This coming Sunday, September 1, the Cubs (and the 29 other MLB teams) can expand their active rosters beyond the 25-man limit to as many as 40 players.
This will be the last season teams can carry that many players in September. MLB and the Players Association agreed last winter to have a 26-man roster (with a 13-pitcher limit) from Opening Day through August 31, then a 28-man roster limit after September 1. My hunch is that the 28-man limit is too small and it will be increased, perhaps to 30, this winter.
But for now, teams can load up on extra players without restriction up to their 40-man roster limit.
Who will the Cubs add?
First, Ben Zobrist is expected to be activated September 1. He will have to be placed back on the 40-man roster August 31 in order to be postseason-eligible. The 40-man roster is currently full. I would expect either Randy Rosario or Mark Zagunis to be designated for assignment to make room for Zobrist. Neither one would, at this point, be a great loss for the Cubs if claimed by another team.
The Cubs currently have one player on rehab assignment, with Triple-A Iowa: Daniel Descalso. No matter what you think of Descalso, he will be recalled from the rehab assignment and activated, likely Sunday. In eight games for Iowa, Descalso is hitting .150/.292/.450 (3-for-20). Two of his three hits have been home runs.
I would also expect Albert Almora Jr. to be recalled from Iowa Sunday. The Cubs could use his defense in the late innings. Almora is hitting .188/.235/.250 (6-for-32) since his demotion with two doubles.
Beyond that, it’s important to remember that the Cubs can’t simply strip the Iowa roster of everyone who’s there who is also on the 40-man. Iowa is close to qualifying for the PCL playoffs. Presuming they make it, it’ll be their first trip to the postseason since 2008. They will need a roster with competitive players for their playoff series.
Thus I would expect Robel Garcia to remain at Iowa through their playoffs. The Cubs already have a large number of second basemen. He’ll likely be recalled after Iowa’s postseason is over.
It seems likely that Willson Contreras will join Iowa for their playoff games; he needs some rehab assignment games and that’s a good place for them, especially since otherwise the Triple-A season would end Monday. With Contreras there, the Cubs can recall Taylor Davis as a third catcher. Davis is currently on the paternity list, but he should be available to be activated Sunday.
Among the pitchers at Iowa who could be recalled: Adbert Alzolay, Dillon Maples, Alec Mills, Duane Underwood Jr. and Brad Wieck. All but Wieck have previously pitched for the Cubs in the major leagues this season. I mention Wieck because he’s lefthanded and another lefty in the pen could be useful. In five games for Iowa since he was acquired from the Padres for Carl Edwards Jr., Wieck has a 1.80 ERA and 10 strikeouts in five innings. He pitched in 30 games for the Padres this season with not-so-good results: 6.57 ERA, 1.419 WHIP. He did have an 11.5 K/9 innings ratio.
James Norwood, who was recalled Tuesday when Cole Hamels was placed on the paternity list, will likely be optioned Saturday when Hamels returns to make his scheduled start. Then Norwood probably hangs out in Chicago for a couple of days before returning to the active roster. Normally he’d have to stay at Iowa for 10 days, but that restriction ends when the Triple-A regular season ends, so he’d be eligible to return next Tuesday.
So, in all it would appear the Cubs will add six position players (either by recall or activation from the injured list): Almora, Contreras, Davis, Descalso, Garcia, and Zobrist, and six pitchers: Alzolay, Maples, Mills, Norwood, Underwood and Wieck. Some of these players might wind up staying with Iowa until their playoff run ends.
That would make 37 active players, and that’s a lot. The Cubs had 37 active players for a good part of September 2018, too.