It still takes a little adjustment to writing 2013, but I found myself looking at the Cubs 40 man roster situation this morning. The Cubs have a full 40 man roster at the moment and have by all reports signed Carlos Villanueva to a 2 year deal nearly a month ago. The Cubs pitching staff has become very crowded with people that are unable to be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been aggressive in adding pitching to the third worst staff in the NL last season. This has led to a 40 man roster crunch that has been reported by various sources. What has been neglected is that the Cubs have 10 pitchers that cannot be sent to the minors without risk of losing them at this moment, and that does not include left handed setup man James Russell, Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa, and right handed swingman Carlos Villanueva, who hasn’t officially signed. Another aspect of this complicated picture is an aspect that Theo Epstein reportedly talked about at a charity event in Boston, and that is mutual trust between management and players. The Cubs in the pursuit of these free agents certainly talked about the role that each player would have, and going back on any promise would damage that trust. When you consider contracts and what has been said by players the pitching staff is actually pretty set at this moment for 2013.
1. Matt Garza- He is still the de facto ace of the Cubs staff at this point, but hasn’t thrown a pitch since late July 2012. He has assured the public that he will be ready to go by the start of the season, but it is certainly possible that he has a setback to open the season on the DL.
2. Edwin Jackson-The man was just paid 4 years and 52 million dollars to start 30 or more times for the Cubs. He might fall anywhere between 2-4 in the starting staff, but he is getting the ball every fifth day.
3. Jeff Samardzija-Shark is another lock for the rotation. The order of the starting staff at this point is pretty difficult to peg. There exists I think a solid argument for Samardzija starting opening day, but a safe projection is 3 behind the more experienced, and expensive, starters.
4. Scott Baker-Scott Baker if healthy will be in the rotation. The question is his health after having Tommy John surgery in the middle of April. All reports have suggested that he would be ready to go, but surgery took place less than 12 months from opening day. Baker is on a one year deal and has only thrown 4 games in relief in his major league career. It is very safe to say that he is going to get a shot in the back end of the rotation as soon as he is ready.
5. Scott Feldman-This is where the controversy begins. Feldman has both started and pitched out of the bullpen for the Rangers. It is clear that his preference is starting, and GM Jed Hoyer has said that he will be in the rotation. The exact quote can be found in this article . Feldman is also signed on a one year deal, and if Feldman is bounced from the rotation at the start of the season it is hard to not see that mutual trust being damaged.
6. Carlos Villanueva-He has yet to be officially signed, and that is perhaps why he is most likely going to be viewed as the guy waiting in the wings. He is getting a two year deal worth ten million dollars reportedly. That is a lot of money for a swingman, and so this could indicate that the Cubs are either looking to trade a starting pitcher or one of the starters is not going to be ready on opening day. Once an official announcement is held we might learn more about Villanueva’s role, but it is hard to see it being anything besides the first guy in line. He is going to be on the big league roster either way.
7. Travis Wood-Wood was thought to be a near lock to make the rotation when the offseason began, but with four free agent signings for the rotation he now finds himself seventh on the depth chart. He is also out of options which means he would have to be exposed to waivers in order to be sent to Iowa. It is likely that the Cubs will have the unique feature of two longmen/spot starters in their bullpen.
40 man roster candidates that have options
8. Alberto Cabrera-Cabrera took a huge step forward last year and emerged as a viable candidate for the backend of the bullpen. However, the Cubs brain trust made the announcement that he would spend the offseason stretching out to be a starting pitcher. Cabrera has no shot at the rotation with 7 guys with guaranteed contracts and or out of options in front of him.
9. Arodys Vizcaino-The centerpiece in the deal for Paul Maholm has an argument for being the highest upside arm in the Cubs system. He is unquestionable the best pitching prospect the Cubs have above A ball. However, most don’t expect him to be ready until the middle of the season following Tommy John surgery. Personally, I’ve found it puzzling that a 21 year old recovering from Tommy John almost a month before Baker is not expected to be ready until June or July, but Baker is supposed to be ready to go by opening day. Another question has been very health would prevent the Cubs from trying Vizcaino as a starter, but you would have to imagine given the state of the system that Vizcaino at least gets a look at starting.
10. /11. Brooks Raley/Chris Rusin-These soft tossing, fringy southpaw starters are pretty much interchangeable at this point, and thankfully are now far down the list of Cubs options in the rotation. Raley has 2 options and Rusin 3 which means that each is going to help Cabrera fill out Iowa’s rotation to start 2013.
Options not on the 40 man roster
Nick Struck, Barret Loux, Dae-Eun Rhee, and other random dreck-The Cubs have a few other options that are unlikely to even get much of a look in spring training. Nick Struck and Dae-Eun Rhee were both left off the 40 man roster despite being eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Since neither was taken it is a pretty strong indicator that everyone around baseball is pretty suspect of their abilities to stick on a major league staff. Loux is the pitcher the Cubs received from Texas for Soto. Barrett Loux is most likely battling Struck and Rhee for spots in Iowa’s rotation than the Cubs’, but these guys are there if injuries or trades decimate.
