Analyzing the Cubs Opening Day Roster

The Cubs celebrate after winning the 2016 World Series.

The Cubs celebrate after winning the 2016 World Series.

With the Cubs first game of the 2017 regular season just three days away, the 25-man Opening Day roster is pretty much set barring any last minute changes.

There aren’t any major surprises other than the Cubs carrying only seven relief pitchers with Brian Duensing missing the cut for now – Duensing has been dealing with a back injury during Spring Training and will start the season out on the DL.

Here’s a look at the 25 players, broken down by position, that will be with the Cubs on opening day in St. Louis this Sunday evening.

Catchers: (2)

  • #40 Willson Contreras (2nd year with Cubs)
  • #47 Miguel Montero (3rd year with Cubs)
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Miguel Montero was a big part of the Cubs World Series run last season. He also gives the Cubs an added veteran presence in the dugout.

Gone are the days of the Cubs carrying three catchers as “Grandpa” David Ross has danced his way into retirement. Contreras is expendable as he can also play left field if needed.

Infielders: (6)

  • #9 Javier Baez (4th year with Cubs)
  • #17 Kris Bryant (3rd year with Cubs)
  • #2 Tommy La Stella (3rd year with Cubs)
  • #44 Anthony Rizzo (6th year with Cubs)
  • #27 Addison Russell (3rd year with Cubs)
  • #18 Ben Zobrist (2nd year with Cubs)
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La Stella and Matt Szczur will battle for the last position player spot once Brian Duensing comes back from the DL

The only surprise here is Tommy La Stella – it wasn’t certain whether the Cubs would go with him or Szczur for the final fielder spot but they went ahead and chose both of them as the Cubs go with an extra bat over an extra relief arm. It’s a strong possibility that La Stella could spend some time in Iowa as a part of the Triple-A team – something that he had refused to do in the past.

Outfielders: (5)

  • #5 Albert Almora Jr. (2nd year with Cubs)
  • #22 Jason Heyward (2nd year with Cubs)
  • #30 Jon Jay (1st year with Cubs)
  • #12 Kyle Schwarber (3rd year with Cubs)
  • #20 Matt Szczur (4th year with Cubs)
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Second-year man Albert Almora will likely split time playing in center with newcomer Jon Jay 

Jon Jay and Albert Almora will more than likely split time at center field this season while Heyward will play right and Schwarber in left. Szczur makes the Cubs opening roster but could potentially be used as a trade piece later in the season – he has no minor league options remaining so if placed on waivers, he could be lost to another team.

Starting Pitchers: (5)

  • #37 Brett Anderson (1st year with Cubs)
  • #49 Jake Arrieta (5th year with Cubs)
  • #28 Kyle Hendricks (4th year with Cubs)
  • #41 John Lackey (2nd year with Cubs)
  • #34 Jon Lester (3rd year with Cubs)
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Kyle Hendricks, 2016 NL ERA leader, will be the fifth man in the rotation in 2017.

With Jason Hammel departing toward Kansas City, the Cubs signed former Dodger Brett Anderson to take over as the 4th starter in the rotation. The biggest surprise is that 2016 NL ERA leader Kyle Hendricks will be the fifth man in the rotation – following Lester, Arrieta, Lackey and Anderson.

Relief Pitchers: (7)

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Mike Montgomery will likely play the role of long reliever for the Cubs this season after losing the starting pitcher role to Brett Anderson. 

  • #71 Wade Davis (1st year with Cubs)
  • #6 Carl Edwards Jr. (3rd year with Cubs)
  • #52 Justin Grimm (5th year with Cubs)
  • #38 Mike Montgomery (2nd year with Cubs)
  • #56 Hector Rondon (5th year with Cubs)
  • #46 Pedro Strop (5th year with Cubs)
  • #19 Koji Uehara (1st year with Cubs)

 

The Cubs will choose to go with only seven relievers early in the season with newly-acquired Brian Duensing starting off the season on the DL with a back injury. A few younger players such as Felix Pena and/or Pierce Johnson could potentially get their chances at a few bullpen appearances later in the season.

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The Wait is Almost Over

Hey Chicago, whaddya say? Let’s get this season started already.

I must make a confession.

I love this game more than life itself. I’ve watched baseball since the tender age of 6 during Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s epic home run race of 1998.

I have been to nearly 20 major league stadiums and quite a few minor league parks as well. I spent seven months working for a Class-A ballclub in a town named Lynchburg, Virginia. I saw every pitch of every home game with the exception of one weekend in May thanks to a concussion I suffered while helping the rest of the office pull the tarp during the last of the five rainiest days I have ever witnessed in my life.

