SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — With the somewhat surprising decision to keep Victor Caratini as the Cubs’ backup catcher instead of Chris Gimenez, the team still has a couple of 25-man roster spots undecided as they play their final two exhibition games in Florida Monday and Tuesday.
Those spots are in the bullpen.
The six relief pitchers locked into roster spots are Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing and Justin Wilson.
There will be two more relievers on the roster come Opening Day.
Candidates for those two spots include Pedro Strop, Eddie Butler, Anthony Bass and Justin Hancock.
Strop had the flu and a minor leg issue early in the spring. He’s made two appearances in games, retiring all six hitters he’s faced (two strikeouts) and looks good:
#Cubs Strop looked healthy. 1st pitch 95 mph. Got LeMahieu and Arenado to ground out, then struck out Story in Rockies' 6th— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 25, 2018
He last pitched Saturday night. i’d assume he’ll get an appearance in one of the two games against the Red Sox. Presuming he’s healthy, one of the two bullpen spots should be his.
Butler is sort of a right-handed version of Montgomery, someone who can throw long relief or start if needed. He’s posted a 4.20 ERA and 1.133 WHIP in six games (three starts) covering 15 innings this spring. He’s out of options, so the Cubs would have to have him clear waivers to send him to Iowa. It’s been suggested that with the Giants’ current starting pitching injuries, perhaps the Cubs should approach them about a trade.
Bass posted a 0.59 ERA in six relief outings covering 5⅔ innings this spring. He allowed 10 hits, but didn’t walk anyone. Between 2011-17 he pitched in 131 major-league games for the Padres, Astros and Rangers, so he has significant big-league experience. Since he’s in camp on a NRI, he could be assigned to Iowa as a “shuttle” guy.
Hancock has a 1.35 ERA and 0.750 WHIP in 6⅔ spring innings with seven strikeouts. All of the numbers I’ve cited here are very small sample sizes, so take them for what they’re worth. Regarding Hancock, though:
Good outing. @jhanz22 #98 #Tots #ProMentality pic.twitter.com/qB7pBT4JOB— Josh Knipp (@jtknipp) March 23, 2018
Hancock has consistently thrown at 97-98 miles per hour and impressed Joe Maddon. He’s on a NRI as well, so could wind up starting the year at Iowa, but this could be another one of Joe’s unconventional choices. Hancock was acquired last May 8 from the Padres for Matt Szczur.
If I had to guess right now? I’d say Strop and Hancock get the two spots.
The Cubs’ 40-man roster currently stands at 38 players. Hancock would need to be added, but obviously there’s room for him now.
We should hear the roster decision either today or tomorrow. Who do you think will make it?