1. Carlos Marmol- He is the most expensive and experienced reliever the Cubs have for the role of closer. He also was almost traded to the Angels a few months ago. The Fujikawa press conference, however, made it clear that Marmol is the closer until he either fails in the regular season or is traded.
Right Handed Setup
2. Kyuji Fujikawa- Fujikawa is the second highest paid reliever in the Cubs bullpen after being a dominant closer in NPB. Fujikawa’s press conference made it clear that his role is a setup man at this point. He does have options, but it is more than a little unlikely that he would be sent down.
Left Handed Setup
3. James Russell- Russell is the only true left handed reliever on the 40 man roster, and after a successful season as the primary left hander in the pen his spot is assured. Russell like Fujikawa could be optioned to the minors, but due to ability and need is a lock.
4. Shawn Camp- Last year’s midseason MVP, according to Dale Sveum, resigned with the Cubs on a guaranteed major league contract. He was an effective, reliable reliever last year, and is also a virtually lock to make the pen.
5. Michael Bowden-Added to the 40 man roster after being DFA’d in June, Bowden pitched effectively down the stretch. He is still out of options, and therefore the Cubs would have to DFA him to send him to Iowa. He was also stretched out in Winter ball and may be one of the emergency-emergency starting options if most of the guys above him on the depth chart either get traded or injured.
6. Hector Rondon- The Cubs rule 5 pick is an intriguing, hard throwing reliever. He has pitched well in Venezuela this winter, and the Cubs have to keep him on the 25 man roster or offering him back to the Indians. Teams have been known to work out trades to keep rule 5 picks, but the Cubs are doubtful to want to give up anything while in the talent acquisition phase.
7. Carlos Villanueva-He was discussed above, and is a lock to make the roster, but is doubtful to make the rotation at this point.
8. Travis Wood-Also was discussed in the rotation portion, and is in the same situation as Villanueva. The Cubs could try to sneak him through waivers to send him back to Iowa, but it is unlikely that a cheap, effective left handed, back end of the rotation starter would make it through waivers.
40 man roster with options
9. Rafael Dolis- Dolis was impressive at times, but struggled once being named the closer. He also suffered from some arm trouble. Given the depth the Cubs have it is hard to imagine Dolis leap frogging onto the 25 man roster out of spring training, but he is probably the first one called up.
10. Trey McNutt- McNutt last year at this time was viewed as the Cubs top pitching prospects. Injuries and struggles in AA caused him to be moved to the bullpen. He has three options left and still has some upside, but it would be a huge upset if McNutt bumped enough guys in front of him to make it to the major leagues at this point.
NRIs that have a shot
11. Hisanori Takahashi-I would actual put Takahashi’s odds ahead of Dolis and McNutt of breaking camp with the big league roster. The main reason has been his previous track record of success in the big leagues, and more importantly the arm he throws with. He is the only other actual reliever who is left handed currently invited to spring training. He has an uphill battle to unseat Rondon and Bowden, but those two factors might push him onto the 25 man roster
12. Corey Wade-Wade is one of the more interesting option, but as another right hander he is going to have to show a lot to take a spot that will mean the Cubs lose players.
13-15. Zach Putnam, Jaye Chapman, Jensen Lewis-These are some young arms with some upside, but it would take a tremendous spring for them to not end up in Iowa’s bullpen to start the year.
101. Dontrelle Willis-To much consternation from some Cubs fans, the Cubs signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal. His deal does not even include an invitation to spring training. He will report to the minor league camp, and if he shows enough there he will get a chance in spring training. Willis has to prove himself just to even get a chance to have a chance to earn a spot. However, as discussed above the lack of left handed relievers could give him the very, very slim chance of making the team.
For a team that was one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball last year there is going to be surprisingly little competition for jobs. The Cubs are most likely going to carry 12 pitchers, but they have 13 pitchers on the roster that cannot be sent down to the minors. The rotation is virtually set, and the only competition might be for the last middle relief spot in the bullpen.
The x factors are trade and injuries. The Cubs are currently counting on two pitchers that didn’t throw a pitch in the second half of 2012. If Garza and Baker are not healthy that opens up two additional spots in the bullpen as Villanueva and Wood take those spots. Marmol also was nearly traded, and that could open up more spots for competition as everyone in the pen slots up a spot. Garza has also been the source of trade rumors, but it is hard to imagine him being dealt before he shows that he is healthy.
As the roster stands right now there is a three way competition for the last spot in the bullpen between Michael Bowden, Hector Rondon and Hisanori Takahasi. If I had to pick right now I would venture that the Cubs keep the rule 5 pick Rondon over Bowden, but a lot can change in the next couple of months. A good spring training, poor spring training, health, and trade could radically alter this picture, but as it stands there will not be a lot of drama surrounding pitching job competitions.