After the past few seasons and even going back to whatever 2020 was, it’s nice to actually write about and care about the decisions the Cubs are doing. Maybe they won’t be as good as some of us think this season, but at least the expectations of trying to win are back because let me tell you, a year ago I would not have cared for a second trying to figure out who the last guy on the bench would be on Opening Day.
But hey, the mini rebuild, the re-tooling, whatever you want to qualify the past few years are done with. So, who is going to be the 26th man on the Cubs Opening Day roster? There are always going to be dark horse candidates who break out in different times during spring training, but what’s interesting about left-handed hitting utility man Miles Mastrobuoni is that the decision to keep him on the roster may be more about the bullpen than how a few of the position players are performing.
This isn’t to say that Mastrobuoni isn’t showing good things on the field. He stepped in for Nico Hoerner, who was scratched with biceps tightness on Thursday, and drove in a couple runs against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Mastrobuoni added two walks as he went 1-for-2, with a pair of RBI and runs scored on the afternoon.
The sample size alone doesn’t mean anything for Mastrobuoni in spring training. He’s 4-for-12, with five walks, as the 27-year-old was away for the majority of March playing for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. The case for Mastrobuoni making the Opening Day roster for the Cubs is more about the overall flexibility on the 40-man roster, needing to open spots in the bullpen and Seiya Suzuki’s quicker than expected recovery from his oblique strain.
Let’s try to break it down.
Many of us thought that outfielder Mike Tauchman would be a sure thing on the bench after Suzuki went down, but in the past few days the Cubs have seen Suzuki make faster progress that could mean he may only miss a couple weeks in April. There was a feeling initially that Suzuki could be sidelined closer to four weeks to begin the season.
So, if Suzuki is only out for, let’s say two weeks, would the Cubs cut a player from the 40-man roster just to get Tauchman on it, when he may only get a handful of starts anyway? And the 40-man stuff matters and does become more important because the Cubs are also dealing with a few minor bullpen issues.
There’s a chance the Cubs begin the season without Keegan Thompson in the bullpen, as he’s been slow to ramp up his velocity during spring training. Also, it’s become almost a certainty that left-handed reliever Brandon Hughes isn’t going to be ready by Opening Day, as he’s been dealing with a knee issue since camp began in February. Hughes hasn’t pitched in a game for more than a week now.
If both Thompson and Hughes aren’t on the Opening Day roster, then a few guys will have to get added on the 40-man roster, like Mark Leiter Jr. and/or one of the lefties in Ryan Borucki or Anthony Kay.
Miles Mastrobuoni, who the Cubs traded a pretty legit pitching prospect for, is already on the 40-man roster, so no one has to be let go to keep him on. Oh and guess who’s getting a start in right field on Friday? Mastrobuoni.
Things have definitely shifted at the end of Cubs roster competition with less than a week until Opening Day.
I, along with many others, say that spring training really doesn’t matter results wise, but depending on how a few guys look at different positions may be the difference between riding around on a bus and taking a flight to a road trip in April.