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A preliminary look at the Cubs’ 2021 Opening Day roster

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It’s not pretty.

Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

Now that it appears clear the Cubs won’t be after any free agents of significance this offseason, exactly where does the team’s Opening Day roster stand at this moment, just a bit more than five weeks before the first scheduled spring training game?

I say “scheduled” because I am still convinced that Major League Baseball is going to have to delay things beyond the current late-February start. That’s a topic for another day, though.

At the moment, here’s who the Cubs would bring to Wrigley Field on Opening Day, currently scheduled for April 1 against the Pirates. For now I’m going to ignore payroll concerns and just look at roster spots.

Catcher

Willson Contreras

That’s it. There’s a reason the heading here is singular. The only other catcher currently on the 40-man roster is Miguel Amaya, and Jed Hoyer has already stated that Amaya won’t begin 2021 in the major leagues.

There had been some talk that the Cubs might sign free agent Jason Castro as a backup, but now that’s not going to happen:

The Cubs will need another catcher, because the days of a Cubs catcher playing all but 68 innings of a season, as Randy Hundley did in 1968, are over.

Infielders

Javier Baez, David Bote, Kris Bryant, Nico Hoerner, Anthony Rizzo, Ildemaro Vargas

Well, at least there’s a starting infield among these six. Incidentally, Vargas was a useful spare part as recently as 2019 (.269/.299/.413, 0.7 bWAR in 92 games, perfectly suitable as a backup). Perhaps he can do that again.

Outfielders

Phillip Ervin, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward

Every team needs three outfielders in every game, or a lot of hit baseballs will not be caught. There are three names here and they could be a starting outfield, although the most PA Ervin has had in a season is 247.

It’s possible Bryant could move to left field, with Bote at third base. Or Hoerner could play center field with Happ in left.

The Cubs will need more outfielders.

Starting pitchers

Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay

The San Diego Padres, who have been accumulating starting pitchers like some drivers accumulate parking tickets, could go with a six-man rotation this year:

Meanwhile, the four righthanders named above are essentially the only pitchers on the Cubs’ 40-man roster with any MLB starting experience. (Asterisk: Tyson Miller started one game in 2020, going just two innings.)

It’s possible that Miller or Justin Steele or Brailyn Marquez or Rule 5 pick Gray Fenter will wind up being starting pitchers for the Cubs in 2021. All of those players have talent, but...

The note about the Padres using a six-man rotation because pitchers will be ramping up from 60 games to 162 is a useful thing to remember. Other teams might try this. If the Cubs want to do this, they are going to have to acquire pitchers with big-league experience.

I hear Rodrigo Lopez is available.

Relief pitchers

Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck, Dan Winkler, Kyle Ryan, Jonathan Holder, Robert Stock, Jason Adam

Modern bullpens generally have eight pitchers. There are eight names above. All of them have actually pitched in the big leagues before, some with actual success.

Two of those pitchers (Wick and Wieck) are coming back from injuries. Wick pitched well in the pandemic-abbreviated season before going down with an oblique injury. Wieck missed almost all of 2020 (he made one appearance) with hamstring and knee issues.

The Cubs have other relievers on the 40-man roster with big-league experience, including Dillon Maples, James Norwood and Duane Underwood Jr. Maples and Underwood are out of options.

There are just 22 players named above. MLB will have at least 26 players on active rosters on Opening Day (that was the pre-pandemic plan in 2020), and possibly as many as 28, which is what happened in 2020. The Cubs aren’t going to want to play with just 22 players when the other team has 26, or 28.

There are also five open spots on the 40-man roster. That would seem to imply that Jed Hoyer and his team have players in mind to add before spring camp opens just four weeks or so from now.

You’ll pardon the obvious sarcasm in parts of this article, but it would seem to me they ought to get going on that project sooner rather than later.