With the Cubs' record last year, they have the first option on any National Leaguers being run through waivers, at least until the season starts, since the NL-worst Astros are now American Leaguers. Then, it reverts to worst-to-first record in the player's league, then worst-to-first in the other league. So, if the Tigers run a player through waivers, Houston gets first shot. When the Dodgers (or any other NL team) does, the Cubs do. Of course, teams rarely run a player through waivers without a degree of confidence they might sneak through. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
The trendy thing now is to designate a player for assignment. Designating For Assignment (or DFA) removes the player immediately from the 40-man roster. With the open spot, a team can add a player in that spot, or simply have another place free for future use. That team then has ten days to trade, release, or option the player (under certain circumstances) to the minors. Jeff Beliveau is currently on this ten-day period. By DFA'ing Beliveau, Ian Stewart was added to the 40-man, which is required when a player signs a major-league contract.
When you run a player through waivers, a time lag problem exists. If a GM wants to keep a player, but wants to get him off the 40-man, and suspects nobody will want to add him to their own 40-man roster, waivers is a solid way to go. A team has 72 hours (weekends excluded) to claim a waived player. If a team claims the player, they get him to add to their roster, but they need a 40-man spot to do so. If multiple teams file a claim, see the first paragraph above for the tie-breaker.
Time for a fictitious example. Let's say that at the Tampa Bay Rays holiday party, Andrew Friedman gets incensed at third baseman Evan Longoria because he set up the toilet paper the wrong way in the men's room. This is unacceptable. He could run him through waivers (Houston's Jeff Luhnow says "Bring it on", as they would have first choice in that case), but this is too serious for that. Plus, the Rangers just ran a reliever that Friedman likes through waivers. So, Longoria gets DFA'd.
Since Friedman now has a 40-man spot, he can claim that righty with great peripherals in AAA. If, that is, nobody else in the AL with a worse record last year claims him. Friedman finds the best deal he can for the embattled third sacker, and everyone lives happily ever after.
While a stoplight has three colors, we all know a fourth one is in the fringes. Red, green, and yellow are obvious, but never forget orange, that color that some drivers like to run their cars through an intersection when yellow is turning red. I will go through the Cubs 40-man roster, assigning a color value to all 40, in regards to each player's likelihood of getting DFA'd. As the bullpen, center field, third base, and a few other places need upgrading, some players may have to get finagled out of a spot on the 40. Intel here was gleaned from AZ Phil at The Cub Reporter.
Green (No worries): Pitchers -- Scott Baker, Shawn Camp, Scott Feldman, Kyuji Fujikawa, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, Trey McNutt, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Arodys Vizcaino, Robert Whitenack, Travis Wood. Hitters -- Welington Castillo, Dioner Navarro, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Christian Villanueva, Logan Watkins, David DeJesus, Brett Jackson, Jorge Soler, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Szczur. That's 24 players out of the 40.
No surprises are on this list. Many are recent adds, long-term pieces, or players considered trade bait. There is no reason to release a guy recently added to the 40-man to avoid the Rule 5 draft.
Here's how I see the remaining 16.
Michael Bowden. Yellow. Certainly there are a number of pitchers that would go before Bowden. The front office has a history with him, and he represented last season. If he gets pounded in the spring, this could turn orange or red in a huge hurry.
Alberto Cabrera. The goal is to try to turn him into a starter. Presumably he will be in Tennessee or Iowa, and will have some leeway in his efforts to start. He's a yellow.
Lendy Castillo. Yellow. See Cabrera.
Gerardo Concepcion. I hear you already saying "He has to be red." Maybe he is, but I'm calling orange on mitigating circumstances. Last year was his first year stateside. He had health problems. The team might be bidding on a couple of Cuban defectors soon, and tossing Concepcion might short-circuit that effort. Rank those any way you want. However, if he is bounced next, I'm not horribly upset. In that case, the circumstances wouldn't really be that important.
Rafael Dolis. Yellow. He has one option left, so they can send him to Iowa again.That said, if he struggles too much, he might flip to orange in a rush.
Brooks Raley / Chris Rusin. If the Cubs had any pitching depth last year, these guys wouldn't be taking up space on the 40-man. They probably wouldn't have been added in advance of the Rule 5 draft. They would be pitching in Iowa in April regardless. Orange for both.
Hector Rondon. I'd almost consider him green until the team hits Mesa. I'll put him yellow, but there is plummeting potential if he's not very good.
Sandy Rosario. Very red. Very, very red. He still has one option left, and if the front office thought they could sneak him through without losing him, it would make their week.
Steve Clevenger. Yellow. Clevenger has three options left, and represents a nice fill-in when (not if) one of the other backstops get hurt. He might clear if pushed through waivers, but he's a nice third option. If he only figures out the hitting aspect, he could bounce green.
Junior Lake has 2 options remaining. I wouldn't be shocked to see him dealt. Run through waivers or DFA? Absolutely stunned. This year. Highly yellow.
Ian Stewart. Red as possible. If you remember how Theo yo-yoed Blake DeWitt last year, you might see a repeat with Stewart. He is due to make $2 million in 2013. If he could have gotten more elsewhere, he'd have taken it. If DFA'd, he can refuse the assignment to Iowa and be a free agent, but that 2 million is very tempting. If he opts for free agency, he loses the check. When Nate Schierholtz or (insert soon-to-be-signed starting pitcher's name here) are added, look for Stewart to possibly get the treatment.
Luis Valbuena / Josh Vitters. Yellow. Others far more tempting, but if things change significantly, more curious things could happen.
Tony Campana. Crimson. Nice guy. Really fast. However with as many teams as close to the limit on their 40-man, I'm surprised Campana and his two optons are still under consideration.
Dave Sappelt. Yellow. It would be helpful to the system if he could fill in as the fourth outfielder. His two options help keep him from orange.
I might revist this if Campana, Stewart, and Rosario make way for incoming free agents.