A Prognosticursion into 2013
With Spring Training starting this week, here is a look ahead at what could be the Cubs 2013 Opening Day roster & lineup.
* bats or throws left
# bats both
* James Russell
* Travis Wood
# Dioner Navarro
* Anthony Rizzo
* Ian Stewart
* Luis Valbuena
* David DeJesus
* Nate Schierholtz
Scott Baker, P
Arodys Vizcaino, P
A further breakdown:
1. DeJesus/Sappelt, CF
2. Castro, SS
3. Rizzo, 1B
4. Soriano, LF
5. Hairston/Schierholtz, RF
6. Stewart, 3B
8. Barney, 2B
PROJECTED STARTING PITCHERS:
* Travis Wood
* James Russell
Castro is not an ideal #2 hitter, but he will probably hit there unless and until Barney can improve his OBP to what is required at the top of the order.
It will have to be determined during the course of Spring Training who can better handle CF when DeJesus is not in the lineup… Hairston or Sappelt. (The other will play RF). But there will be two platoons in the outfield (CF & RF), which is why there was no room for Tony Campana, And the Cubs will probably be keeping their eyes open during Spring Training for a true CF (at least a RH hitting one). They supposedly asked the Angels for Peter Bourjos when the Marmol-for-Haren deal fell through, but were rebuffed.
Otherwise, there aren’t a whole lot of issues that need to be determined, as far as position players are concerned.
Welington Castillo is out of minor league options and so he will certainly be given every chance to be the primary catcher, and will (at worst) platoon with Dioner Navarro.
Luis Valbuena should be more valuable as an infield utility guy and LH PH than he was as an everyday 3B (Valbuena is also out of minor league options), and I believe Brent Lillibridge is the obvious candidate to take the Joe Mather Slot on the 25-man roster.
He had a terrible 2012 season at three stops (CHW, BOS, and CLE), but he would be the one guy (besides Rizzo) on the 25-man roster who has actually played 1B at the big league level (45 games). He also hit 321/367/786 as a PH 2010-2012, and he crushed LHP in both 2010 (303/343/606) and 2011 (287/346/685), making him the New Jeff Baker, capable of replacing Ian Stewart at 3B, Anthony Rizzo at 1B, any of the three RH hitting outfielders, and even Barney or Castro, as needed.
Lillibridge is certainly not Tony Campana, but he does have above-average speed (36 SB in 338 MLB games), making him a reasonable choice to be used as a pinch-runner late in a game when the Cubs are playing for one run. And he has the versatility & athleticism to play anywhere on the field except pitcher and catcher (although he will probably be the “emergency catcher” and the “garbage pitcher,“ too).
If he makes all of his Cactus League starts and has no medical setbacks, Matt Garza will be a prime trade candidate the last week of Spring Training. Any club acquiring Garza prior to MLB Opening Day would be able to extend a Qualifying Offer (a one-year guaranteed contract with a salary equal to the average salaries of the 125 highest-paid players in 2013) to Garza post-2013 if the club is unable to sign him to a contract extension, and the club would receive a 2014 compensation draft pick if Garza signs elsewhere. (A club cannot extend a Qualifying Offer and receive a compensatory draft pick if the player is acquired during the MLB regular season). For that same reason, the Cubs would be expected to get more in return for Garza if he is traded prior to Opening Day than if he is traded during the season.
Something that would be a factor if Garza is traded after Opening Day is that the Cubs could receive a draft pick as part of a trade package. Competitive Balance draft picks awarded to 12 MLB clubs last July can be traded, but only once (the pick can’t be flipped to a third team), and the pick can only be traded during the MLB regular season. So if a team like the Baltimore Orioles is interested in acquiring Garza but can’t put together a package of players sufficient to make the Cubs bite, they could sweeten the deal by including their 2013 Competitive Balance draft pick (#37 overall). But again, if the Orioles (let’s say) were to acquire Garza during the MLB regular season, they would be precluded from extending a Qualifying Offer to Garza post-2013 (and therefore not receive a 2014 draft pick as compensation if Garza were to sign elsewhere), thereby reducing Garza‘s value to the Orioles in a trade.
