Entering the 2013 season, the Chicago Cubs’ 25-man roster will look much the same as it did this year and will likely follow the same construction. The roster will be split between veterans and young talent, with more call-ups coming throughout the season. Fans should also not expect the Cubs to spend a lot of money this offseason. They will spend, of course; a very large bill will come from covering the majority of Alfonso Soriano’s contract in dealing him away, if not in September then during the offseason.
Except at third base, the incumbent starters in the infield should return. Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, and Starlin Castro will man first, second, and short respectively, while Welington Castillo opens as starter behind the plate.
Brett Jackson will be the opening day center fielder with David DeJesus moving to right on a permanent basis. Since it is likely that Soriano will be moved before the 2013 season begins, Dave Sappelt will take over in left.
Of the 13 position player spots on the 25-man roster, eight are covered by the previously mentioned starters. That leaves five spots remaining for which minor-league hopefuls and current backups will fight in spring training.
The Cubs will begin the season with Bryan LaHair and Tony Campana as backup outfielders–with Campana kept on the roster more for defense and speed–and Joe Mather as a backup jack-of-all-trades. Josh Vitters will begin the season on the major league roster as a spot player, but he will not have a defined role as anyone's go-to backup.
Juan Apodaca will likely get an invite to Spring Training for a chance to win the backup spot to Welington Castillo, but having one prospect backed up by another will be a risk that will not be good for the team.
The Cubs would be better served by going after a low-cost veteran free agent to use as Castillo’s backup for 2013 and 2014. There are choices that, as of today, will be available this offseason, not including those with a 2013 club or player option.
Of the available free agent catchers, there are four that the Cubs should consider signing as Castillo's backup.
Laird is currently on a one-year, $1 million contract with the Tigers and will be a free agent this offseason. Kelly Shoppach’s original one-year, $1.14 million deal with the Red Sox before being traded to the Mets is also up after this season.
Shoppach’s play thus far with the Mets might have already earned him a three- or four-year deal to return to the club in 2013 as the starter, but no decision has yet been made.
If the Cubs offer Laird or Shoppach a two-year, five- or six-million dollar deal with a club or player option for 2015 and it is accepted, that would be a steal.
It is, however, unlikely that either of those two veterans would be willing to accept backup roles to an unproven young catcher, no matter how talented he is—and on such a bad team, no less. In both cases, though, they may have played themselves into contracts the Cubs will not be willing to match.
If the Cubs are spurned by Laird and Shoppach, there are two more affordable options for them to consider in Ronny Paulino and Humberto Quintero.
Quintero had spent the majority of his career with the Houston Astros before being traded to Kansas City in March. He hasn’t posted a spectacular offensive line, but his career caught stealing percentage is above the MLB average. He is used to splitting time behind the plate, not being used solely in a backup role.
Paulino has served as the backup to Matt Wieters in 2012 for the Baltimore Orioles, only seeing action in 20 games thus far. His career offensive line is better than Quintero’s, but his career CS% is four percentage points lower.
Having a veteran catcher that is above average defensively mentoring Welington Castillo would benefit both Castillo and the club in the long run. That is why the backup catcher to start the 2013 season will be Humberto Quintero.
The Cubs’ next starting third baseman is not on their MLB roster. Until Javier Baez is brought up to play third or supplants Castro at short and moves him to third, the Cubs will platoon the responsibilities along the third base line.
Luis Valbuena will begin the 2013 season as one of those manning the hot corner, but the Cubs will need to sign or trade for another third baseman to work in conjunction with Valbuena.
The 2013 offseason will be chock full of serviceable free agent third basemen; the Cubs have to consider that an outright trade to fill the position will not be necessary.
Ty Wigginton, Scott Rolen, and Maicer Izturis will be available, with the likes of Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, and Placido Polanco’s availability resting on team or player options.
If Kevin Youkilis’ $13 million option is not picked up by the White Sox as expected, a reunification with Theo Epstein, on the North Side could be a perfect fit.
A stalwart with the Red Sox during Epstein’s time as GM, Youk is a hard-nosed baseball player who plays the game right and would automatically become a leader in a clubhouse full of young talent. He would know what his role with the team would be; on a two-year contract, Youk would bring a much-needed veteran presence.
Also, adding a player like Geoff Blum gives the Cubs the kind of player flexibility they had when Mark DeRosa was on the roster. Blum is a player who can play third, short, or second on those days when the starters get a day off.
Now that the team is set for position players, the pitching staff is still missing a few pieces.
Pitching is the area where the Cubs will see the most competition come Spring Training and the most activity this offseason.
Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija are the only pitchers you can pencil into next year’s starting rotation today. Travis Wood will most likely receive a spot on in the starting rotation behind Garza and the Shark.
Chris Rusin, among others, will be competing for a spot in the starting rotation, with the team trading away Chris Volstad or designating him for assignment. Nevertheless, if he doesn’t make the starting rotation, he will start the season in the bullpen. That said, expect him to be the fourth or fifth starter next year.
If Shawn Camp’s arm does not fall off between now and Opening Day, he will be in the bullpen along with Carlos Marmol, Michael Bowden, and James Russell. Blake Parker's late-season showing will earn him a spot in the bullpen to begin 2013 in Chicago.
The 2013 free agent pool is chock-full of veteran relief pitchers looking for work, and many at a reasonable price.
One reliever the Cubs will bring in will be a young, overlooked, and relatively cheap option in Mark Lowe currently with the Texas Rangers. The other remaining spot in the bullpen will be filled by minor league pitcher, Esmailin Caridad.
Even with all that, the Cubs are still short two starting pitchers. While there will be competition to fill the remaining two spots in the rotation, the Cubs will more likely need to turn to free agency to fill those vacancies.
The 2013 offseason looks void of any top-flight, elite pitching, but there is an abundance of serviceable pitchers who can win the team some ballgames.
Anibal Sanchez, Joe Blanton, Carl Pavano, Jonathan Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, Jason Marquis, Shaun Marcum, Colby Lewis, Hiroki Kuroda and Erik Bedard are some of those available to bring to the North Side.
Depending on their asking price, Cubs fans could see any of these pitchers behind Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija on opening day.
Of the options listed, Brandon McCarthy and Anibal Sanchez look the most attractive and most plausible as candidates to join the starting rotation.
Both are young enough to be factors with the club for the next four to five years. For the Cubs, though, adding Anibal Sanchez to the rotation would be a better option than McCarthy.
Sanchez’s ratio of groundouts to flyouts is 1.09, while McCarthy’s comes in at .95; making half of their starts in homer-friendly Wrigley Field, the Cubs will need a pitcher who can keep the ball down. Adding Anibal Sanchez to the club will bring in a solid starter to a pitching staff that could surprise some baseball observers in 2013.
So, what about the last remaining spot in the starting rotation?
The most surprising addition to the club this offseason will be to the starting rotation and will involve bringing a player back to where he is supposed to be.
Yes, Ryan Dempster will return to the Cubs for 2013 and 2014. You heard it here first.
Ryan Dempster’s involvement in Chicago’s charity community is similar to Kerry Wood’s, which is why the organization will bring him back to the club on a two year contract. Dempster’s contributions to the Cubs were not limited solely to the baseball field.
He was a great ambassador for the club, earning him a deserved return to Chicago on a two-year deal.
There you have it, the 2013 Chicago Cubs Opening Day Roster: