Having just done a new podcast episode with our favorite jabronis (jabronii?), and with the Wild Card series concluded by the time most of you actually read this shit, I figured it would be good to take a look at the roster as it stands now and figure out exactly how many spots we can realistically expect to be open after protecting the Rule 5 eligible prospects we actually care about and jettisoning the roster guys we could just as easily forget about. I think 60-day injured list guys need to be added back to the roster after the World Series anyway, so the culling is going to be pretty bloody.
As was said in the pod, I believe most teams have a roster crunch issue anyway so there might be a chance a lot of the unprotected guys can slip through the cracks and stay in the Cubs system, but who the hell knows. Also, per the Cots trackers, the Cubs only have about $90MM on the payroll prior to arbitration raises and trades/signings, so there’s plenty of space to add, so this little exercise seeks to determine how many free agents can be comfortably signed given who absolutely must be protected from Rule 5.
Trimming the fat from the 40-man
You can hunt down the Cubs 40-man roster on the official team site or at Arizona Phil’s repository of way too much information (all of it good) on The Cub Reporter. If I don’t mention the name, just assume that they’re free agents (Willson Contreras), about to be released anyway (Jason Heyward), or just someone I don’t care too much about. Let’s do this in tiers:
Keep/Stay: These are guys who are auto-renewals, arbitration eligible, or on contract prior to opt-out that are obviously going to stick around because there’s no reason to get rid of them (we’ll get into those later).
- Adbert Alzolay
- Javier Assad
- Jeremiah Estrada
- Kyle Hendricks (coming off the 60-day)
- Codi Heuer (coming off the 60-day but maybe back on again pending TJS recovery, but let’s just assume this spot is taken)
- Brandon Hughes
- Caleb Kilian (had his hiccups but I don’t think they can get rid of him)
- Brailyn Marquez
- Adrian Sampson
- Justin Steele
- Marcus Stroman
- Keegan Thompson
- Erich Uelmen
- Hayden Wesneski
- Miguel Amaya (dude is sadly always injured but I don’t think they’re going to give up on him yet)
- Yan Gomes
- P.J. Higgins
- Nico Hoerner
- Nick Madrigal
- Alexander Canario (he’s Rule 5 eligible so they’re not removing him from the roster)
- Ian Happ (last year of arbitration eligibility)
- Christopher Morel
- Seiya Suzuki
That represents 23 spots that I believe aren’t going anywhere for now.
These are guys who are probably game-time decisions, they could be non-tendered and re-added to the roster after the chaos of the Winter Meetings and/or the whole non-roster/invite to Spring Training stuff.
- Mark Leiter Jr.
- Ethan Roberts (coming back from TJS as well, I’m unsure what to make of him since he pretty much had the few meh appearances and then was just done)
- Michael Rucker
- Rowan Wick
- Brad Wieck (I have no idea what’s going to happen with him but when he was healthy he was certainly very intriguing)
- David Bote (he has a couple more guaranteed years and then I think they’ll just buy him out, but he’s got decent power if he doesn’t whiff and he can play a bunch of positions)
- Zach McKinstry (I think he can be passed through waivers but feel like he’s probably worth keeping)
- Patrick Wisdom (power is good of course, but that K-rate is scary)
- Franmil Reyes (I don’t know if he’ll ever be scary Franmil again and feel like the Cubs could risk losing him if they removed him from the roster)
That’s 9 more spots, for a total of 32, so that leaves us eight spots to play with to protect prospects from Rule 5 and to sign free agents with by early December.
The Rule 5 Eligible Guys
I do this with the caveat that I have very little clue about prospects these days, and am only relying on AZ Phil’s list of Rule 5 Eligible Cubs prospects as well as MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the top system prospects. My non-expert rule of thumb is that I’m going to protect anyone in the top 10 rankings and then leave the rest to the whims of the baseball gods. I think the best news is that certain guys like Pete Crow-Armstrong and Owen Caissie, whom you’ve most likely heard of even if you’ve paid less attention than I have, are not Rule 5 eligible so they do not have to be added to the roster for a while yet. Please also note that AZ Phil has indicated the players who can be protected on the I-Cubs reserve list such that they may only be selected during the Major League phase, if at all (hope not).
Keep at all costs
Given their rankings and what I know about them, these are the prospects that I believe are locks to be added to the roster before the November deadline per AZ Phil’s article.
These two have made the most headlines of the Rule 5 eligible prospects in the top 30, despite Davis’ long time off due to injury, so these seem like no-brainers.
- Ben Brown (they just got him in trade, but unsure if he’s made enough of an impact to be seriously considered in the Rule 5 draft)
- Kohl Franklin (his name keeps coming up in prospect write-ups but I feel like his inconsistency might keep him from being selected, also he’s only up to South Bend so shrug emoji)
- Ryan Jensen (same as Kohl above, except he’s gotten to Tennessee)
Given the lists from above, we’re looking at anywhere between 34 to 37 spots taken up on the roster, with the remaining spots open to select Rule 5 guys or add free agents. Feel free to tell me how clueless I am in the comments but I feel like for someone who hasn’t really paid all that much attention, this is probably close to what most would say.