If there are no setbacks during Spring Training, Scott Baker is projected to be up to about 75 pitches (and five innings) by Opening Day, so he will probably start the 2013 season on the 15-day DL and remain at Extended Spring Training for a couple of weeks while he increases his pitch count, arm strength, and stamina. He then could be reactivated and rejoin the Cubs starting rotation directly, or he could spend as much as an additional 30 days on a minor league rehab assignment while he attempts to get closer to where he needs to be.
If and when Baker returns to the starting rotation, either Scott Feldman or Travis Wood will likely be moved to the bullpen. (That’s presuming Garza has not been traded in the meantime and/or no starting pitchers go down with injuries during Spring Training). Feldman has a lot of experience as an MLB reliever and should be able to make the transition without difficulty. Wood is out of minor league options, so the Cubs would have to try and get him through waivers if they want to send him to Iowa, and there is no way Wood is not claimed if he‘s put on waivers. So Wood either is a Cubs starting pitcher (and he would be the Cubs only lefty starter), or he works out of the Cubs bullpen. And unlike Feldman, Wood does not have considerable experience as a reliever, either in the minor leagues or at the big league level.
Carlos Villanueva would be an additional starting pitcher option, but he has done his best work as a reliever, and the Cubs do need to upgrade their bullpen. So while I would not be surprised to see Villanueva get stretched-out as a starter during Spring Training and be given a shot at the starting rotation, he will almost certainly start the season in the bullpen (unless Garza is traded prior to Opening Day and Baker is left behind at Extended Spring Training).
Carlos Marmol will probably be given every opportunity to retain the closer’s job, but if he falters expect Kyuji Fujikawa to take his place. Fujikawa has extensive experience as a closer in Japan (NPB), and would probably provide a more consistent and stable (if not occasional “lights out“) performance in that role. The Cubs came close to trading Marmol during the off season, and if his legal issues are clearly a non-factor, he could get traded during Spring Training.
James Russell will be the Cubs #1 bullpen lefty, and in fact he might be the Cubs only bullpen lefty to start the season. Veteran Japanese LHRP Hisanori Takahashi is in camp as a Non-Roster Invitee (NRI), and if Manager Dale Sveum absolutely must have a second lefty (and if it’s not Travis Wood), the most-likely candidate is Takahashi. It’s also very possible that a veteran like Takahashi has an “opt out” clause in his contract, where he can request his release if he is not on the Cubs Opening Day MLB 25-man roster, and if so, that could help influence the Cubs to add Takahashi to the 25-man roster.
Shawn Camp had a fine year working out of the bullpen for the Cubs in 2012 and he will be back again in 2013. However, he was used a LOT in 2012, and MLB relievers are notorious for having a good year followed by a bad year (especially if the pitcher was overworked the previous season), so we’ll have to wait to see how Camp responds in 2013.
With Marmol, Fujikawa, Russell, Camp, and Villanueva virtual locks to begin the season in the Cubs bullpen, two slots should be open (at least until Baker is added to the rotation and either Feldman or T. Wood are moved to the pen). It could only be one open slot if Takahashi is kept as the second lefty, but if two slots are available, Michael Bowden and Hector Rondon have the early advantage.
Unlike most of the other bullpen candidates who either have minor league options left or who are in camp as NRI guys signed to minor league contracts (where they do not have to pass through waivers in order to be assigned to Iowa), Bowden is out of minor league options, and so waivers would have to be secured if the Cubs want to send him to the minors. And even if waivers are secured, Bowden has been outrighted previously in his career, so he has the right to elect to be a free-agent if outrighted.
