Why Cubs will need more roster flexibility
When it comes to the Cubs' opening-night roster, it's important to remember two numbers: 12 and 3.
Like most teams, the Cubs are likely to break spring training with a 12-man pitching staff. It wasn't that long ago when 11 was the norm, giving National League managers an extra bench man.
However, 3 will become an even more important number because the Cubs look ready to go north with three catchers: Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo.
Although they had a competent No. 1 catcher in Castillo, the Cubs added Montero and Ross this off-season. Since the Cubs aren't going to give away Castillo, they'll go with three even though manager Joe Maddon said early in camp that he'd have to be "creative" to make that work.
The Cubs roster also will be affected by whether they keep second baseman Javier Baez on the major-league roster or option him to Class AAA Iowa. Baez entered Saturday with a line of .100/.129/.200 with 1 home run and 11 strikeouts in 30 at-bats.
Assuming they keep three catchers, they'll want flexibility among the remaining position players, virtually assuring a spot for the versatile Arismendy Alcantara and making it likely infielder Tommy La Stella makes the team.
The rest of the position-player makeup of the Cubs roster looks like this:
First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro are mainstays. If third-base prospect Kris Bryant opens the season at Iowa as expected, it opens the way for Mike Olt to start.
Alcantara, who also can play center field, likely would get the nod at second base if Baez is sent down, with La Stella serving as utility infielder.
Manager Joe Maddon reiterated this past week that Baez is not a lock to make the team.
"Of course, there's a chance he doesn't make the team," Maddon told reporters. "The entitlement program doesn't exist. Everything has to be earned. He has things he has to learn how to do yet. He shows signs of brilliance at times. To this point, he's had a lot of good at-bats and hit some balls hard. Then he'll show the out-of-control swing that bothers him a little bit, and I think it bothers the fans more than it bothers me."
Things look crowded here, especially with right-handed hitting Matt Szczur pushing to make the roster with a strong spring. Szczur, who got into 33 big-league games last year, entered Saturday with a line of .360/.439/.840 with 3 home runs, a double and a triple.
Dexter Fowler is a fixture in center field and in the leadoff spot. Jorge Soler has had a strong spring in right, and he could end up being a force. Left field looks to be a platoon with left-handed hitting Chris Coghlan and right-handed hitting Chris Denorfia.
That could leave the final position-player spot to a battle among Szczur, Ryan Sweeney and Junior Lake. Sweeney, a left-handed batter, is a veteran entering the second season of a two-year contract. He has battled injuries for much of his career.
Left-handed ace Jon Lester missed Saturday's start with fatigue in his pitching arm. However, he told reporters he has experienced this "dead-arm" period before.
"It's something we all go through," Lester said Saturday, as quoted by cubs.com. "Usually mine is either a little bit early or later (in spring). I'm sure Joe (Maddon) said if this was during the season, it wouldn't be an issue. Since we have time, we have the opportunity to set back and let it be for a start and kind of get back to normal.
"It's nothing out of the ordinary. It's one of those things that you have to go through to understand. It doesn't feel like anything. It's more total body deadness and everybody puts a label on it as far as 'dead arm.' It's nothing to be alarmed about."
Lester is scheduled as the opening-night starter against the Cardinals on April 5.
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