We have three weeks to go in the regular season. With the Cubs’ clinching of the NL Central division title inevitable, the next three weeks will be similar to spring training in that the team will be trying to finalize their 25-man postseason roster. Here’s a look at manager Joe Maddon’s situation – barring any injuries – with the Cubs’ first postseason game just 25 days away:
The big question is: Will Maddon keep three catchers? He’s carried three since Contreras was called up, so there’s little reason to think he’d have a problem with it in the postseason. Montero has not had a good year, but it’s still hard to imagine him being left off at this point. Contreras has played well since his call-up; I think the only real concern with him is how well he can handle the Cubs’ pitchers at this point of his career.
Assuming there will be three catchers, this isn’t quite as complicated as it first appears. Szczur has proven himself too valuable as a bench player to leave off. Soler hasn’t developed into the everyday player we were hoping for by now, but he’s shown improvement since his return from injury and would have to have a miserable last few weeks to even consider not including him.
This means that if Maddon goes with 11 pitchers, then La Stella, Coghlan, and Almora are the candidates for the final two bench spots. Since Zobrist and Bryant can play both infield and outfield, Maddon likely won’t base his decision largely on whether an infielder (La Stella) or and outfielder (Coghlan or Almora) would have more value. Because La Stella and Coghlan have the experience from last year, my guess is that they will get the nod and Almora will be out. However, I personally like Almora’s defense and think that would provide a lot of value late in games.
If, on the other hand, Maddon were to decide to go with 12 pitchers, the one final bench spot would likely come down to who’s swinging the bat better at the end of the season between La Stella or Coghlan.
If Strop is healthy, he will be on the roster. Wood hit a bit of a rough patch in August, but it would be hard to justify leaving him off since he’s left-handed and has been solid for most of the season. Grimm and Edwards would have to pitch themselves off the roster at this point. Grimm’s season has done a remarkable U-turn after a rough first half, as he’s only allowed one run since June 28, while Edwards has proven himself to be a reliable late-inning option since his call-up earlier this year.
So, if we assume the Cubs will go with 11 pitchers, that leaves one spot that’s really in question right now.
Of course, the man everyone’s curious about is Hammel, who, barring injury, will be the odd man out of the rotation. Will he be worth keeping on as a reliever? That’s a very interesting call for Maddon. For me, Cahill is the wild card in all this. His numbers have been decent most of the year, but walks continue to be a big concern. If Maddon decides that two lefties (Wood and Chapman) are enough, it will likely come down to whether he trusts Hammel or Cahill in a long relief situation more.
Or, if Maddon decides he has plenty of right-handed relief options in Strop, Rondon, Grimm, and Edwards, then both Cahill and Hammel may be left off in favor of Montgomery. The problem is that Montgomery, who’s been getting some starts recently, hasn’t really had a chance to prove himself as a reliever with the Cubs. It’s also possible, though not likely, that Montgomery could get Wood’s spot as the second lefty should Wood pitch himself off the roster in the final three weeks. However, I don’t see that happening.
The remaining three relievers on the bubble are long shots who likely would only join the team in case of an injury. Zastryzny has shown promise, but there just might not be enough of a sample size there to justify giving him a spot. Patton and Smith haven’t been awful, but Maddon looks to already have enough right-handed choices.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.