Hector Rondon was selected by the Cubs in the Major League Phase of the December 2012 Rule 5 Draft, and so he will have to spend the entire 2013 season on the Cubs 25-man Active List and/or 15-day or 60-day DL (with at least 90 days spent on the Active List) before Rule 5 restrictions are removed.
So what are the “Rule 5 restrictions” that affect Rondon?
He cannot be placed on waivers until 25 days prior to MLB Opening Day and cannot be sent to the minors or released until 20 days prior to Opening Day. And even if waivers are secured, he would have to be offered back to the Cleveland Indians AAA Columbus affiliate (the club from which he was drafted), and the Indians (acting for Columbus) can reclaim Rondon for half the Rule 5 draft price. Only if waivers are secured and the Indians decline to reclaim him, can the Cubs release Rondon or send him to the minors.
However, Rondon is out of minor league options, and (like Michael Bowden) he has been outrighted previously in his career, so even if waivers are secured and the Indians decline to reclaim him, the Cubs cannot option Rondon to the minors, and if they outright him, he can elect free-agency. So it’s probably pretty much “Wrigley Field or Bust” for Rondon.
Like Scott Baker, Arodys Vizcaino had Tommy John Surgery (TJS) last April and should be able to fully-participate in Spring Training drills. Where he will be by the end of March is not known yet, but the Cubs have talked about bringing Vizcaino along slowly and limiting his innings in 2013. So if I had to guess I would say he will be placed on the 60-day DL sometime during Spring Training (opening up a 40-man roster slot for Brent Lillibridge) and will be left behind at Extended Spring Training in Mesa. But unlike Baker, I would not be surprised to see Viczaino remain at Extended Spring Training for two full months, gradually easing his way back into action, then go on a 30-day rehab assignment (probably at Daytona), before being reactivated from the DL and getting optioned to AAA Iowa or AA Tennessee on about July 1st, and then get recalled after the conclusion of the minor league regular season on Labor Day. It is somewhat important for the Cubs to try and keep Vizcaino on Optional Assignment for at least 62 days (July and August, let‘s say) in 2013, because by doing so they can keep his MLB Service Time under two seasons by the end of the season, thus insuring that he will remain under club control through the 2018 season.
Meanwhile, a number of other pitchers will compete for jobs at AAA Iowa. Some of these pitchers are on the 40-man roster, others are in “big league camp” as NRI, and still others will report directly to the Iowa squad at Minor League Camp next month.
As things stand right now, this is what the I-Cubs pitching staff should look like the last week of Minor League Camp:
PROJECTED IOWA CUBS STARTING PITCHERS:
* Brooks Raley
* Chris Rusin
* Eric Jokisch
PROJECTED IOWA CUBS BULLPEN:
* Hisanori Takahashi
* Dontrelle Willis
That’s the definition of a log-jam: 30 pitchers competing for 13 AAA jobs.
A few could start the season on the DL, while others will get demoted to AA Tennessee. Probably at least eight or ten will get released. Some of the AAA starting rotation candidates will end up in the I-Cubs bullpen.
And the probable position players at Iowa in 2013:
J. C. Boscan
* Steve Clevenger
* Justin Bour
Jonathon Mota (player-coach)
* Logan Watkins
* Brian Bogusevic
* Tony Campana (unless he is traded or claimed off waivers)
* Brett Jackson
Watkins (2B) and B. Jackson (CF) will likely play most every day and hit 1-2 in the I-Cubs lineup. Both Lake and Vitters will likely get playing time in the outfield (Vitters in LF and Lake in LF-CF-RF), and Vitters should also see some action at 1B. Rohan can play the “four corners” (1B-3B-LF-RF), and Gonzalez would probably be the primary utility infielder (2B-3B-SS), with Maysonet the #1 shortstop.
Because minor league teams employ 13-man pitching staffs, there will be only four slots available on the Iowa bench, so 1B Brad Nelson, OF Darnell McDonald, and OF Ty Wright are definitely and squarely "on the bubble."