Cubs

March Madness: Projecting Opening Day roster for Cubs

March Madness: Projecting Opening Day roster for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs have already decided who should face Dexter Fowler and the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium and a national audience on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball."  
 
"Of course," manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday at the Sloan Park complex. "But I just got to talk to the people. And I just can't say it without talking to them first."
 
Jon Lester – who started Game 1 in all three playoff rounds last year – would be the obvious choice for the Opening Night assignment on April 2. But the Cubs also have a Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), an ERA titleholder (Kyle Hendricks) and another three-time World Series champion (John Lackey) in their rotation. 
 
Recognizing the wear and tear from back-to-back playoff runs – and anticipating another stressful October – The Big Four is being held back until at least the second weekend of Cactus League play and slowly ramping up again. 
 
It's another sign March Madness isn't happening at a camp where maybe 23 or 24 spots on the 25-man roster had been secured before pitchers and catchers even reported to Arizona and the franchise no longer has to deal with the 1908 baggage. 
 
A look at where things now stand for the defending World Series champs, with injuries being the biggest X-factor between Mesa and St. Louis:  
 
• Whether or not Brett Anderson has the inside track to the fifth-starter job, it's still extremely difficult to see the Cubs stashing him in the bullpen, given his extensive medical file, inexperience as a reliever and Mike Montgomery's comfort level as a swingman.     
 
Why mess with Anderson's routine if he can click with pitching coach Chris Bosio and resemble the groundball pitcher who made 31 starts and put up a 3.69 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015? 
 
"He's really baseball bright," Maddon said. "He knows what he's doing out there. I love his stuff. I know him and 'Boz' are working on different thoughts mechanically to help prevent injury. But I like it a lot – not a little bit. This guy is really good. The big thing is just health with him. You keep this fellow healthy – he can throw some significant numbers up there."
 
There's an element of luck involved – and some came into the organization with durability on their resumes – but the Cubs had five pitchers make at least 29 starts last season and hope that infrastructure will help Anderson.
 
"We've addressed it with him," Maddon said. "We've given him different thoughts. I'm sure every team that he's played with has had the same kind of thoughts. But maybe just the mechanical tweak, maybe a different method of work within a clubhouse, strength and conditioning, trainers, etc., maybe that'll help."

[RELATED: Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio]
 
There are a lot of maybes with Anderson, a Tommy John survivor who underwent surgical procedures on his lower back in 2014 and 2016. But the Cubs also see a lot of upside and motivation in a lefty working on a one-year, $3.5 million incentive-laden deal.  
 
"I would be curious to see this guy with a full season of good health," Maddon said, "because it might even be better than a lot of teams' third and second starters. This guy is that good. With health, there's no telling.
     
"If we could get him out there for like 160-175 (innings), if he could do something like that, my God, it would be like outstanding."
 
• Working backwards from All-Star closer Wade Davis and Maddon's "hybrid moment" for Anderson or Montgomery, the Cubs appear to have six relievers for six slots on what figures to be a 13-man pitching staff: Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefty Brian Duensing. 
 
"The pitching's really gotten significantly better," Maddon said. "With good health, it's going to be very difficult (making those decisions). These guys have been impressive. I'm not all about the spring-training evaluation. Going off their track records and maybe projecting a little bit, we have a lot of interesting pitching candidates. It's gotten a lot thicker."
 
• One wild card is Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith – who spent last season with the New York Yankees' Double-A affiliate – and how creative the Cubs get with the roster sleight of hand. (Remember how Major League Baseball took away a Cubs' pick in the 2013 Rule 5 draft and gave it to the Philadelphia Phillies to settle the Lendy Castillo grievance.)  
 
"We're going to be forced to try to look under the hood a little bit more," Maddon said. "If you're overwhelmed, then you're going to probably try to manipulate it to the point where you can keep a guy like that."
 
• The Cubs have 11 locks among the position players, a group of versatile defenders who give Maddon so much flexibility with lineup decisions and in-game moves: Willson Contreras; Miguel Montero; Anthony Rizzo; Ben Zobrist; Addison Russell; Kris Bryant; Javier Baez; Kyle Schwarber; Jason Heyward; Jon Jay; and Albert Almora Jr.     
 