If I could calculate the amount of time I have spent watching baseball on TV, I’m almost 99.9% certain that the figure would be about 1 million hours over the span of 19 years (I couldn’t watch baseball as a baby…I don’t think).

Acknowledging how much I adore the game of baseball, I have one terrifying, earth-shattering confession to make.

I hate Spring Training.

Now before you make any conclusions about my right to be a proper baseball fan, know that I indeed have seen Spring Training once in my life in 2015. That year was particularly amazing due to the ridiculous performance put on by the future Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant. He hit the highest home run I have ever seen in my 24 years of life.

I stood maybe a few feet away from Jorge Soler and Dexter Fowler, two towering outfielders that made me look and feel like an ant staring up at a pair of skyscrapers.

That spring in 2015 is easily one of my favorite vacations of all time.

But that being said, I still hate Spring Training.

It’s nice to see the first at-bats of the spring when the players are back taking their first competitive cuts. I smile each and every time I see the start of the games.

But by the time the 3rd inning rolls around, I’m likely passed out on my couch dreaming of champagne showers and parades down Michigan Avenue before being startled awake by the frenzied barking of my wannabe watchdog Collie-mixed-with-something-that-barks Jasmine.

It’s not that I don’t respect the process of crafting the new rosters, evaluating the minor leaguers and stacking them up against the field of competition around the league. I just don’t have any patience for it.

When spring rolls around, it’s equally the best and worst feeling in the world. On the one hand, you get to see the sun along with the return of mild to not subzero temperatures. But on the other hand, baseball is still one month away and Passover is coming up. Ugh.

Sure okay, fill out your brackets, fine. Make your office pools and your various Facebook posts and tweets about your bracket being dismantled by the likes of eight-seed Cuyahoga State knocking out your Final Four teams Kansas, Drake, Nicki and Wiz Khalifa. Blah blah blah, rinse, lather, repeat.

It’s all fine and good having other sports to watch and believe me, I love filling out brackets as much as the next guy.

But for a baseball junkie like myself, there’s nothing to preoccupy my time. Not counting Netflix or Xbox, of course. But again, not much to care about when the baseball isn’t being competitively carried out.

Luckily there was some reprieve this year thanks to the World Baseball Classic. Watching the best players from around the globe battling for the pride of their home countries is always cool to watch.

It still isn’t baseball, though. It’s not the Cubs against those dastardly red birds from Hell. There’s no Schwarbombs or Bryant blasts or Rizzo tarp gymnastics. There are no walk-off grand slams, no first-pitch-of-his-career dingers, no no-no’s, no on-field mobs, no pennants or World Series droughts ending.

It’s all just the warm-up for the long, 162-game soap opera.

It’s necessary, but it’s boring.

Like every other preseason in every other sport, baseball takes the proper time to ease everyone back into the game. To the chagrin of us pesky fans, there is no on-off switch to kickstart the season at full speed.

But thankfully, the end is nigh.

We’re under 10 days away from the beginning of something no human being has witnessed in more than a century: a Chicago Cubs defending-World Series champion season.

In just a few days, the fun really begins.

I’m stoked. I’m anxious. I can’t possibly take anymore!

But alas, I have no way of making the days move quicker.  I can distract myself until the time finally arrives. But, like the rest of you, I have to patiently wait.

Then again, we Cubs fans know a thing or two about patience, don’t we?

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Adam Cipinko @Cipinko5

Rotation and Bullpen is in place for 2017 season 

The season is almost here and Cubs Nation couldn’t be more excited for the first pitch of the 2017 season. 

The Cubs bring back an almost identical starting rotation this year with only one change. Jason Hammel signed a deal with the Kansas City Royals this past offseason. The rotation is as followed: 

  1. Jon Lester 
  2. Jake Arrieta 
  3. John Lackey 
  4. Brett Anderson 
  5. Kyle Hendricks

Brett Anderson beat out Mike Montgomery for a spot in the rotation, which doesn’t seem to bother a lot of fans. Montgomery was very consistent being a bullpen guy for the Northsiders last season. Anderson signed with the Cubs this offseason. He spent last year with the LA Dodgers but only pitched in four games due to a back injury. 

Brett Anderson in Mesa this spring

The bullpen for the Cubs didn’t change much either. They did part ways with Travis Wood, who also went to the Kansas City Royals and Aroldis Chapman went back to the Big Apple. However, the Cubs got arguably the most consistent closer in a trade that sent Jorge Soler, guess where, to the Kansas City Royals and received Wade Davis in return. 

Cubs new closer Wade Davis


The Cubs do have some trade pieces in, Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario if they decide to acquire another starter or some more bullpen arms. 

