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updated: 3/26/2014 9:28 PM

With flurry of moves, Cubs final roster taking shape

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  • Things happened in a hurry with the Cubs' roster Wednesday, even minutes after manager Rick Renteria said there was "no rush" on making final cuts.

    Things happened in a hurry with the Cubs' roster Wednesday, even minutes after manager Rick Renteria said there was "no rush" on making final cuts.
    Associated Press


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Things happened in a hurry with the Cubs' roster Wednesday, even minutes after manager Rick Renteria said there was "no rush" on making final cuts.

Technically, Renteria's right. The Cubs will play exhibition games through Saturday before moving on to Pittsburgh and Monday's regular-season opener.

But the roster quickly moved toward taking shape after Renteria's early-morning media briefing.

The upshot is that veteran John Baker has made the team as backup catcher to Welington Castillo. Baker, a nonroster man, beat out George Kottaras and Eli Whiteside. In addition, infielder Donny Murphy was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers.

The Cubs acquired Kottaras from Kansas City last November and it looked like he'd be the successor to Dioner Navarro, who did excellent work last year in backing up Castillo.

However, Baker came in on a minor league contract and seized the job.

"Bake worked really well this spring," Renteria said. "I think he kind of just earned a spot."

The 33-year-old Baker, a Kane County Cougar in 2003, played in 16 games with the Padres last year. He also has major-league experience with the Marlins. A left-handed batter, Baker has a lifetime line of .258/.342/.364 in the major leagues.

Whiteside, 34, will start the season at Class AAA Iowa after coming to camp as a nonroster man. He was the longtime backup catcher for the Giants.

"Those are two guys that have a tremendous amount of experience, are known for being very good receivers, blocking," Renteria said. "Bake a few years ago had a pretty nice season offensively, too. They all bring their different aspects, but I think they all do receive well between Bake and Eli."

The backup catcher's spot is one of the most under-the-radar, yet important, jobs on the team. The player who usually fills that spot is a veteran who understands that he's not going to play every day. He also is needs to be a good handler of pitchers and a mentor to the starter, if he's a young player such as Castillo.

"The transition to a backup catcher is always really important, the conversations that they have," Renteria said. "All three of them have done it. They all have that. The question is do they have a good relationship with all the pitchers? More than likely, yes. They've all had that role in the past. That's a plus for all of them."

Another roster logjam cleared slightly with Murphy's exit. The move more than likely means that speedy Emilio Bonifacio has a clear track toward making the team after coming to camp as a nonroster man -- the 40-man roster currently stands at 38.

Mike Olt, who started at third base Wednesday in the Cubs' 14-4 loss to the Diamondbacks, also may make the team, with Luis Valbuena being the backup. Olt went 1-for-4 with a double and 2 RBI. He has a line of .275/.321/.608 with 5 homers and 12 RBI.

Veteran Ryan Roberts still is in camp, and he's got an outside shot.

In the outfield, Ryan Kalish continues to hang in there as a nonroster man, but Bonifacio's ability to play the outfield may spell trouble for Kalish, to say nothing of the Cubs needing to open 40-man spots for Baker and Bonifacio. Chris Coghlan also is in camp on a minor league deal, and he started Wednesday's game.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the Cubs' front office will pull off another deal or two.

Either way, it's going to the end of spring training, and cuts are never fun for any manager.

"I think all the decisions are always tough because everybody's going out there and giving you the best," Renteria said. "Obviously at some point guys are disappointed, but you do the best you can to make sure you keep it in perspective."

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