The Cubs’ spring cuts on Saturday cleared up most of the season-opening roster, leaving perhaps just one roster decision left to make, barring a last minute acquisition.
In fact, with only 17 pitchers left in camp — three of them dealing with injuries — the pitching side of the 26-man roster appears set with the minor-league assignments Saturday of non-roster pitchers Shelby Miller and Pedro Strop.
That was firmed up later in the day when manager David Ross said Adbert Alzolay has earned the fifth-starter job, bumping versatile Alec Mills -- the man who threw a no-hitter against the Brewers last year -- to the bullpen.
The big headline overnight and with Saturday morning’s announcement was Gold Glove finalist Nico Hoerner being optioned to the alternate site.
Given the roster numbers in play with individual contract considerations, that was not a surprise for a player who skipped Triple-A when he got called up for emergency duty at the end of 2019 and who struggled at the plate most of last year’s short season.
Hoerner was on the bubble as soon as Eric Sogard joined camp four weeks ago, if only because of the flexibility Hoerner’s minor-league option gave the team.
The move makes David Bote the starting second baseman, Ross said, giving the hard-hitting Bote an everyday job for the first time in his career.
The Hoerner decision was "less about Nico and more about David Bote," said Ross, who praised the performance this spring of lefty-hitting Eric Sogard, who makes the club as a backup to Bote and shortstop Javy Baez.
Ross bristled when it was suggested by a national outlet that the Cubs aren't taking their best 26 players north if Hoerner's not on the team.
“I don't believe that," Ross said. "There’s no doubt in my mind we’re taking our best 26. If we want to, we can talk about numbers and accolades and different things, but I think that David Bote has proven over his career so far to be the guy who has earned that spot.
“Do I have a lot of confidence that Nico’s going to be a future Gold Glover and All-Star? Of course. I think Nico’s going to be a great player, but [this is] what’s best for our team and the best 26 players are going to Chicago with us.”
Hoerner’s option and the release of fifth outfielder Cam Maybin leave two healthy position players for the 12th — and possibly final — spot among position players on the 26-man roster: switch-hitting, versatile infielder Ildemaro Vargas and right-handed hitting Matt Duffy, who’s more of a corner infield option and bench bat.
The Cubs like Duffy’s bat, and that could give him an advantage over Vargas with Sogard already able to do a lot of what Vargas would be asked to do.
That would leave 14 pitching spots on the roster, with Strop’s and Miller’s assignments to the alt site clearing the way for Alzolay and, presumably, Maples.
Alzolay, who was granted a fourth option by an arbitrator during the past week, might have nailed down the job after he showed he had rediscovered his devastating slider Thursday night against the Dodgers.
Maples, who has had command issues much of his career, struggled most of the spring but has an upper-90’s fastball, a wipeout slider, and he’s out of options.
Miller might not be long for the alt-site. The one-time All-Star who has had a good spring has a mid-April opt-out on his contract that essentially serves as a deadline for activating him to the big-league roster.