Why is Hendricks the number five starter? Well I personally think that he feeds the most off of everyone else in that rotation, making him a silent and deadly weapon. He did lead the league  in ERA last season. He will continue to be as consistent as last year and hopefully be in the running for the Cy Young again. 

The matchup for the first game of the season, which is 10 days away, has been set. It will be Jon Lester vs Carlos Martinez. 

Michael Allen mike_allen1218

Managing Expectations

Cubs fans are all too familiar with the saying, “wait until next year,” and while they will not have to deal with that, the Cubs will have a target on their back this season. In spring training last year, Joe Maddon’s phrase, “embrace the target” was discussed often. I argue that this phrase will come into play even more this year because the team is at the center of the MLB discussion more than last year.

There are some real key questions looming over this team as spring training comes to a conclusion. First, who will be the 5th starter? There are two main candidates, Mike Montgomery and recently acquired Brett Anderson. In the last couple seasons, Cubs starters have logged in some cases over 200 innings a season and in preparation, the team acquired Eddie Butler from Colorado. Yes, his numbers are not impressive, but who having pitched in Colorado can’t say that? The main reason for the Anderson and Butler acquisitions are to provide a backup in case Jake Arrieta needs to skip a start due to fatigue. It is also important to note that Arrieta and John Lackey are due to be free agents after this season.

The splash free agency deal from 2016 signing Jason Heyward to a $100+ million deal did not result in a good season at the plate. In the offseason, Heyward moved to Arizona to work with assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske to work on his swing. Part of his adjustment revolved around his hands being in a better hitting position in anticipation of a fast ball. Last season, Heyward saw a higher percentage of fastballs than in any other season since he made his MLB debut. Despite his ability to work his way into a predictable fast ball count, he often hit a weak ground ball to the infield or ended an at bat with a K. In his first year with the Cubs, Heyward only mustered a .230 batting average, but with his gold glove defense, those bad numbers are somewhat offset.

The biggest surprise from the Cubs World Series win was that the starting rotation stayed afloat. What’s better, 4 of their starters won 15 or more games and 4 of them made 30 or more starts. Those numbers are the definition of consistency when many other teams go through twice as many or more starters in a 6 month season. However, will that success continue into 2017? Perhaps that is the reason why Maddon is looking to insert a 6th starter.

The next question looming over the team is who will be the main catcher? Wilson Contreras made his Cubs debut in the middle of the season and caught more than half of the games from that point forward. How will Contreras be able to adjust to being Jon Lester’s main catcher since David Ross retired? Add to the mix, the “emergency catcher” Kyle Schwarber as he is returning to his catcher duties after his injury catching only 2-3 days a week. Miguel Montero is likely to be catcher in Arrieta starts, but besides that is anyone’s guess.

With Dexter Fowler gone, the decision of who will be the leadoff hitter has been made and that is Schwarber. Yes, he is not a traditional leadoff man, but his presence as the DH in Game 6 and 7 paid dividends. With the many rule changes, the leadoff hitter position has become less of speed and stealing bases and more of patience and running the opposing pitchers pitch count in the first inning.

As with the starting rotation, will the bullpen hold up? Aroldis Chapman and Travis Wood are gone but the team has a proven closer Wade Davis, who played for Maddon with the Rays. Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop will not be coming in late in the game but in the 6th or 7th inning and for Strop, that could play to his benefit. Some relief pitchers simply do not excel as much in very high leverage situations and I think this applies to Strop.

I am not a fan of predictions considering in a 6 month span, so much happens that can alter a prediction. With that said, I do not see a team in the National League that can beat the Cubs right now. The only possibilities that could de-throne the champs are the Giants, maybe the Nationals and the Dodgers. Before fans talk about a repeat, lets soak in the moment and not get ahead of ourselves.

Ryan Hackman @rhackman_89

Northside’s Bold Predictions 

There are close to two weeks left of Spring Training and we are ready to dish out our predictions for the year. We’ll ll do both the American League and National League MVP, Cy Young, Rookie and Manager of the Year, as well as the World Series matchup.  


