Monday, someone here noted the huge turnover from the Cubs' 25-man roster from Opening Day 2013; the only players remaining in the organization from that roster are Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Hector Rondon, Welington Castillo, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
Not only has the turnover been massive, but to the better; the additions since then make for a far better team. It seems likely that Castillo won't make Opening Day 2015 in a Cubs uniform and Jackson might not, either.
Given that Monday's trade shipping Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily to the Astros for Dexter Fowler will make for some shifts in the 25 men who will stand along the third-base line being introduced Sunday night, April 5, let's take a look at who's a lock for that roster, who's on the bubble and who's probably going to be elsewhere.
LOCKS: Miguel Montero, David Ross
ELSEWHERE: Welington Castillo
Although Theo & Jed stated at one point that it might be possible to open the season with three catchers, I can't see that. Like having 13 pitchers on the active roster, doing that reduces your bench flexibility unless one of the catchers can play another position. The only one of the three who's done that in the major leagues is Castillo, who played one inning at first base in 2012.
I don't see Castillo playing another game as a Cub after spring training.
LOCKS: Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Tommy La Stella
ON THE BUBBLE: Javier Baez, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva
Perhaps it's controversial to write that Baez isn't guaranteed a 25-man roster spot, but after the acquisition of Fowler, I'm no longer certain that he is. Alcantara and La Stella can play second base competently, and Baez will have to show he's changed his approach and cut down on his strikeouts to claim the everyday second-base job. Otherwise I could very easily see management asking him to go back to Iowa to work on his hitting.
With the trade of Valbuena, third base is open until the Kris Bryant Date, which is somewhere around April 17-20. Monday, Jed Hoyer said La Stella, Alcantara and Olt will get some spring-training time there and it's certainly possible that Baez will get a shot at showing he can handle that position too. And don't count out Villanueva, who had a down year split between Iowa and Tennessee in 2014.
The Cubs could carry six of these seven given that Alcantara also plays some outfield. One of the six on the roster Opening Night heads to Iowa or elsewhere after Bryant's debut.
LOCKS: Chris Coghlan, Chris Denorfia, Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler
ON THE BUBBLE: Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney, Matt Szczur
The way things appear now, there will be a platoon of The Two Chris's in left field with Fowler in center and Soler in right. Assuming the Cubs keep six infielders, that means it's between Lake, Sweeney and Szczur for the fifth outfield spot.
The Cubs are committed to at least $2 million for Sweeney ($1.5 million this year and $2.5 million or a $500,000 buyout for 2016). In hindsight, I'm guessing Theo & Co. wish they hadn't done that, as they now have more options for that position. Sweeney wouldn't start except on an occasional basis and he's spent much of the last two years injured.
Lake is still a project. He's got talent but has never been able to show it on a consistent enough basis to warrant keeping him around.
Given those three choices, I'd keep Szczur. He plays good defense, has a bit of power and runs the bases reasonably well (though after 30 steals in 37 attempts at Iowa in 2014, he had no steal attempts at all in 33 games with the big-league club).
LOCKS: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks
ON THE BUBBLE: Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner
Only one of the five "on the bubble" men will wind up in the rotation. What happens to the other four? Well, Wood could be traded. Jackson could be traded (oh, pleasepleaseplease). Wada could wind up in the old Carlos Villanueva role, swingman between the bullpen and rotation. Doubront could wind up in the pen, although he reportedly didn't like it when that happened to him in Boston. Turner's most likely 2015 spot is in the pen, too, because he's got to be on the 25-man roster as he's out of options.
This will be the most interesting battle of camp.
LOCKS: Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Jason Motte, Justin Grimm
ON THE BUBBLE: Brian Schlitter, Blake Parker, Zac Rosscup, Joseph Ortiz
Two of the four "bubble" relievers will make Joe Maddon's seven-man pen... or maybe not, if one of the "bubble" starters (Turner or Wada) is moved to relief. In any case, I'm reasonably certain we'll see a seven-man pen this year instead of the eight-man pen that lasted for almost all of Rick Renteria's one managerial year with the Cubs. Rosscup and Ortiz have a bit of an advantage as they're lefthanders and none of my five "locks" is a southpaw. But Wada could also take a lefty spot in the pen. I've written about how Schlitter and Parker, to me, seem to be fungible parts who could be replaced by someone like Turner, who's younger and might have more upside.
The good news here is that we're talking about dealing from strength here. All of the five pitchers listed as locks have had major-league success at some point in the past and so the two remaining spots are back-end guys. Maddon has talked about using "matchups" in choosing relievers and that likely means that both Motte and Rondon will get closing opportunities.
Finally, this could be the first year in several where not a single 25-man spot on Opening Day is taken by a player who was a non-roster invitee to spring training. Unless there's an injury or some sort of fantastic performance by a NRI guy, the 25 men who will travel north from Mesa to Wrigley Field April 5 are already on the 40-man roster.
That does show how well Theo & Co. have filled that 40-man roster with talented players; the turnover even from a year ago is remarkable. Here are the players on last year's Opening Day roster who are no longer in the organization: Emilio Bonifacio, Luis Valbuena, Jose Veras, Wesley Wright, John Baker, Carlos Villanueva Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Kalish, James Russell, Justin Ruggiano and Darwin Barney. That's 11 of 25, nearly half.
Your thoughts might differ from mine, so have at it.