I am not sure how closely you have been paying attention, but the Chicago Cubs have been making a number of free agent signings over the off season making their 40 man roster a mess, Their free agent signings did not stop last night when reports came out of the newest acquisition Scott Hairston, formerly with the New York Mets. Even though the ball club has not yet confirmed the reports, there have not been any refuting of the news of his signing, so I believe we can count on him being in a Cubs uniform come Spring Training.
With the signing of Hairston, the Cubs now have four outfielders who are scheduled to be a part of the 25 man roster (barring a trade) come opening day. You have the newly signed Nate Schierholtz as well as Hairston. If they are not traded you will also have Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus also a part of the outfield group. If the team goes with the traditional five outfielder set, that leaves a competition between the speedy Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt for the job of the fifth outfielders job. This would not be a problem, since they are both currently on the 40 man roster, a place where Hairston has yet to be.
In order to get Hairston on the 40 man roster, someone who is currently on the roster will need to be designated for assignment, with the most likely candidate being last years Rule Five Draft pick Lendy Castillo. However, their 40 man roster problems do not stop with figuring out who to remove so you can add Hairston. The Cubs have another player who was reported to have reached a deal with almost a month ago in Carlos Villanueva. For whatever reason, he has not yet been officially announced as have being signed, perhaps because he has yet to take his physical. Once he does take and pass the physical, making the signing official, the Cubs will need to clear yet another roster spot to make room for him. This is where the decision makers will start earning their money.
The easy decision would be to designate Campana for assignment, or perhaps another lesser pitcher who the Cubs do not see in their plans for the 2013 season, perhaps Robert Whitenack, or the might be able to play with the Rule Five Draft rules and find a way to remove Hector Rondon from the roster temporarily. Whoever is removed to make room for Villanueva, likely will not be the last one before the season begins.
Take a close look at the roster, and what do you see. You have a full starting rotation and a bullpen which, while nothing special, is also full. You will see the team already has their catching duo with Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro. As I mentioned earlier, they have four of their five outfielders already determined (again barring a trade) with two candidates for the fifth outfielders job. The infield though, brings a big mess when you look closely; and I am not talking about Ian Stewart playing third base.
Outside of the four known starting position players,: Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Stewart, the Cubs only have one backup infielder on the roster. Luis Valbuena will be expected to back up second base and third base, with Barney backing up Short Stop if Castro needs a day off. The question is, who is the back up first baseman? Who will fill in for Rizzo if he needs day off, or God forbid gets injured?
There are of course in house options, which would not necessitate a roster move. The Cubs could teach Valbuena or Soriano to play first base, but that could end very badly. You would likely want someone who at least has some experience playing that position; which is something neither Soriano or Valbuena have. That leaves an in house option which would require a third player to be designated for assignment. That leaves us with the possibility of non roster invitee to Spring Training Brad Nelson a better than average chance to break camp with the big league club just so they have someone with experience backing up Rizzo. If you are wondering who Nelson is, think of him as Bryan LaHair 2.0, a player who is average at best with decent power. He likely will not do anything much to impress you, but at least his making the club will give us a half way legitimate back up at first base. This, as mentioned earlier, would mean another player would half to be designated for assignment, which could very well mean Steve Clevenger as he is the third string catcher.
Of course, all these upcoming roster moves to make room for the newly acquired talent could be easily solved with a trade or two involving a member of the Cubs who is already on the 40 man roster. Perhaps one of these potential trades would also bring us another player who could back up a few positions in the infield, specifically first base.
With Spring Training quickly approaching, the Cubs need to fix these glaring problems rather quickly.