-man roster.
The Cubs will begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff (five starters, seven relievers), two catchers and 11 position players.
Starters: Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood
Relievers: Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, James Russell, Wesley Wright
Three spots still to be determined on the pitching staff between Chris Rusin, Carlos Villanueva, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm and Alberto Cabrera. Villanueva will be on the roster either in the pen or in the rotation.
Catchers: Welington Castillo
George Kottaras and John Baker appear to be the favorites to backup Castillo but Eli Whiteside remains in camp.
Infielders: Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena
Outfielders: Junior Lake, Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz
Utility: Emilio Bonifacio
Unless a trade or two is made or Starlin Castro is placed on the DL, the Cubs have two spots open to be filled by Mike Olt, Donnie Murphy, Ryan Kalish, Chris Coghlan and Ryan Roberts.
Teams like the Rangers, Yankees, Mets and Tigers have been connected to Darwin Barney this spring. The Rangers are looking for help in their infield and so are both New York teams. It is unclear at this point how much interest the Tigers have in acquiring Barney with the trades they’ve made to acquire Alex Gonzalez and Andrew Romine.
Jim Bowden is convinced the Dodgers should make a deal with the Cubs for Darwin Barney.
The Cubs are “fielding late-spring calls from teams trying to fill roster needs before the season opens for most next week” according to the Sun-Times and a handful of teams are looking for infielders.
The Tigers are interested in trading for Nate Schierholtz and according to Bruce Levine, the Tigers have been following Schierholtz since Andy Dirks went down. The Cubs are looking for pitching in return for Schierholtz, or any player they deal from the big league roster. Levine thinks a deal will get done with Detroit for Schierholtz before Opening Day.
Starlin Castro is expected to resume his rehab in a minor league game on Wednesday. Castro passed a series of tests on Tuesday morning and the Cubs would like to see Castro play 6-7 innings in the minor league game, both in the field and at the plate. If all goes well for Castro on Wednesday, he could play in Thursday’s game against the White Sox.
The Cubs and Castro are going to be cautious. Neither the team nor Castro is going to push him and risk the cold weather months (April, May) to cause the hamstring injury to linger.
Starlin Castro told David Kaplan he would be okay with moving positions for Javier Baez. Castro reiterated that he has a good relationship with Baez and he is willing to do whatever it takes to help the Cubs win ballgames.
News and Notes
Justin Ruggiano was a late scratch from Tuesday afternoon’s lineup with left ankle soreness. Ruggiano is not expecting to miss any time with the injury.
Jeff Samardzija put his Lakeview condo up for sale according to a report from the Tribune. And before more is made about this than there is, Samardzija did not live in the condo. It was a rental property.
Rick Renteria and the Cubs will not say who will be at third base on Opening Day in Pittsburgh. Mike Olt improved his stock Tuesday with another good day at the plate as well as two excellent plays (and throws) from third base. The Cubs are concerned about Olt’s shoulder according to Patrick Mooney and if they think it will be a lingering issue he will be sent down to Iowa to start the season.
Rick Renteria is not concerned with the way Jose Veras is pitching this spring. Veras will begin the season as the team’s closer. Renteria said about Veras Tuesday, “When the lights turn on with those guys, it’s a different ballgame.”