The Rundown: Cubs’ Depth Makes Roster Spots Scarce, Hawkins Compares Front Office to Cleveland, Carew Puts MLB on Blast,
Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins added a lot of depth to the Cubs’ roster this winter. In fact, the pair were so busy it’s easy to forget everybody they signed. Dansby Swanson is Chicago’s new shortstop and that pushes Nico Hoerner to second base, giving the Cubs the best middle infield in the NL Central. Cody Bellinger will play center field, Eric Hosmer is the new first baseman, and Trey Mancini will play outfield, first base, and designated hitter. Tucker Barnhart is the new backup catcher, Jameson Taillon joins the rotation, and Brad Boxberger is the newest member of the bullpen.
When the calendar turned from October to November, we all believed Matt Mervis would start the season as Chicago’s first baseman. The team’s depth will probably force Mervis back to Iowa, but he’s not the only odd man out. The Cubs are so deep they may not have roster spots for a number of position players, including Nick Madrigal, Zach McKinstry, and Nelson Velázquez. Of course, that depends on third baseman Patrick Wisdom, who is a .200 hitter with a lot of pop but even more swing-and-miss. Wisdom was a defensive liability last season too, so his glove work needs to improve.
Brennen Davis is another rookie most of us have been counting on, but Bellinger took his position. While Davis may get a shot if Bellinger continues to struggle at the plate, there’s a good chance he’ll spend a good chunk of the season at Iowa. If the Cubs contend this year, and it looks like they will, they could be buyers at the deadline. That could keep Mervis and Davis at Triple-A until September.
Things are much more complicated when it comes to the Cubs’ pitching staff. Kyle Hendricks looks like he’ll start the season on the injury list, giving Adrian Sampson or Hayden Wesneski the fifth starter slot. Keegan Thompson also wants to start and he’ll have opportunities as as the team’s swingman. The top four are Taillon, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, and Drew Smyly. Javier Assad pitched well last season, but he may become a depth casualty. The team also has seven starters in the minors who are inching their way toward the bigs, and that’s not counting Caleb Kilian or Brailyn Márquez.
The bullpen is also crowded. The Cubs have 12 relievers competing for seven spots, which might mean Adbert Alzolay and Ryan Jensen go to Iowa. Codi Heuer might not be healthy enough to start the season with the Cubs, and this could be a make-or-break spring for Rowan Wick. It looks like David Ross will go with a committee approach until one pitcher establishes himself as a lockdown closer. Jeremiah Estrada has the requisite arsenal for the job but lacks experience, Boxberger is a little uninspiring, and Wick struggled in 2022 until the very end of the season. Alzolay would make a decent closer if he’s able to earn a roster spot.
I’ve said this previously, but I think Hoyer really wanted to buy one more year of development for many of the team’s younger players. The added depth gives him plenty of flexibility going forward to do just that. Some teams can successfully navigate the deadline as buyers and sellers, and the front office might be in a position to strengthen the roster with internal promotions while trading for more minor league depth. That’s a heck of a nice position to be in.
Cubs News & Notes
- Hawkins mentioned the Cubs’ process-oriented front office is very similar to Cleveland’s. Hawkins was the assistant GM for the Guardians/Indians before coming to Chicago.
- Christopher Morel is being counted on to be the team’s top utility player.
- The Cubs do not have a prototypical leadoff hitter (once again), though they could run with Hoerner or Seiya Suzuki.
- Chicago’s North Side baseballers are one of the most improved teams in baseball and could make a run at the division title.
- I was flipping through Marquee over the weekend and I saw some film of catcher Adan Sanchez, who reminds me an awful lot of Pudge Rodríguez. I still get a kick out of Sanchez’s Little League World Series home run, called by Ross when he was with ESPN.
- In 1984, Ryne Sandberg had the second-best season of any player to wear jersey number 23.
Odds & Sods
Like a broken record…
We're sensing a theme here …@LieutenantDans7 pic.twitter.com/MNPuAsuA5q
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 4, 2023
The average annual value of all free-agent contracts signed this winter is a staggering $15.7 million.
Angels GM Perry Minasian said that owner Arte Moreno is willing to pay two-way star Shohei Ohtani whatever it will take to keep him in Los Angeles.
The Giants and starting pitcher Logan Webb are negotiating a potential contract extension.
Manny Machado and Max Scherzer top the list of most intriguing players with opt-outs after this season. Stroman, Mancini, and Javier Báez also made the list.
Rod Carew put MLB on blast for allowing sportsbooks in baseball stadiums while keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame.
An ex-MLB scout for the Braves compared Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce to Josh Hamilton. Reggie Sanders said Kelce would be a star today if he’d stuck with baseball.
If the A’s decide to leave Oakland for Las Vegas, local business owners fully support the potential move. Rob Manfred has waived the expansion fee for the two teams eventually selected to join the 30-team league.
The Mets hired Carlos Beltrán to be a special assistant to the GM.
The Twins signed former Cubs pitcher Locke St. John to a minor league contract.
I’m hoping the Cubs don’t jump on the recent powder blue trend in uniforms, but José Cardenal looks spiffy in his. I’d rather have the softball-style duds than those ugly red-bill hats, however.
Late night #PowderBlue tweet: Jose Cardenal, 1976 @Cubs (age 32) pic.twitter.com/BFehPxZLYv
— Vintage Jerseys & Hats (@PolyesterUnis) February 6, 2023
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- Nearly a decade into its combat service in the US military, the F-22 Raptor fighter jet finally completed its first air-to-air strike. It took out a balloon. China’s foreign ministry called the balloon pop a “clear overreaction” and suggested it could retaliate
- A FedEx cargo plane and a Southwest 737 came within 1,000 feet of one another in a scary moment at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Saturday morning.
- Beyoncé won four Grammys last night, making her the most-decorated performer of all time.
- The red carpet walk is the only thing I actually like about the awards ceremony, and last night didn’t disappoint. Shania Twain looks like she discovered the fountain of youth, Cardi B was stunning in a blue cyclone dress, and Taylor Swift was as elegant as she always is. Lizzo and Harry Styles looked comical, and that’s putting it nicely.
- The Questlove-produced tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop was the shining moment of last night’s award show.
- LeBron James is just 36 points away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He should break the record this week.
They Said It
- “I would say the best thing in terms of similarities is that there are a lot of team-first people in both places, as opposed to me-first people. The obvious market-size difference stands out. There are more opportunities in Chicago to utilize resources — you can have a higher risk tolerance — whereas in Cleveland there is the challenge of having to be very process-oriented to make a decision. If you have a lot of resources, you don’t necessarily have that pressure on you. At the same time, there is no reason that you can’t be just as process-oriented in a larger market.” – Hawkins
Monday Walk-Up Song
Old school hip-hop Monday morning.