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How Many Roster Spots are Actually Open?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few weeks pondering various moves the Cubs might make this offseason—here, here, and here, for example—but realized today that (a) I haven’t yet taken a look at the Cubs’ roster composition, and (b) that that might be a worthwhile endeavor, and give me another way of thinking about the Cubs’ plans this winter. So here you go: a quick and dirty look at where the roster stands today. Players listed are those I view as locks for the 25-man roster in 2016, with separate categories for those “on the bubble” and “also on the 40-man” (which, I admit, is not the most inspiring of categories). Let’s begin with the starters.


  1. Jake Arrieta
  2. Jon Lester

On the Bubble: Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel

Also on the 40-man: Dallas Beeler, Eric Jokisch

Arrieta and Lester are locks to stay on the roster all winter and to make the 25-man once Spring Training wraps up. Hammel and Hendricks will almost certainly stay on the roster all winter, but may end up losing their roster spots later on due to competition in Spring Training. Expect the Cubs to pick up two or three more starters in free agency or by trade, and at least one of Hammel and Hendricks to be on the big-league roster come Opening Day.


  1. Hector Rondon
  2. Pedro Strop
  3. Justin Grimm
  4. Travis Wood

On the Bubble: Carl Edwards Jr., Neil Ramirez

Also on the 40-man: Ryan Cook, Yoervis Medina, Clayton Richard, Zac Rosscup

Travis Wood is an interesting case as he’ll likely get a bump from his $5.7 million salary in arbitration (or more likely, the Cubs and Wood agree to an amicable amount, though that’s where things could get tricky). That could be too expensive for the Cubs’ taste, but he was borderline dominant after moving from the rotation to the pen, giving the Cubs 58 innings with a 2.95 ERA and a 30.2 percent strikeout rate. Sure, the walks were a tad high, but the same can be said for Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm. The fact is, everyone listed above will almost certainly be back (assuming health), and I’m 99 percent sure that Edwards will make the Opening Day roster as well. Look for at least one of Richard or Cook—who was recently acquired from the Red Sox—to make the team as well, alongside some low-priced free agent additions, and possibly a re-signed Trevor Cahill. Neil Ramirez is a bit of a wild card due to the fact his velocity never really bounced back to its 2015 levels after his injury issues this season. How he looks this spring will be key to whether he has a major (or any) part in this team’s bullpen. This is the part of the roster that I’m least confident in projecting particular players for particular spots, but by my count there are a few solid openings here.


  1. Miguel Montero
  2. David Ross

On the Bubble: None.

Also on the 40-man: Kyle Schwarber.

This part of the roster is very solid. Barring injury, don’t expect any changes here before Opening Day. Schwarber will get a few starts, but he’ll mostly be an outfielder next year (see below). Willson Contreras is a possibility for some point in 2016, but there’s almost zero chance he’ll be ready for big-league action at the start of the season, and he isn’t currently on the roster.


  1. Kris Bryant
  2. Starlin Castro
  3. Tommy La Stella
  4. Anthony Rizzo
  5. Addison Russell

On the Bubble: Javier Baez.

Also on the 40-man: Christian Villanueva, Arismendy Alcantara.

Wow, that’s a lot of infielders. Rizzo, Bryant, and Russell are as locked in to their spots as anyone on the roster, save perhaps Lester and Arrieta. La Stella is also highly likely to start the year with the big club. Castro is a trade candidate, but if one of the two is going to be moved, I think Baez is likely to net the higher return and is thus more likely to depart Chicago in exchange for pitching in the next few months. Villanueva, similarly, is a trade candidate, and Alcantara is unlikely to see big-league time with the Cubs again—in fact, he may not survive the winter on the roster. What the Cubs could really use is an infielder—like, for example, Ben Zobrist—who can also play some outfield positions. That’s because the team is really thin in the outfield right now. To wit …


  1. Kyle Schwarber
  2. Chris Coghlan

On the Bubble: Jorge Soler.

Also on the 40-man: Matt Szczur.

Soler, like Baez, is “on the bubble” because I think there’s a strong chance he gets moved for pitching this offseason. If he is moved, add right field to a list of openings that also includes center field, given the almost-certain departure of Dexter Fowler through free agency. Here, a full-time center fielder could be paired with a stopgap in right field, like Zobrist, to carry the Cubs into 2017 and reinforcements in the form of Ian Happ, Albert Almora, Jr., or Mark Zagunis. Szczur has had a few shots with the Cubs, but he’s unlikely to get too many more. This is the part of the team where I can most easily envision a big free-agent acquisition.


So where does all this leave us? I see openings for:

  • Three relievers;
  • At least two starters;
  • One full-time outfielder at either center field or right field;
  • One player who can cover the middle infield, as well as the position not covered by the player above.

And that’s it. Seven openings. If Soler or Baez aren’t traded, it’s even fewer than that: no Soler trade would likely mean only the “stopgap” outfielder role mentioned above is available; no Baez trade would likely mean a demotion for La Stella, or for Baez himself, or a Castro trade.

That kind of thinking—about moves, and the consequences they have for other parts of the roster—is what I hope this piece is helpful for. It isn’t meant to be read in isolation, but if read in combination with our “skills-based” offseason coverage here, here, here, here, and here, it should give you one more useful way of looking at, and thinking about, the Cubs’ offseason in 2015. And that probably isn’t a bad thing.

Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.

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2 comments on “How Many Roster Spots are Actually Open?”

Harold scheid

Trading Soler plus someone else for young stud pitcher they control for 3+ years, then signing Jason Heyward might make a lot of sense. Spending the big money on Heyward is lower risk than spending it on Price, and you can then fill out the rotation with a second tier guy like Leake or bring back Samardzija. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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