American League MVP Predictions: 

Gabriella: CF Mike Trout (LAA)

Michael: CF Mike Trout (LAA)

National League MVP Predictions:

Gabriella: 1B Anthony Rizzo (CHC)

Michael: SS Corey Seager (LAD)

American League Cy Young Predictions:

Gabriella: P Chris Sale (BOS)

Michael: P Aaron Sanchez (TOR)

National League Cy Young Predictions:

Gabriella: P Noah Syndergaard (NYM)

Michael: P Clayton Kershaw (LAD)

AL Rookie of the Year Predictions: 

Gabriella: OF Aaron Judge (NYY) 

Michael: OF Andrew Benintendi (CWS)

NL Rookie of the Year Predictions: 

Gabriella: SS Dansby Swanson (ATL)

Michael: SS Dansby Swanson (ATL)

AL Manager of the Year Predictions:

Gabriella: Joe Girardi (NYY) 

Michael: John Farrell (BOS) 

NL Manager of the Year Predictions:

Gabriella: Joe Maddon (CHC)

Michael: Bud Black (COL) 

Lastly, here are our picks for the Fall Classic: 

World Series Matchup: 

Gabriella: Boston Red Sox vs Chicago Cubs

Michael: Boston Red Sox vs Chicago Cubs

We aren’t psychic and have crystal balls that we see the future in, these predictions are just that, predictions. 

Let us know what you think, do you agree or disagree! 

Gabriella Garcia & Michael Allen @gabybabyyy @mike_allen1218

Inside Look: Ian Happ

Spring Training is in full effect and everyone has high hopes, again, for the Chicago Cubs. People know the house hold names such as, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jon Lester. However, this spring there are a select group of young Cubs to keep an eye on this season like, Oscar de la Cruz, Eddy Julio Martinez, and Ian Happ.

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Spring Training star, Ian Happ

Happ, a 22 year old, has made a huge name for himself in Mesa this year, how did he become this superstar?

Happ played college baseball at the University of Cincinnati. In three season while playing for the Bearcats, he had posted a batting average of .337, a slugging percentage of .472, and an on-base percentage of .540 while playing in 162 games. He hit 25 career homers for UC. During his three year tenure, Happ played for the Cape Cod League two years in a row.

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Happ played college ball at University of Cincinnati

The 2015 MLB Draft was loaded with future stars such as, Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, and Andrew Benintendi. Happ was selected ninth overall. After that, he moved through the Cubs minor league system. Starting his professional career with the Eugene Emeralds, then was promoted to the South Bend Cubs. He transitioned from an outfielder to a second baseman when he started the 2016 season with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He ended the ’16 season with the Tennessee Smokies.

ESPN’s baseball guru, Keith Law, ranked the Cubs top prospects. Here are the Top Ten:

  1. OF Eloy Jimenez
  2. 2B Ian Happ
  3. RHP Dylan Cease
  4. OF Albert Almora Jr.
  5. RHP Oscar de la Cruz
  6. RHP Trevor Clifton
  7. 3B Jeimer Candelario
  8. OF Eddy Julio Martinez
  9. RHP Thomas Hatch
  10. RHP Jose Albertos

Happ also made Law’s Top 100 Prospect list, coming in at 63rd overall. The Cubs went from the fourth best minor league system to 18th, but they won the World Series, so it’s okay.

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Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ connects for a single against the Seattle Mariners during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Friday, March 10, 2017, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

This spring Happ has made his name well-known. He’s had multi-hit games, monster home runs, plus he is greatly improving at second base. Here’s how his spring breaks down. In 3o at bats he has 14 hits, six runs, three home runs, and nine RBIs. Along with a 1.351 ops, a .467 average and a .484 obp… #FireEmoji

 

However, where does he fit in the Cubs roster?

The outfield is quite crowded, Schwarber, Heyward, Jay, Zobrist, Almora Jr, and you can even throw Bryant in the mix as well. Second base is also covered, the quick tagging Baez and Zobrist will most likely man the middle infield. Happ clearly can be a utility man and learn from Zobrist. Joe Maddon loves the ability to move players around during different situations that play out in games. On the other hand, the Cubs can use Happ as a trade piece much like they did with Gleyber Torres to get flame thrower Aroldis Chapman.

Whatever happens with Happ in the future, right now he is the one player to keep an eye on this season.

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Michael Allen @mike_allen1218

Wrigley Weekly Wrap-up

Arrieta

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Jake Arrieta had a few butterflies before his first spring outing this past Monday and they had nothing to do with the fact that this might be his last season with the Cubs. Arrieta will be a free agent after this season, and he’s trying to keep the focus on baseball, not his contract status. “The 25, 24, 30 other guys in the clubhouse don’t need to hear about my contract,” Arrieta said after pitching two innings against the Angels in a 13-10 Cubs victory. “It’s just a distraction. If we have a conversation about it, then great. If not, that’s fine, too. I try to keep the focus on the team and go from there.” He didn’t take the mound feeling sentimental about this possibly being his last spring with the Cubs. “It’s not something I sit down and think about at length,” Arrieta said. “It’s a situation many players have been in in the past. They’ve dealt with it. It might not be something fun to talk about. I understand it’s a circumstance of where I’m at in my career. The time is coming to a point where either a deal gets done or I go to free agency. The focus needs to be for the next eight months being a Chicago Cub and trying to do the best job I can individually and help my guys be the best they can be.”

“It’s going to work out well for him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The biggest thing is that he has a free and clear mind when he goes out to the mound. I think he will. He knows he has our support. … Let’s hope it works out well for him and the Cubs.”

Arrieta gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits, including a solo home run by the Angels’ Jefry Marte in the second, in his two innings. “I feel great,” Arrieta said. “I still feel the same way I felt when I was in my early 20s. You hear age is just a number. I believe it is. Thirty-one doesn’t sound great, but I still feel great. That’s all I’m worried about.”

In 2015, Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award, winning 22 games and posting a 1.77 ERA in 33 starts. Last year, he went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA. “The biggest difference for me last year was command of his fastball,” Maddon said. “If he had had the command of his fastball last year that he had the year before, then [2016] would’ve been pretty significant.”

An increase in walks in 2016 from the previous year bothered Arrieta, who did lead the NL in batting average on balls in play (.242). He’s got a few more starts in Arizona to work on his mechanics. “For the first one, the result wasn’t exactly what I would’ve liked, but getting the work in is the only thing that matters at this point,” Arrieta said.

Maddon

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According to a report, Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s salary will get a boost each of the last three years of his deal from $5 million to $6 million. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman first reported the salary increase. Maddon told Chicago media on Thursday that he didn’t know he had that clause in his contract. “I guess in some way it’s an honor to be considered in that position, but also it’s a function of where I work, too,” Maddon said.

“Honestly, when this all came about, my first thought was the more you could make, the more you could give back,” said Maddon, who is involved in charitable endeavors, including his Respect 90 Foundation.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told the Chicago Sun-Times that it’s the kind of bonus they’re willing to pay. “I think with an escalator of that type, it’s the kind of escalator you hope you’re paying,” Hoyer said. “I’m glad we are.”

Montgomery

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Left-hander Mike Montgomery logged two innings and gave up one run with a strikeout in Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the Mariners, as the competition for the fifth starter spot continues. “Right now, it’s just about health,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Thursday’s Cactus League contest at Sloan Park. “They all look really good, they’ve all been throwing the ball well.”

Montgomery and Brett Anderson are being considered for the fifth spot, although Anderson may need to stay in the rotation because of his back. He missed nearly all of last season following back surgery one year ago in March. Anderson gave up two runs on five hits in two innings of relief after Montgomery exited on Thursday.

“Anderson has been more of a starter, but ‘Monty’ has been amenable or able to relieve,” Maddon said. “We’ll see how it plays out. To have those two guys competing for the No. 5 spot is a nice problem to have. Both could be solid — not No. 5 starters, but way better than that [on another team].

“When you look at those names, and you go [Jon Lester], [John Lackey], [Jake Arrieta], [Kyle Hendricks] and then go Anderson and Montgomery, that’s pretty solid stuff.”

ICYMI

The Cubs assigned six pitchers to Minor League camp to trim the roster to 60. The six included Andury Acevedo, Gerardo Concepcion, Daniel Corcino, Manny Parra, Fernando Rodriguez and Ryan Williams. Maddon said the six will get more work in Minor League games than they were in the Cactus League games.

Former Cubs pitcher Bill Hands, who won 20 games for Chicago in 1969, died Thursday in Florida at age 76. Hands, nicknamed “Froggy,” pitched 11 seasons in the Major Leagues, seven of them with the Cubs. He also spent time with the Giants, Twins and Rangers.

The Cubs announced on Thursday that they have agreed to contract terms with 25 players on their 40-man roster with between zero and three years of Major League service time, including infielder Kris Bryant, who reportedly signed a $1.05 million contract for 2017, setting a record deal for a second-year player. Terms of the contracts were not disclosed by the club. Among the 25 players are a number who made meaningful contributions to the Cubs’ World Series title run in 2016, including pitchers Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery and Rob Zastryzny, catcher Willson Contreras, infielders Javier Baez, Bryant, Tommy La Stella and Addison Russell, and outfielders Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber and Matt Szczur. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported on Sunday that Russell will net $644,000 on a one-year deal for 2017 before becoming arbitration-eligible next offseason. Heyman also reported that the ’17 salary for Bryant, the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year and ’16 NL MVP, could equal or perhaps pass Mike Trout’s $1 million salary earned in 2014 — the highest amount for any pre-arbitration player.

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Gabriella Garcia @gabybabyyy