Opening Day is just two weeks away, yet it still feels like the Cubs have a lot of work to do in order to figure out who’s breaking camp as part of the active roster. Those decisions got a little easier this week when the league and union agreed to expand rosters from 26 to 28 through May 1 in order to mitigate the difficulties of a compressed spring training.
It figures that most teams will use those extra spots for pitchers since they are disproportionately impacted by a shorter ramp-up, and the Cubs are no exception.
“Having a couple extra spots makes a lot of sense to add pitchers,” David Ross told Marquee. “Although I’m not committing to that, I think it makes a lot of sense to protect those guys and see where everybody is at. We’ll make that final call before Opening Day.”
The Cubs are in their second turn through the rotation and should get their primary starters two more appearances, but there are big question marks when it comes to who will be tabbed to start beyond the obvious choices. Wade Miley has been delayed by nagging injuries and Adbert Alzolay is on the 60-day IL, so that’s two probable options that could be down. Even if Miley is able to get going by the start of the season, he may need to be piggybacked in the early going.
That could very well be the case with more than one spot behind Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman, particularly with the Cubs adding several swingman-types since the lockout ended. Rather than try to carve out a set role for Daniel Norris or Drew Smyly, Ross might prefer a Johnny Wholestaff approach in the early going. He could also pair an opener with a bulk starter to cover a few innings and perhaps maximize the talent in what is otherwise a very pedestrian staff.
That could open the door to some of the pitchers the Cubs have waiting in the wings, those who might otherwise have started out at Iowa. If the team isn’t going to pull off a big trade for an impact arm, which I still can’t believe they couldn’t figure out, there’s no reason to intentionally limit their organizational ceiling by rolling with short-term vets over prospects.
“Even if they’re young or a little bit less experienced, to have those couple extra options to maybe have some of these other guys take the time that are getting late starts — all those things kinda factor in,” Ross explained. “We want to keep these guys healthy so to be able to have two extra roster spots, that’s gonna be nice for us. I think it was a smart move in this unique spring training.”
Ross isn’t likely to make any firm commitments until the last possible moment, and it’s entirely possible that the front office has some other moves pending. There’s also a chance that one or two of those pitchers, young or otherwise, takes control of a spot over the next two weeks. Either way, we can expect the Cubs to spend at least the month of April trying to mix and match pitchers to make the most of what they’ve got.
This also means the team will be carrying 13 position players, so feel free to set your mind to determining exactly who those will be.