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Another look at the Cubs’ possible Opening Day 25-man roster

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There still could be a couple of changes before Thursday.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Two players widely expected to make the Cubs’ Opening Day roster won’t.

Ian Happ was optioned to Triple-A Iowa Saturday. And Sunday, Brian Duensing was designated for assignment.

So what does that mean for the roster we’ll see on Thursday? Here are a couple of clues, via Mark Gonzales in the Tribune. First, about the last reliever on the staff:

Manager Joe Maddon would like another left-hander to complement Mike Montgomery in the bullpen, and the current candidates are Kyle Ryan and Randy Rosario. Ryan has a 3.09 ERA in eight appearances, and Epstein and Maddon like Ryan’s ability to induce soft contact and ground balls.

Rosario has a 7.56 ERA in eight games, but Epstein said he has pitched better lately against better competition.

The potential odd man out is right-hander Allen Webster, who has been pitching “the best of nearly anyone in camp,” Epstein said.

Webster has a 1.50 ERA in nine appearances, but the Cubs have a need for a lefty against the Rangers. Webster is a non-roster invitee, so the Cubs could send him to the minors to start the season without risking losing him.

“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Epstein said. “But the fact it’s a strategic advantage to have more than one left-hander in the bullpen works against him. He’s done everything he possibly can do. I look forward to him impacting this team, hopefully for a long time to come.”

Reading between the lines there, it would appear Kyle Ryan has the inside track to the last spot in the bullpen. Rosario has options remaining, so he probably starts the year at Iowa, and so does Webster. If the Cubs kept Webster on the Opening Day roster, they’d have to run him through waivers to keep him if they wanted to send him to Iowa at any point during the 2019 season.

Regarding the last position player now that Happ will open the season in Des Moines, it looks like that could very well be Mark Zagunis:

Zagunis, an outfielder, is one of 12 position players left in camp, so he stands a reasonable chance to make the opening-day roster unless there’s a late move.

Zagunis, 26, a third-round pick in the 2014 draft, is batting .357 with four home runs this spring after battling shoulder and wrist injuries last season at Iowa.

“Not just nagging things but significant injuries over the course of the year that zapped his power,” Epstein said.

So, here’s how the Opening Day roster appears to stack up, unless there’s a last-minute addition from outside the organization. That appears unlikely at this point, even though the Cubs continue to look at relievers and backup catchers.

Pitchers (13)

Starters: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana
Relievers: Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr., Brad Brach, Brandon Kintzler, Tyler Chatwood, Kyle Ryan

Catchers (2)

Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini

Infielders (6)

Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, David Bote, Daniel Descalso

Outfielders (4)

Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward, Mark Zagunis