Let’s take a look at the current 40-man roster:
The first thing that jumps out to me is the sheer number of players not ready to contribute at the major league level. We’ve got a few injuries (Vizcaino, Garza, Baker, Feldman) and a few true prospects (Soler, Villanueva), and it really stretches our “effective roster” quite thin.
In the outfield, we currently are slated to send out Soriano in left, DeJesus in center, and Schierholtz in right. Sappelt and Campana are the likely candidates to be the 4th/5th OF, as Jackson is by FO edict destined to start the season repeating AAA. Soler and Szczur are both at least a year away, more for Soler.
There aren’t any candidates in the outfield for dropping off the 40-man, but there are a few trade options. Both DeJesus and Soriano both have (in my estimation) a 25% chance of being traded before Opening Day. However, unless Jackson comes up to start in Center (I like the idea), they’d need to find another outfielder anyway. The FO’s stance on Jackson kind of freezes up the outfield.
The infielder situation is similarly dire. You’ve got Valbuena, Castro, Barney, and Rizzo manning the 4 positions, with a contingency for Stewart to make the team. Lake, Watkins, and Villanueva are all far from contributing. Vitters is in the Jackson boat of being held back a year (another error, in my opinion). This situation affords no backups. If you think Stewart can play 3B productively, Valbuena can play multiple positions…but then you have to make room on the 40-man that you don’t have for infielders. This is another area that the Cubs will have to change.
Catching gives you your first easy cut: Steve Clevenger. He’s very likely to go unclaimed, so you can still have him for emergencies. He’s the clear-cut number 3 catcher on the team. You need the roster spot, and I don’t think there’s any real difference between Clevenger and Brenly. This is an easy cut.
Pitching is where things get difficult. The following are locks to make the team (barring trades):
Kyuji Fujikawa (what an awesome name)
The following will not make the team barring some huge shift:
Gerardo Concepcion (A-)
Alberto Cabrera (conversion to starter)
Michael Bowden (conversion to starter)
Lendy Castillo (AA)
Arodys Vizcaino (injury)
Rob Whitenack (AA)
Which leave the following in play:
We’ve already established that the Cubs need at least one infielder, and I’ve identified what I believe is an extremely likely cut (Clevenger) to make up that room. If Soriano or DeJesus or both are traded, we need a replacement outfielder or two (depending on the Jackson edict) and it will come from one of the bottom two lists.
I think the most likely cuts at this point are Chris Rusin and Gerardo Concepcion. Rusin probably won’t clear waivers, but he’s got a shot. I don’t think his upside is greater than, say, a Brooks Raley or Jeff Beliveau. Concepcion will clear waivers most likely, and I wouldn’t be that sad if he didn’t.
If I had to guess, I’d say the Cubs break camp with the following roster:
UTIL Undetermined Player Not on Current 40-man
13 position players
SR Undetermined Player Not on Current 40-man
40: Villanueva, Soler, Concepcion, Cabrera, Bowden, Baker (15-day DL), Castillo, Dolis, Whitenack, Lake, Vitters, Watkins, Szczur, 0-2 returns from Soriano trade/spring training.
60-day DL: Vizcaino
Off the 40: Clevenger, Rusin
That gives a spot or two to leeway, depending on the return from a Soriano/DeJesus/Garza trade, a spring training shocker, or if Vizcaino doesn’t need to go on the 60-day.
It’s fun to guess, but I’m sure free agency will do something to change this immeasurably.