Cubs

Examining where the Cubs' roster stands after Jackson signing

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Examining where the Cubs' roster stands after Jackson signing

As the Cubs added two more pitchers to the mix Thursday, the Opening Day roster has rounded into focus a bit more.

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Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva figure to be integral parts of the pitching staff in 2013. If Villanueva doesn't crack the rotation to start, he will have an impact in the bullpen and provide insurance should a starter suffer through injury or ineffectiveness.

Jackson and Villanueva join Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Kyuji Fujikawa, Hector Rondon, Cory Wade and Sandy Rosario as new additions to the Cubs' pitching staff this offseason.

With so much shake-up, let's take a look at what the 25-man roster could be when the Cubs break camp and head to Wrigley Field. Keep in mind, there's still roughly two months left in the offseason, so things may change an awful lot between now and then.

Position players

C: Welington CastilloDioner Navarro
1B: Anthony Rizzo
2B: Darwin Barney
3B: Ian StewartLuis Valbuena
SS: Starlin Castro
LF: Alfonso Soriano
CF: David DeJesusTony Campana
RF: Nate SchierholtzDave Sappelt

The Cubs are hoping Castillo can, indeed, fulfill his promise as a catcher of the future, and Navarro should provide a veteran presence and help mentor Castillo. Steve Clevenger also figures to be in the mix. He was handed the job of Geovany Soto's backup in spring training last season. There's a chance Clevenger winds up cracking the roster as a third catcher and backup first baseman.

Journeymen Brian Bogusevic (outfield) and Edwin Maysonet (infield) may take on utility roles, with young guns Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Expect some more changes to this group, as the Cubs currently lack position player depth.

Pitchers

SP: Matt Garza
SP: Jeff Samardzija
SP: Edwin Jackson
SP: Travis WoodScott Baker
SP: Carlos VillanuevaScott FeldmanArodys Vizcaino

CL: Carlos Marmol
RP: Kyuji Fujikawa
RP: Shawn Camp
RP: James Russell
RP: Hector Rondon
RP: Michael BowdenSandy RosarioCory WadeRafael Dolis

The Cubs signed Wade this week in an under-the-radar move. The 29-year-old righty has a career 3.65 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in four seasons with the Dodgers and Yankees. But his big league career has been marked by inconsistency -- he had an ERA of 2.27 in '08 and 2.04 in '11, but ERAs of 5.53 in 2009 and 6.46 in '12 -- so there's no guarantees.

Whoever doesn't crack the starting rotation figures to be moved to the bullpen, with Feldman and Villanueva having spent extended time as relievers in the past. Wood may also be an option as a reliever, providing another left-handed arm for manager Dale Sveum to call on.

There's also no guarantee Garza or Baker are healthy at the beginning of the year, as each is coming off an elbow injury. Vizcaino is coming off Tommy John, and as Insider Patrick Mooney has said all winter, will be brought along slowly.

RELATED: Would Cubs go all-in on Samardzija or Garza?

Rondon is a Rule 5 draft pick, so the Cubs have to keep him on the 25-man roster all year or risk losing him. They can also put him on the disabled list -- as they did with Lendy Castillo last season -- to retain his services beyond 2013 even if he struggles to get outs in the majors, but the MLB is reportedly cracking down on such loopholes this season, so he may fill a roster spot all year.

Dolis spent part of last season as the closer when Marmol went to the DL and could find his way back in the big-league bullpen at some point in 2013.

Young lefties Jeff Beliveau, Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley could be in the mix as well and Castillo, Casey Coleman, Marcos Mateo, Blake Parker, Jensen Lewis and Jason Berken are other options from the right side. Alberto Cabrera has been stretched out a bit as a starter this fall and winter and may wind up an option in the rotation or bullpen late in the season while 2011 draft pick Tony Zych is quickly climbing through the system.

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Pedro Strop said he feels "ready" in his return from a hamstring injury, but he and the Cubs aren't going to rush it.

The veteran reliever has missed most of May with the injury, but threw 25-pitch bullpens on both Monday and Wednesday and has reported zero issues. He said it's been more than a week since he last felt pain in the area.

But considering this is Strop's third hamstring injury in the last eight months, the Cubs want to be extra cautious to make sure this will not happen again.

Plus, there's no point in rushing him back right now, even with the bullpen struggling. The Cubs would certainly welcome Strop back to the active roster immediately, but he's going to be a huge key for them down the stretch and they need to ensure he's healthy for that.

"I think we're just being overly cautious because we don't want this to happen again," Joe Maddon said. 

But how can Cubs avoid another hamstring injury with the soon-to-be-34-year-old? 

"We're building strength, we're working hard to make it stronger instead of just, 'Oh, it's OK and pain-free, let's go out there and have the same thing happen again,'" Strop said. "We're just taking care."

He missed the final two weeks of the regular season last year and pitched through "severe pain" in the National League wild-card game after first hurting his hamstring in Washington D.C. He then missed time in spring training with an issue in the other leg.

The injuries are not all directly related, but hamstrings are tricky by nature.

"That's a hammy, man. When you mess up with those things, they keep reminding you that they're there," Maddon said. "He has to continue to be proactive with the work in between and our guys in the back there do a wonderful job rehabbing and strengthening. 

"I think some guys are just predetermined to do those kinds of things and it really stinks. But it happens. So our next best thing is to create that program that hopefully prevents it from happening again. 

"In the meantime, just really monitoring him and not pushing him too hard, etc. But hamstrings are hamstrings, man. They're just no fun. Once you pull them once, there's a chance to do it again."

Strop said he will throw another bullpen Saturday and doesn't believe he needs a rehab stint. Because this was a leg injury, he's been able to continue throwing throughout the recovery process and keep his arm strength up.

If Strop continues to report well and doesn't go on a rehab assignment, we could possibly see him back in the Cubs bullpen early next week, which would be a welcome sign for a unit that has suddenly run into some tough sledding of late.

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