The Cubs have made a few notable moves over the last two days and could still be scouting the waiver wire for depth, but it looks for now that they’ll break camp with 25 players who are already in the organization. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both gave some clues to their roster construction and ongoing search for depth when they spoke to the media Sunday.
Designating Brian Duensing for assignment opened up a spot in the bullpen for one of either Kyle Ryan, Randy Rosario, or Allen Webster, the latter of whom is out of options. Webster is also a righty, which could leave him the odd man out. Epstein specifically noted the “strategic advantage” of carrying two lefties in the ‘pen and Maddon said he’d like to open season with that setup.
That means Ryan and Rosario have the inside track, with the former Tiger perhaps getting the nod in the end. Ryan has gotten more work this spring (11.2 to 8.1 IP) over the same number of appearances through Saturday and his results have been much better against a stronger contingent of opposing hitters (according to Baseball Reference’s OppQual score). He’s also able to work as a long man, something the Cubs might like as a fallback.
There had been some questions as to who the pitchers would be throwing to, and the search for a backup catcher came up again in the wake of Ian Happ’s demotion. Hardly a novel concept, the possibility of replacing Victor Caratini or carrying a third catcher gained a little momentum with news that the Red Sox were shopping Sandy Leon. The Giants releasing former Cub Rene Rivera raised eyebrows as well.
Maddon was emphatic Sunday in his support of Caratini and added that there was no chance the Cubs would carry three catchers, though he stopped short of ensuring Caratini a spot.
Pretty informative session w Maddon. Said he'd like to have two lefties in bullpen to start the season. So I'd expect Kyle Ryan or Randy Rosario to make team. A vet catcher added to the org makes sense too, but Maddon said no chance they carry three on MLB team.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) March 24, 2019
“Victor’s had a great camp, Maddon told beat reporters. “He’s really come on strongly. He’s absolutely a Major League Baseball player. But again, we’re still having different conversations. And if Victor is there, I’m really happy with that.”
While the manager was careful not to guarantee anything, the president of baseball operations indicated that they’ll likely roll with the current group. So the due diligence they’re conducting is largely a matter of seeking out depth in case there’s an injury to Willson Contreras.
“I mean, there’s always a lot of movement right at the end of camp, so I think that’s appropriate to be in an opportunistic mindset,” Epstein told Jordan Bastian and other media members. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is going to happen or that other moves were made with certain outside acquisitions in mind.
“There are players we have an eye on and teams we’re still talking to, but we’ve been talking to them all spring. So it’s probably more likely than not that the 25 guys we break with are here in camp.”
That also means Mark Zagunis is almost certain to make the cut as a backup outfielder, a fact Epstein acknowledged Sunday. The Cubs were said to be seeking out additional centerfield depth now that Happ will be opening the season at Triple-A, though Zagunis offers insurance at the corners and Jason Heyward or even Kris Bryant can slide over to center if something happens with Albert Almora Jr.
If you’re keeping score at home, there are probably three roster spots up for grabs. And only one of those, the final bullpen opening, is really in question. Zagunis and Caratini are already penciled in as far as position players go, so it’d take one of Epstein’s unlikely moves to unseat either. Then you’ve got the aforementioned three-headed bullpen monster to sort through, with a decision likely coming at the conclusion of the spring slate of games.