That means the last bench spot could come down to outfielder Matt Szczur (no minor-league options left) or the whims of infielder Tommy La Stella (who initially refused to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer and talked about considering retirement).
 
"That's probably a fairer question on March 25," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "So many things can happen between now and then, as far as injuries and things like that. We're going to have some hard decisions at the end of camp. We have a lot of talent here. 
 
"People know what the bones of our team are, but we definitely have to make some tough decisions as far as the construction of the pitching staff and the bench."

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

According to David Kaplan, the Cubs have made their decision on a new manager. And to no surprise, they've landed on David Ross.

Ross was widely speculated as the heir apparent to Joe Maddon and that's exactly how the situation has played out. The team also interviewed current bench coach Mark Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

Ross retired after the 2016 season and has spent the last three seasons working in a special assistant role in Theo Epstein's front office while also serving as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN. He has not coached or managed at any level. 

During his two years as a player with the Cubs, Ross was an integral part of changing the culture inside the clubhouse and is revered as a legendary leader to all the young players that came up and helped end the 108-year championship drought. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant affectionately dubbed him "Grandpa Rossy" and he rode that popularity on the shoulders of his teammates in a Rudy-esque celebration after Game 7 and then a stint on "Dancing with the Stars." Every time he is shown on the video board at Wrigley Field, it elicits a deafening cheer from Cubs fans.

Even three years since he last donned the uniform, Ross' impact remains and the Cubs have been searching for the type of clubhouse leadership he provided. Earlier this season, Javy Baez brought up Ross unprompted, mentioning advice from his former teammate that he still thinks about on a daily basis.

The question was never really if and more about when Ross was going to get a chance to manage the Cubs in the future. Just last fall, he was brought up as a potential option to replace Brandon Hyde as Maddon's bench coach, but Ross still wanted to spend time with family in retirement and wasn't yet ready to commit to the grind of a long season. 

Still, Epstein mentioned at the GM Meetings last November that he and the front office were pushing Ross to be around the team more in 2019. GM Jed Hoyer followed that up at the Winter Meetings in December talking about how much of an impact Ross has on these players and the level of trust that's already inherent within this group.

Apparently, Ross is now willing and able to put in the 7-to-8 month time commitment to step in as the Cubs' new manager. When it was officially announced Maddon would not be returning, Ross was on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and expressed interest in the job and Epstein confirmed the next day Ross was on the team's list of managerial candidates.

Epstein mentioned he would prefer hiring a manager with big-league experience and the main theme of his end-of-season press conference was all about change, not hanging their hats on 2016 and climbing out of the "winner's trap." But they still opted for Ross as the organization's new field general.

"I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before, especially with manager," Epstein said on the final day of September. "I think there are ways for that to be overcome. There’s a lot of different ways to get experience in this game. Beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.

“David Ross has a lot of great things going for him, I would say. His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily assets that distinguish him. Those are not necessarily things that are gonna be important to us.

“I think Rossy is a really attractive candidate, and he’s gonna be evaluated on the merits, what he can bring to the table as a major league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his world-view, given what he knows about winning, all those things.”

We now know how that evaluation process has played out.

The question now becomes — how would the Cubs players handle Ross as a manager, moving from friend and teammate to boss? 

We'll find out in the coming months.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Mailbag edition

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Mailbag edition

3:00 - Listener question: Espada or Ross? Kelly Crull shares some inside info on Joe Espada

7:30 - Kelly talks about David Ross' second interview for the Cubs managerial job.

11:30 - Listener question: Say it is Espada, do you see any way David Ross comes on as a coach behind Espada?

13:30 - Listener question: Could the team regress further due to a lack of familiarity with a new manager?

20:10 - Listener question: How hard will Theo and Jed go after Gerrit Cole? And if he's not available who else is?

23:30 - Listener question: Are you trying to extend Castellanos?

26:00 - Listener question: If you sign Castellanos are you also trading Kyle Schwarber?

28:45 - Listener question: Should the Cubs trade Kris Bryant? What would they get back in return?

33:00 - Lighting round: Will Nico Hoerner be the opening day second baseman and keep the job in 2020?

33:10 - Lightning round: Will the Cubs bring back Cole Hamels?

33:45 - Can we and should we clone Javy Baez so we have a fresh Javy when he retires, or is that unethical?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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