The return of baseball is finally upon us. Despite the ugly negotiations between the MLB and MLBPA, and all of the trepidation that comes with re-opening in the midst of a pandemic, it appears that there will be baseball in 2020.
The 60 game sprint to the playoffs is unprecedented, and with that, we will likely see a season play out with such historic magnitude it’ll be discussed years from now. It’s virtually impossible to grasp how the season will unfold, how teams might get creative in adjusting to the awkward realities of the 2020 season, how the trade deadline might look, etc. It’s also a year where knee-jerk reactions and small sample sizes actually contain merit. In short, it’s going to be a wild ride.
Fittingly, roster maneuverings have changed significantly for this season, with teams starting the season with 30-man rosters, and a 60-man player pool to work with throughout 2020 (including the eligibility to be traded). Let’s focus on that 30-man roster, and assess how the Cubs roster might look on Opening Day.
Even with the expansion from the new 26-man roster to 30 players to open the season, the question marks surrounding the Cubs roster are relatively minimal. We know the vast majority of the roster is set, and one can surmise the additional four roster slots to begin the year will feature pitching given the nature of this season.
The Cubs starting lineup is relatively set, both from logical deduction as well as what we’ve heard directly from David Ross. While second base remains somewhat mysterious — Jason Kipnis and Nico Hoerner will likely platoon, with David Bote and Daniel Descalso also in the mix — here’s my take on what the lineup could look like later this month:
- 1. Kris Bryant (3B)
- 2. Anthony Rizzo (1B)
- 3. Javier Baez (SS)
- 4. Kyle Schwarber (LF)
- 5. Willson Contreras (C)
- 6. Ian Happ (CF)
- 7. Steven Souza Jr (DH)
- 8. Jason Heyward (RF)
- 9. Nico Hoerner (2B)
With that lineup, the bench will look like this:
While this is subject to change, I think we’ll see Ross attempt a consistent lineup, particularly at the top of the order. There will certainly be a little shuffling over positions, as Schwarber will see some time at DH, Souza may platoon a bit in right should Heyward’s struggles against lefties continue, and Caratini will certainly see some time behind the plate as well as in the DH role. Kipnis will likely spell Hoerner against tough righties, and playing time for Bote, Descalso, and Almora will be fleshed out.
The pitching front is similarly known, especially regarding the rotation. The four extra roster spots to begin the year will help delay the outcome of bullpen battles, where we’ll see several arms fighting to survive the roster cut to 28 players after two weeks, and the final cut down to 26 after the first month of the 2020 season. Here’s what the Cubs rotation and ‘pen should look like come Opening Day:
- Craig Kimbrel (CL)
- Jeremy Jeffress (SU)
- Rowan Wick (RHP)
- Kyle Ryan (LHP)
- Brad Wieck (LHP)
- Alec Mills* (Long relief)
- Dan Winkler (RHP)
- Casey Sadler (RHP)
- Trevor Megill (RHP)
- Ryan Tepera (RHP)
- Duane Underwood Jr (RHP)
*It doesn’t appear Q’s injury is terribly serious, yet even without an IL stint to start the season it appears likely that Mills will slot into the rotation for the first week or two of the season.
While the rotation is set, albeit cautiously so, the ‘pen is quite open for interpretation. Of the arms that most need to impress, Underwood and Sadler are out of minors options, Megill is a Rule 5 draftee, and Tepera and Winkler could also opt for free agency if opted off of the active roster.
Of the players trimmed as the 30 man roster turns to 28, and then to 26, fringe bullpen arms are the likeliest candidates. The shrinking roster will make some reverberating waves, even as the Cubs 60-man player pool currently sits at just 50.
Three Man Taxi Squad
The emergency three player taxi squad is designed to limit commercial flights for players that are added to the active roster last minute. These players won’t be considered active until they replace a player that hits the IL or tests positive for COVID-19, but they will travel and practice with the active roster. One player must be a catcher (and can serve as the bullpen catcher), the other two slots are open to the team’s discretion.
Phegley is a guarantee for the Cubs, a veteran catcher that can serve multiple roles even without actually receiving playing time. Ian Miller provides the Cubs with a speedy option at the ready, especially if injuries occur on the position player front or ineffectiveness from the likes of Almora or Descalso call for a minor roster shakeup.
Alzolay is my dark-horse candidate here, a perennial prospect whose time seems to be now or never. With questions about the rotation, coupled with Q’s minor injury, having a pitcher in the wings that can emergency start or serve as a long-man out of the ‘pen is a good option to have. This is an especially good option given Alzolay will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder, as he looks to finally establish himself as a member of the roster.
Names to Keep an Eye on
Even with the options above, the Cubs have some additional options that might very well see playing time in 2020. I’m going to limit these names to pitchers, as the position player front seems pretty well set — and well represented on the taxi squad:
Carraway is a guy that might very well go from draft pick to rookie in the same season. He’s incredibly polished and offers elite stuff that could help stabilize an uncertain ‘pen.
Cotton is an interesting name given his previous success in Oakland, but injuries and ineffectiveness have rendered him to the periphery. For now, he will workout at the Cubs alternate site while serving as valuable rotation and long-man depth.
Maples, of course, is an arm with an impossibly filthy slider and a high-octane fastball, yet he simply cannot locate the zone or repeat his mechanics with any consistency. His stuff alone makes him an intriguing name to watch this year, however, especially if he can discover any semblance of command on his repertoire.
The Cubs, like every other team, are navigating roster decisions in the midst of a pandemic that still has no end in sight. We’ll likely see veterans continue to opt-out of the season, as even this morning has shown MLB still does not have a concrete grasp on the necessary testing to make a season happen.
Until a season actually happens all we have is speculation. In what would be a sprint of a 2020 season, the Cubs roster above provides both excitement and trepidation.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how this year will actually unfold.
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