Almost every year, one or two Non-Roster Invitees (NRI) contend for a spot on the Cubs Opening Day 25-man roster.
This year, it appears that veteran utility INF Tomas Perez
has the best shot among the NRI to make the Opening Day 25, since Manager Lou Piniella says he believes the Cubs will need two utility middle-infielders. Ryan Theriot
is definitely one, and unless the Cubs go outside the organization and make a trade for somebody like Marlins supersub (SS-2B-CF) Alfredo Amezaga
, Perez would seem to be the logical front-runner to become the Cubs second utility infielder.
But who are the other candidates, and if Perez does get the job, who gets dropped from the Cubs 40-man roster?
Certainly, Ronny Cedeno
IS a middle-infielder, but with one minor league option left and with a decision to be made after this season regarding Cesar Izturis
(the Cubs hold a $5.85M player option on Izturis for 2008, with a $300K buy-out if they choose not to exercise the option), the Cubs probably would prefer to see Cedeno play everyday at AAA Iowa so that they can get a better reading on whether Cedeno has a future as an MLB (and Cubs) everyday SS. Also, Cedeno can easily be recalled and go back-and-forth between Chicago and Des Moines (as needed) if one of the middle-infielders goes down temporarily with an injury. Beyond that, Cedeno needs to get his confidence back, and he would have a better chance of doing that playing everyday at AAA than he would playing only occasionally in Chicago.
And although he has had a (quite unexpectedly) outstanding ST, and even though he has four years of experience as a SS in the Cubs organization, Buck Coats
is just not a good defensive shortstop. He would be strictly a VERY short-term ("in a pinch") type fall-back, somebody you'd want to play there only in an emergency. And I doubt that somebody who can play middle-infield only in a pinch is what Uncle Lou has in mind for his second middle-infield utility guy, although it's possible.
So let's say Tomas Perez does (in fact) claim the last spot on the Cubs Opening Day 25-man roster. If so, the Cubs would need to drop a player from their 40-man roster (which is presently full). And all things being equal, who would that player most-likely be?
A couple or three candidates:
If Wade Miller
fails to win the #5 starter job, he almost certainly will get traded before the start of the season. He's not a candidate for the bullpen, and it's VERY unlikely that he would accept an optional assignment to the minors. While he has one minor league option left, he also has at least five years of MLB service time, so he cannot be optioned to the minors without his permission. However, he MIGHT possibly reconsider going to the minors--at least for a pre-specified short period of time--if the Cubs were to guarantee some of his $3.75M in performance bonuses, but I doubt that the Cubs would do that even if Miller is receptive to the idea. So if Angel Guzman
(quite possible) or Mark Prior
(probably less likely) takes the #5 job, Miller will almost certainly get traded at the end of Spring Training (probably to an A. L. team, probably for a mid-level pitching prospect with a little bit--though not too much--upside), and that opens up a spot on the 40 for T. Perez.
But what if Miller takes the #5 job? Then what?
Normally, when spots on the 40-man roster are needed at the end of ST, the first method a club will consider using is to place an injured player on the 60-day DL (which can be used only from March 1st until November 20th). Players on the 60-day DL do NOT count against a club's 40-man roster. And although Sean Marshall
and Michael Wuertz
have suffered with sore shoulders this Spring, unless one or both have surgery, it's unlikely either would be a candidate for the 60-day DL.
A second type of player frequently moved at the end of Spring Training to create space on the 40-man roster is one who is out of minor league options, as Todd Wellemeyer
was last ST (Wellemeyer was traded to FLA for RHP Lincoln Holdzkom
and LHP Zach McCormack
, although McCormack was subsequently returned to FLA as "damaged goods" and was replaced by 1B-OF James Adduci
), and as David Kelton
was the year before that (Kelton was outrighted to AAA at the end of ST '05, before becoming a 6YMLFA after that season and signing with ATL). Unless the player is an established member of the team, it's not particularly useful to have to keep somebody on the 25-man roster if that player cannot be shuttled back-and-forth (depending on the needs of the moment) from the big league club to AAA. It's like having a Rule 5 albatross around the player's (and the club's!) neck. But the Cubs don't have any players who are out of options this season.
The next type of player to consider moving at the end of ST would be a player who has no real future in the organization. An example of a Cubs player in this class would be 2002 2nd round draft pick Brian Dopirak
. Although he was recently optioned out for only the second time (and thus will have another minor league option available in 2008), the fact is, Dopirak will be out of minor league options two years before Derrek Lee
's contract expires. While it's also true that Scott Moore
will be out of minor league options three years before Aramis Ramirez
's contract expires, the difference between Dopirak and Moore (as far as their futures with the Cubs is concerned) is that Moore has the athleticism to play multiple positions and could well develop into a Geoff Blum
-type IF-OF-LHPH, while Dopirak is strictly a one-dimensional power-hitting 1B, whose best position is probably DH. So unless D-Lee gets struck by a train, B-Dope has no future with the Cubs, even if he hits 50 HR and slugs .600+ at AA. Dopirak's only value would (ultimately) be as a trading chip, and for that value to be realized, Dopirak is going to have to put up a monster year at AA in 2007, since he had a disappointing offensive year at Daytona in 2005, and missed almost all of 2006 with a broken foot. But still, the Cubs may want to defer moving him until a later time.
So then what?
The next type of player to consider is one who will be out of minor league options NEXT Spring Training.
At present, the Cubs have seven such players:
Of this group, it's unlikely that Hill, Ohman, and Wuertz will use up their last option year this season, as all three are likely to remain in the big leagues for the entire season (although Wuertz may start the year on the DL). Guzman has too much talent to be dumped, and Soto is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster besides Michael Barrett
and Henry Blanco
, and thus would be needed in case Barrett or Blanco go on the 15-day DL a time or two during the season. Same goes for Cedeno, in the event Izturis goes down for a while.
Which leaves Roberto Novoa.
Unlike Hill, Ohman, and Wuertz, Novoa WILL likely use his last minor league option this season. Unlike Guzman, Novoa is not a top prospect. And unlike Soto and Cedeno, Novoa is not the only option in case of an injury at his position. If a RHRP goes down, Rocky Cherry
, Carlos Marmol
, and Juan Mateo
are also available, rendering Novoa expendale. And this would be true even if Novoa was pitching OK.
So I believe IF it develops that the Cubs need to create a spot on their 40-man roster for Tomas Perez, and IF Wade Miller wins the #5 starter job and remains a Cub, the most-likely candidate to get dropped is Roberto Novoa (as happened with Todd Wellemeyer this time last year), or POSSIBLY Brian Dopirak (but ONLY if the Cubs can get a decent prospect back for him in a trade, which is not too likely at this time).