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.

RELATED: Cubs send 52 million message in signing Edwin Jackson

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.

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half show that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the even of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

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