MESA, Ariz. – “Today has been a ‘Godfather’ day.”
Joe Maddon had settled almost all the family business by the time he sat down in the Sloan Park complex’s media workroom on Tuesday, the Cubs manager making arrangements for what he needed from “The Cousin Eddie” RV, telling three bubble players they already made the team and seeing his Opening Day roster come into focus.
The Cubs confirmed Javier Baez will begin the season on the disabled list with a left thumb contusion, still needing more at-bats and time in the outfield and only one game left on their Cactus League schedule.
Maddon said he informed reliever Neil Ramirez, outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella that they are part of the projected 25-man group that will leave Arizona.
As insurance, the Cubs also released and re-signed infielder Munenori Kawasaki, outfielder Shane Victorino and left-hander Manny Parra to minor-league deals (which are cost-saving moves while facing $100,000 retention bonuses).
With less than a week to go until the season opener at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, the Cubs are planning to carry 12 position players and 13 pitchers:
Catchers: Miguel Montero, David Ross, Kyle Schwarber.
Infielders: Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, La Stella.
Outfielders: Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, Szczur.
Rotation: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks.
Bullpen: Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Clayton Richard, Travis Wood, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Ramirez.
The Cubs constructed a deep, versatile roster beyond Zobrist, who made his reputation as the game’s premier super-utility player and will be considered the backup shortstop for now. When needed, Bryant can move from third base to any spot in the outfield. Schwarber can be Hammel’s personal catcher and will still get most of his playing time in the outfield.
But Baez – who’s been sidelined since March 20 after diving headfirst into first base – presents Maddon with so many in-game options as a good baserunner and a strong defender who can play all over the field.
“We don’t want it to linger,” Maddon said. “I had him in the office, talked to him, he’s kind of disappointed because he feels he can be ready. (But) he needs to play.
“We’re not comfortable that it is 100-percent well. So let’s just make it 100-percent well and then bring him back up.”
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Around this time last year, the Cubs set an Opening Day roster that didn’t include Bryant, Russell, Schwarber or Baez and didn’t look like the beginning of a 97-win team.
While the Cubs probably won’t get that kind of jolt from their farm system again this year, Maddon knows it will take waves and waves of players to get through October. So the manager kept rolling with questions from the Japanese media about Kawasaki, who impressed with his karaoke skills and fundamental play.
“He gets a lot of publicity based on his personality, but this guy’s also a very good baseball player,” Maddon said. “He’s definitely an energy source. This guy is somebody you want to plug into. He provides that little motivation the whole group needs on a daily basis.
“We’re just talking about the beginning of the season, man. This is a long year and you definitely need more than 25 guys. He’s going to get his opportunity. He’s going to help us. He’s going to be a big part of our success this year. And he’s going to be one of the most popular athletes to ever play in Chicago when he finally arrives.”