This is going to be an offseason of great change for the Chicago Cubs. This, we already know, as they perhaps get ready to make acquisitions that will help them contend in 2023.
It’s also an offseason of decisions for quite a few players in the Cubs system, as the system has had a lot of talent added to it with trades and draft picks over the last couple of seasons. Many of those players, and others, will be eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Remember, with the lockout there wasn’t a Rule 5 Draft last year, so this one will be keenly watched by fans, writers and teams, as lots of players come up for Rule 5 eligibility this winter.
Teams have a while to decide this. Dates have not yet been officially announced for the last date to protect players, or the Rule 5 Draft itself. However, normally the protection deadline is around November 20, and the Draft is typically held on the last day of the Winter Meetings, which this year will fall on December 8.
Here’s where I think the players currently on the Cubs’ 40-man roster will be at Rule 5 time, and how many open spots there will be. After each section, I’ll post a running total of how many players I think will be on the 40-man.
PLAYERS UNDER MULTI-YEAR CONTRACT FOR 2023
It’s already been announced that Heyward will be released. It’s my feeling that Bote will be waived. He’s got $12 million left on his deal; no one will claim that, and he can be outrighted to the Triple-A Iowa roster, from which he’ll get a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. This doesn’t change Bote’s chances of making (or not) the Opening Day roster; it just opens up a 40-man spot.
Players on 40-man: 4
PLAYERS LEAVING AS FREE AGENTS
Drew Smyly (mutual option that will be declined)
For now, none of these guys get included, although Smyly has made it clear he would like to return. Thus if the Cubs want to keep him, they’d likely decline the option and sign him to a new contract — but delay making that official until after the Rule 5 Draft.
Players on 40-man: 4
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS NOT ON 60-DAY INJURED LIST
Brault couldn’t stay healthy and is probably gone. I think the Cubs will non-tender Reyes and Wick.
Players on 40-man: 8
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS ON 60-DAY INJURED LIST
Heuer might not be ready to play until May or June — he could be non-tendered and re-signed to a minor-league deal. I think Mills and Wieck’s time has passed. They’re both over 30 and I think it’s time to move on.
Since Roberts might not be able to pitch till midseason the Cubs could probably remove him from the 40-man at this time.
Players on 40-man: 8
Mark Leiter Jr.
Ah, ha. Now we see where the greatest bulk of players on the Cubs’ current 40-man roster reside — in pre-arb status. There are 27 of them. If the Cubs were to keep all of them, that would leave only five open spots for protection of Rule 5 eligibles AND for any free-agent or trade acquisitions or waiver claims. That’s obviously not going to happen.
So let’s weed out a few of these players. I think the Cubs will keep Amaya and Marquez on the 40-man despite their injury issues. Justin Steele was kept around on the 40-man for three years despite injury problems, and that’s finally paid off in a good MLB starting pitcher.
Narciso Crook is 27 and likely got big-league time this year as a thank-you for good organizational service. The same is true for Jared Young, also 27. So let’s delete those two.
I’m pretty sure the Cubs will move on from Rafael Ortega and Esteban Quiroz, both 30-somethings who can easily be replaced. One or both could get a NRI to Spring Training.
Alexander Vizcaino was acquired from the Yankees as part of the Anthony Rizzo deal last year. He pitched in a few games for South Bend in 2021, but never reported this year and has spent the year on the restricted list. He’s 25 and has never pitched above A ball and I don’t see why the Cubs need to waste a 40-man spot on him.
The Cubs could probably move on, at least from a 40-man spot, for Mark Leiter Jr. and Alfonso Rivas. Rivas is likely superfluous in 2023 if Matt Mervis takes over at first base, and while Leiter threw pretty well in relief in the second half, he’ll be 32 in March and could probably be non-tendered and get a NRI to Spring Training.
So let’s say those seven pre-arb players are removed from the 40-man.
Players on 40-man roster: 28
That leaves 12 open spots. No, the Cubs are not going to add 12 minor leaguers from the system. I’d say five or six, leaving six or seven spots available for FA, trades or waiver claims.
Who are the five I’d protect? Note that Matt Mervis and most of the Cubs in the Arizona Fall League right now do not HAVE to be protected and so won’t be. Among AFL Cubs, only Brennen Davis is Rule 5-eligible and MUST be protected.
Davis, Ben Brown and Kevin Alcántara are locks to get added, so that’s three. Ryan Jensen was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick (27th overall) in 2018, and even though he had a mediocre year at Double-A Tennessee, he’d be exactly the kind of guy another team would take a chance on. That makes four.
I’m going to add Yonathan Perlaza as my fifth protectee. He hit .255/.358/.492 with 36 doubles and 23 home runs at Double-A Tennessee last year and the Cubs did invite him to their Wrigley mini-camp for prospects last week. There’s one caveat to Perlaza, though — he is actually a minor league free agent at the end of the World Series. So if the Cubs want to keep him, they’d have to sign him to a new deal first. Perlaza would likely ask for a 40-man spot to re-sign. But, he could leave and go elsewhere just because he thought he’d have a better chance of making the majors in a different organization with fewer good outfielders.
If Perlaza isn’t the guy, it could be Cam Sanders, a righthander who was the Cubs’ 12th-round pick out of LSU in 2018.
If you want to add a sixth, Chase Strumpf and Yohendrick Pinango are possibilities.
But that’s it. The Cubs are likely to head into the offseason, after protecting players from the Rule 5 Draft, with 33 (or possibly 34) players on the 40-man roster. Expect them to start making signings, trades and waiver claims after that.