I'm sure that there are more than a handful of Cubs fans who are under the impression that the organization will acquire a few impact players this offseason, much like the post-2006 and post-2007 offseasons. However, the fact of the matter is that the team's current 40-man roster will need to be tweaked quite a bit before any additions can be made.
To begin with, only two players on the team's final 40-man roster can leave on their own volition: Aramis Ramirez and Xavier Nady.
Since Ramirez has already made it clear that he will be exercising the $14.6 million player option on his current contract, the only player that might be leaving via free agency is Nady, who the Cubs might need at first base.
After Ramirez exercises his player option, he will then be one of nine players with a major league contract in effect for 2011. The other eight are Alfonso Soriano ($18 million), Carlos Zambrano ($17.875 million), Ryan Dempster ($13.5 million), Kosuke Fukudome ($13.5 million), Carlos Silva ($6 million by Cubs, $5.5 million by Mariners), Marlon Byrd ($5.5 million), John Grabow ($4.8 million), and Jeff Samardzija ($2 million).
Of those nine players, only two players are completely without no-trade protection: Silva and Byrd.
Among the other players on the roster, seven are eligible for arbitration this offseason: Jeff Baker, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Koyie Hill, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, and Geovany Soto.
Sam Fuld, Jeff Gray, Micah Hoffpauir, and Jeff Samardzija are all out of options. Thomas Diamond, Bobby Scales, and Randy Wells each have the right to refuse an outright assignment to the minor leagues. Outfielder Brad Snyder has both the right to refuse outright assignment and no remaining options.
Together, that's 23 players (two catchers, four infielders, five outfielders, and twelve pitchers) who would need to make the active roster out of spring training to guarantee themselves a spot in the organization. And that's before you take into account players like Darwin Barney, Andrew Cashner, Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Blake DeWitt, James Russell, and 12 other players on the current 40-man roster.
It's also before you factor in some young players who could make their ascension to the big leagues in much the same way that James Russell and Tyler Colvin did this past year.
Minor League Pitcher of the Year Chris Archer, Minor League Player of the Year Brandon Guyer, Chris Carpenter, Brett Jackson, Jay Jackson, or Josh Vitters are all early candidates to make such a rise, but the first two (Archer and Guyer) might have the best start out of everyone that is currently off of the 40-man roster. That's, quite simply, due to the fact that they will almost certainly be added to the 40-man roster this offseason in order to avoid being picked up by another team in this year's Rule Five draft.
So what decisions need to be made this offseason, what moves could realistically happen, and who's going to be managing this team next year?
To find out, you'll have to read part two of this series, which covers the current managerial search.