MESA, Ariz. – The Chicago Cubs have 62 players at spring training barely four months after finishing with the franchise’s worst record in almost 50 years.
Yet heading into Sunday’s first full-squad workout at Fitch Park, they might have as few as three spots on their opening day roster in play, barring health setbacks over the next six weeks.
That would have been hard to predict in the days right after the Cubs completed a 101-loss season last October. The only two certainties to return from the rotation were Matt Garza, who hadn’t pitched since July because of a stress reaction in his right elbow, and Jeff Samardzija, who was shut down after 174 2/3 innings in his first full season as a big league starter.
The only other candidate in the organization the front office considered a viable option for the 2013 rotation was left-hander Travis Wood, still trying to stick in the majors for a full season.
But a bustling offseason, filled mostly with mid-level and smaller acquisitions, has put the rebuilding Cubs in the unlikely position of having one of the most predictable rosters in the majors as spring training hits full stride across Florida and Arizona.
You’re probably looking at two outfield spots, or a super-utility guy and an outfield spot, and other than that, it’s pretty cut and dry, manager Dale Sveum said about his position players.
On the pitching side, he projected just one bullpen opening.
How did that happen? Mostly because the Cubs signed nine major league free agents from outside the organization across every position area.
Granted, that includes third baseman Ian Stewart, an arbitration-eligible player who was non-tendered before re-signing for one year at $2 million.
Four more pre-arbitration level players under club control include Wood and three position players who enter camp with starting jobs: catcher Welington Castillo, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney.
I think we’re going to be a lot better than people think, said right-hander Scott Feldman, the $6 million free agent Sveum said will join Garza, Samardzija and newcomer Edwin Jackson in the rotation.
That leaves just one opening, which is expected to be filled by right-hander Scott Baker, who returns after a year missed because of Tommy John surgery.