Friday, the Jason Hammel signing became official. The next player to be added will be Jon Lester, who would put the 40-man at the off-season limit, barring other moves prior. While the standard question is "Who will be leaving next?", I want to make a case for a few guys who shouldn't be the next ones out. They might never be valid options in the majors. They coule be worse than replacement-level choices. However, I believe these Cubs should not be the next to go.
I'm not going to bother to explain why Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, or the recently-added Miguel Montero won't be the next to go. You knew that already. However, when you get to the bottom quarter of the priority chart, some players have a better reason to not be put on waivers than others. I'll go through some of them here.
Edwin Jackson has been terrible, so far, for the Cubs. I don't expect that to change. There would have to be a curious set of circumstances for Jackson to pitch a regular season game again for the Cubs. I'm not even sure I want to get involved in a "bad-contract swap" with Jackson. If the other player is merely marginally worse than Jackson, but will be around longer, I'm not sure that's a good plan.
Probably, the Cubs' best hope is that a general manager is somewhat delusional and is willing to return a few non-prospects in exchange for the Cubs paying off most of Jackson's deal, somewhat like the recent Dodgers trade with the Marlins. Or, a team might have a wild case of the measles right before Opening Day. No matter how remote the chance something can be salvaged from Jackson's time in Chicago, that chance disappears if he is waived.
Dallas Beeler is the type of pitcher teams like having in Triple-A. He is a Triple-A talent, but has started in the majors. He has options remaining, and is very cheap to keep. Pitchers like Beeler and Eric Jokisch are the types you want populating your rotation in Triple-A. If he's prepping for a start one afternoon in Colorado Springs, and the phone rings and he's needed that night in San Diego, he can do a representative job without messing up the 40-man roster. Those types have value. It won't be Beeler (or Jokisch).
Rafael Lopez was a late-season call-up, and showed what's needed to be a 40-man roster's third catcher. He knows the pitchers in the system and had a hit off Clayton Kershaw, The Cubs will need three catchers this season. At least. If Lopez is purged, they'd still need someone to fill in for the inevitable catching injury that will occur. Lopez is as good as anyone to hold down that 40-man spot.
Logan Watkins has as tenuous a hold as anyone on this list. However, when a utility-type player still has options remaining, there aren't many good reasons to thwack him. He's a solid defender, and figures to be very versatile in Triple-A Iowa. If any position on the parent club gets an injury barrage, Watkins might well be able to play there. The major league team is right-handed-hitting dominant, and Watkins hits from the left side. He's a good enough base runner to possibly pinch run. There are too many reasons to keep him, and not enough to let him go.
Mike Olt and Junior Lake are linked for one specific reason. Like Edwin Jackson, it's highly doubtful either has enough trade value to increase return in a deal. If either figures things out in the spring, they could be useful players. That's not necessarily likely, but each has enough upside to overcome their apparent downside. Much like Jacob Turner last July into August, nobody wants them. Unless they can have them for virtually nothing. Both stay.
Matt Szczur get a rap around here for being a terrible hitter. Mainly because online, people are awesome or terrible at things. There is no such thing as somewhat below average. Szczur probably will never have a big league season where he accumulates 250 at bats. He tends to have leg and foot troubles that don't help his speed. That said, he is the Cubs best rostered center fielder from a defensive standpoint. He would probably get claimed. Look elsewhere.
For my guess who would get the ax (if the spot isn't created by a trade), I would guess one of the relievers. I'm not sure if Donn Roach or Joseph Ortiz are keepers, or if the plan is to attempt to run them through waivers to keep them, though not on the 40-man. That's a sometimes-unpopular strategy. Running a player through waivers, when effective, keeps the player, but saves the roster spot. A player off the 40-Man generally has more value to the system than he otherwise would on the roster, as each roster spot has a value on its own if unoccupied.
If they are sent through, I wouldn't be surprised in the least. But both appear to have some chance at upside. So I'd guess Brian Schlitter.
Who do you think is safe from the waiver wire? Or who do you think will be dealt really soon? I doubt the roster is the same in a week as it is now. What say you?