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A 2022 Cubs 40-man roster what-if

What if a labor dispute cancels part of next season?

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

I had an article l set to go. I was good with it. As Sunday's game progressed, I was still fine with it. When Sergio Alcántara was injured and left the game, the article no longer made sense. Fortunately, a new entirely hypothetical idea replaced it: Would you assess the Cubs 40-man roster differently this off-season if you knew there would be no MLB games before June 1, 2022?

Getting the 40-man roster right is really important, from all angles: Not keeping extraneous players. Not losing players that would be useful in 2023 or 2024. Properly assessing the available talent from now until early October. Not adding players that aren't Rule 5-eligible in December.

Cubs talent doesn't currently seem strong enough to justify 37 players on the 40-man roster this offseason. Via trades, free agent signings and whatever else, a few spots should remain open. However, if you knew for certain no games would be played before June 1, 2022, how would that alter your personal Cubs 40-man roster?

Baseball, specifically MLB baseball, ebbs and flows. What was in play 12 years ago might or might not still be in play. Trends are toward shorter starts by pitchers, and fewer players playing 150+ games in a season. Specifically, since the 2020 interruption, some long-held ideas are now more in question. If I knew the season wasn't starting until June, at some point, I would have some expectations toward some Cubs roster trends in 2022. Here are some things that might change in this what-if.

A lower priority for starting pitchers early in free agency this off-season

If the games won't start for awhile, having a seventh or eighth starter in November seems a bit of overkill. If games won't start until June, at the earliest, Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Keegan Thompson, and Justin Steele as a rotation won't deal a death blow until at least then. No, it doesn't look like a postseason rotation, but I doubt "winning the offseason" is the plan the next offseason. Patience, and a few well-timed more short-term gambles seem more useful. Tossing five years to a pitcher who might go down shortly after a restart might be a good risk to avoid.

Gamble on relievers

If there will be a shortened season, MLB will likely allow more relievers on the roster. Since relievers are what the Cubs seem to have a better stockpile of than starters, anyway, ride the strength. Keep the relievers, hoping a few can iron out their control/command, and accept a few might start the year on the 60-day Injured List, anyway.

Ride "league minimum" types

The Cubs aren't in the "succeed or collapse" mode. That was the Mets in July and August. Assess the current pieces, and even if the roster seems moderately long on one position or another, league minimum types are rarely crushing to long-term team finances.

Mind Rule 5 types

It's not that the Cubs ought to grab a Rule 5 type themselves. (As always, that's a scouting call.) However, in a shortened season, it's easier for a non-competitive team to keep a player for an entire season if the season is shorter than 180 days. The players that could be lost are more important to mind if the arduous task to retention is shorter. In short, don't screw up.

Unlikely MLB participants are more acceptable in a short season

Last season, the Cubs debuted two players. Tyson Miller and Brailyn Marquez. This past weekend, the Cubs debuted Alfonso Rivas and Scott Effross. In a short season, the roster can be less chaotic.

Players on the 40-man roster, but unlikely to make the daily roster (like Christopher Morel, Miguel Amaya, and Brailyn Marquez) make for a tighter range of realistic options in an extended season. However, in a shortened season, a team can get a huge edge regarding those players.

If the optioned player (think Amaya and Marquez) doesn't play 60 games st the full season level, then he can get a fourth option season. As much as it hurts neither advancing this season, the Cubs will, effectively, get a season "forgiven" due to their injuries.

The Cubs will likely have outfielder Alexander Canario and pitchers Anderson Espinoza and Alexander Vizcaino on the 40-man roster in 2022, yet unlikely to contribute much, if at all, in Chicago. However, if a work stoppage limits any prospect to fewer than 60 days of full-season ball, they will get a full option season refunded, as did Alzolay in 2021. Having five or six unlikely contributors is less daunting with a time refund in the future.

The Cubs 40-man roster offseason manipulation will be quite important. Work stoppage or not. I'm reasonably certain Jed Hoyer and the other executives have a better read than I do on any work stoppage duration. If it looks lengthy? Expect moderate adjustments. Even if we don't know the duration, or if a work stoppage will happen.