In recent years, the Opening Day roster for the Chicago Cubs hasn’t had too many question marks.
This year, there are still some spots up for grabs, and spring performances might actually mean something, despite the usual caveats about said performances (small sample sizes, thin air in Arizona, games not played like regular-season games).
I’m going to take another guess at who will be lining up on the third-base line at Wrigley Field before the April 1 game against the Pirates. Here goes!
Obviously, Willson Contreras is the starter. Austin Romine was signed to be his backup after the trade of Victor Caratini to the Padres. But Romine is nursing a knee injury. If he’s not ready April 1, it seems pretty clear that P.J. Higgins will be Contreras’ backup. The Cubs have stated they don’t want Miguel Amaya starting the year in the big leagues and Higgins has been starting spring games when Contreras isn’t. Higgins would need to be added to the 40-man roster, which currently stands at 39 players.
Three of the starters are set: Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. It’s still unclear who will start at second base. Nico Hoerner has had a great spring and that might tilt in his favor. David Bote still has a chance. And recently-signed Eric Sogard likely makes the team as a backup. Let’s say all six of those players make the OD roster. As is the case for Higgins, if Sogard makes the team, a 40-man roster move will be necessary.
Joc Pederson, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward will be the everyday starters.
There is still some room for various backups. Jake Marisnick has yet to play in a spring game, but after he took several at-bats in a “B” game Saturday, he could be close to getting at-bats in a regular spring game.
Those four are the only outfielders on the 40-man roster.
It seems likely that Cameron Maybin, who’s been getting a lot of playing time this spring, will also make the Opening Day roster. Maybin would also require a 40-man spot.
If the Cubs decide to go with six outfielders — and that would leave them with only 12 pitchers, so it’s unlikely — there are several candidates, all of whom would also have to be added to the 40-man. Rafael Ortega has had an excellent spring, including a walkoff grand slam against the Athletics. Matt Duffy can play multiple infield and outfield positions.
Most likely there will be only five outfielders on the Opening Day roster.
Starting pitchers (5)
Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, Jake Arrieta, Trevor Williams, Alec Mills
There is, of course, the question surrounding Adbert Alzolay and whether he’ll be eligible for a fourth-year option. That is likely to be decided soon. If the Cubs can option him, I suspect they will. If they can’t, they will have a decision to make. At that point either Mills or Alzolay would become a swingman, pitching at times in relief and making spot starts.
Relief pitchers (8)
Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Workman, Andrew Chafin, Dan Winkler, Jason Adam, Dillon Maples, James Norwood, (Mills or Alzolay)
There are some other pitchers who have had good springs, including Shelby Miller.
Then there’s Kyle Ryan, who had a late start to camp due to COVID-19, and the Wi(e)cks, Rowan and Brad. None of those three has pitched at all this spring and Rowan Wick is likely out until a few weeks into the regular season.
Ryan Tepera, recently re-signed, has not yet appeared in a spring game. Besides his wacky MVP vote, he had a decent 2020 and is a strong candidate for Opening Day.
The bullpen is, then, still a work in progress, especially with Kimbrel’s poor performance thus far in spring games.
With 17 days to go, I don’t see the Cubs making any deals for big-league help. It’s possible they could trade someone off the 40-man roster, as they recently did with Duane Underwood Jr., to make room for players not currently on the 40-man.