As the inevitable sell period comes for the Chicago Cubs, fans are left waiting for the offseason so see what under-the-radar pick ups Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will pick up. While there are many variables in play that could change the outlook of the roster (trades, non-tenders, waiver claims) here is my prediction for the 2014 25 man roster.
Wellington Castillo- The Cub’s front office is committed to developing Castillo to be an everyday catcher. Whether he will become part of the Cub’s core remains to be seen, but he will still be the team’s starting catcher next season.
Dionner Navarro- I think that the Cub’s are going to hang on to him. If the club decides to trade him or let him sign with another team then I think the Cubbie’s will sign another project. Perhaps a player like Shoppach, although I believe a left-handed hitter is more likely.
Anthony Rizzo(1B)- He is going to be the Cub’s 1st baseman for a while. He had a down year in terms of avg. and hr’s, but I believe he will bounce back and be a solid MLB regular for a long time.
Darwin Barney(2B)- All glove and no bat. Defensively he is a godsend, however in a lineup that does not light up the scoreboard his lack of avg. or power creates a rather large void. He will be the opening day 2nd baseman, but expect Watkins and Alcantara to see plenty of time here throughout the season.
Mike Olt (3B)- I originally had Cody Ransom as the right-handed part of the platoon at third, but I believe Olt will be the opening day third baseman, barring a Vitters-esque 2013 call up. He had vision problems early in the year that resulted in surgery, but he is still a highly touted prospect with good power. Expect him to get a year to prove himself as an everyday player, and Valbuena to become a good utility infielder.
Starlin Castro(SS)- The roller coaster continues. He is a talented player, but has given coaches and fans headaches throughout his career. The fact is that he is only 23, and if he was in the Theo Co. system throughout his career he probably would not have gotten called up until last year. He will be allowed to develop until the team is a contender, which is hopefully only one more year.
Luis Valbuena(IF)- He is a great value. I expect the Cub’s to look for 3 baggers in the offseason, but the market is rather thin. Perhaps a player like Youkilis on a one-year deal, but I don’t expect that to happen. He has been labeled as a utility infielder, but he has a very good obp. And decent power. He is also just 27, so he is just now entering the prime of his career.
Ryan Roberts(UT)- The all-important 25th man will go to whichever right-handed non-roster invitee that can play infield and outfield does the best. I picked Ryan Roberts because I don’t know who will be non-tendered and he has played for the Ray’s, which means he is a very patient hitter who can hit for some power. Perhaps Junior Lake can play his way onto the 25 man roster full time, but I believe he will have to play himself into an everyday role because Theo loves to keep a lot of depth down in AAA.
David DeJesus (LF)- He has a club option for 2014, so I imagine that the front office will exercise that and trade him by the deadline. He could play center as well, but he is better defensively as a corner outfielder.
Ryan Sweeney (CF)- He was good in his brief appearance before the rib injury. It remains to be seen how he performs when he comes off the DL, but he always had a good avg., good plate discipline, and has shown increased power this season. I have a strong feeling that Alfonso Soriano will be traded either before the end of the season or in the off-season so Sweeney will reap the benefits.
Nate Schierholtz (RF)- Unless he is traded in the offseason, he is going to be a Cub in 2014. He was a good find for the organization and has a good, professional approach at the plate. Hopefully he can continue to produce like he did in 2013 so the Cub’s can trade him for some decent prospects when the organization feel that Jorge Soler is ready.
Nolan Reimold (RF)- Reimold and Davis are just the most well-known names of the list of players available. The Cub’s could hang on to Gillespie and Sappelt (although I hope they let Sappelt go) they could go after a player such as the Met’s Mike Baxter or hang on to Darnell McDonald. In short I believe whoever gets this spot will be a non-roster invitee or a waiver claim. I am not very confident the Cub’s actually pick up Reimold. His career splits are fairly even so he is not a good platoon candidate, but he is a player who has some talent and will not cost much to acquire.
Rajai Davis (LF)- Davis is another draw from a hat. It could be a plethora of different players, but I do expect one of the right-handed outfielders to be a proven commodity. Perhaps a player like Ryan Raburn, if he were to become available, would interest the Cub’s as well.
Travis Wood- He is having a great 2013, and has become a player the club wants to build their rotation around. He will be around next season, and hopefully for years to come.
Jeff Samardzija- He has been a solid starter this season, and still has room to improve as he is still young in terms of experience. The front office was hoping he would become the ace, but to me he looks like a very good #3 starter.
Edwin Jackson- He has struggled so far this year, but he will still have three years left on his contract that he signed before the 2013 season. He will get every chance to earn his contract.
Scott Baker- It is taking him a while to rehab from Tommy john surgery last April, and if all goes well, he will only have two months of the season to prove his worth. Epstein and Hoyer signed him so that they could eventually trade him, so look for him to be back next season.
Colby Lewis- He has been on the DL all season, but he seems to be a pitcher in the Feldman/Baker mold. Any deal a team offers him will be chalked full of incentives.
Tim Stauffer- I expect the Cub’s to have seven MLB starting pitchers entering the season, because that means there will be five healthy starters by the end of spring training. They could sign any number of pitcher’s, but I chose Stauffer right now for three reasons: I don’t know who will be non-tendered yet, he could pitch in the bullpen if all of the starters are somehow healthy, and Hoyer traded for him while he was GM of the Padres.
Carlos Villanueva- He will be in the same role as he is in this season. He will be a swingman that can moonlight in the rotation when another pitcher inevitably goes down to injury.
Pedro Strop-Acquired from the Oriole’s, he has had a very good start to his Cubby career. He has very good stuff and could be a dominant reliever.
James Russell- He is great against lefties, and only has three years of service time. He will not get traded unless the Cub’s are overwhelmed by the offer.
Blake Parker- Some people have dubbed him the “closer of the future”, but I believe he is the middle reliever of the future. He is a good pitcher, but I do not see him getting much better. None-the-less, I think he will be a valuable piece of the bullpen next season.
Javier Lopez- The quest for a second lefty ends in 2014. This could be any number of pitchers (Logan, O’Flaherty, Howell) but Lopez is one of Theo’s guys and is most likely to be available in the off-season.
Matt Albers- He is a versatile reliever, which Theo loves to have, and expect the Cub’s to sign a proven reliever this offseason, even if it may take a multiyear contract.
Pat Neshek- At the beginning of the season I thought the Cub’s would sign Grant Balfour, but he has been so good that it may take more than the Cub’s are willing to offer to sign him. Neshek fits the moneyball mode (not just because he was an Athletic) and always seems to have solid, under-the-radar seasons.
Joel Hanrahan- I expect the club to sign some Tommy John refugees, and Hanrahan fits that prototype. He was dominant and he will have something to prove next season. If he recovers, he can be the team’s closer and if he doesn’t then there is not much of a loss. There will probably be a decent market for him, but Theo has a way of getting players that have something to prove.