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CHGO Cubs Weekly: Projecting the Opening Day roster with Cody Bellinger back

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 26, 2024

Goooood morning, Cubs fans!

Welcome back to the CHGO Cubs Weekly newsletter.

I have two more days down here in Arizona, and thankfully, I think I’ll be leaving here with a pretty clear idea of what the roster should look like when the season begins.

With Cody Bellinger and the Cubs reuniting for at least one more season, the Cubs have mostly set their Opening Day roster (at least on the position player side). Thanks to a bunch of versatile defenders, the lineup could look different day to day after that, but the group of guys who’ll break camp with the big leaguers looks set.

Of course, things can change. There’s still a month until Opening Day. Another free-agent signing or a trade isn’t out of the question. But going with who’s around now, here’s my first attempt at projecting the Cubs’ 26-man roster to start the 2024 season.

The starters around the diamond

CF Cody Bellinger, LF Ian Happ, RF Seiya Suzuki, SS Dansby Swanson, 2B Nico Hoerner, 1B Michael Busch, C Yan Gomes

This will look very similar to what the Cubs ran out there last season.

It’s a nice mixture of All-Stars, Gold Glovers, proven vets, strong up-and-comers and even a roughly top-50 prospect. It’s not the Braves or the Dodgers, but it’s definitely one that can compete in the NL Central — and now could even be seen as the favorite.

The obvious change with Bellinger coming back is center field. Heck, in last week’s newsletter, one of the questions I asked was who would play center for the Cubs. It could’ve been Pete Crow-Armstrong, who selflessly said all offseason that he wanted Bellinger to return (even if it was at the expense of his own opportunities). There was also a good chance Mike Tauchman and Alexander Canario could’ve formed a platoon out there.

But now, Bellinger has cleared up one of the last remaining roster questions of spring.

The guys not guaranteed to start

3B Nick Madrigal, INF/OF Christopher Morel, 1B/3B Patrick Wisdom, INF Miles Mastrobuoni, C, Miguel Amaya, OF Mike Tauchman

The starter at third base is still anyone’s guess, with the Cubs willing to let Morel get a lot of reps over there this spring. That’s why I look at it as, even though I’d say Madrigal is the safest bet right now, it’s not a guarantee.

The other four fit in well. Amaya is the obvious choice to back up Gomes for now. Wisdom is still in the third-base mix, but he seems destined to form the first-base group with Busch more often. I’ve personally seen Mastrobuoni take a lot of infield reps up the middle, so it seems he’s going to be that infield utility guy for the Cubs. And while Alexander Canario could be the fourth outfielder, I’m going with Tauchman because he’s a lefty bat, and because it’ll allow Canario to start the season with more playing time at Triple-A.

The rotation

Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, Kyle Hendricks, Shota Imanaga, Jordan Wicks

The first four guys are locked into the rotation in my eyes. Whether it’s because of their experience, their performance or their contract, barring something unforeseen, those guys should be the starters at the beginning of the year.

The fifth starter is another story. While there’s still a roster battle going on that also includes the likes of Javier Assad, Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski, I’m picking Wicks to earn that last spot. I think he really opened some eyes last September, and as long as he continues to show what he needs to show this spring, I think he earns that fifth spot.

But it’s not like the guys that don’t win that competition will never see a start this season. Baseball stuff happens (injuries, underperformance, etc.), and Craig Counsell himself has said that the Cubs will need more than just five starters to get them through the season. So either of those other three could eventually move into the rotation at some point.

The bullpen

Adbert Alzolay, Julian Merryweather, Mark Leiter Jr., Drew Smyly, Héctor Neris, Yency Almonte, Javier Assad, Luke Little

Like the starters, I think at least the first five in that list are locks for the bullpen. Alzolay, Merryweather, Leiter and Smyly all showed some reliability in their roles out of the ‘pen in 2023, and along with Neris, I expect those guys to be there when the season starts.

As for the other guys, Assad showed a lot of promise as someone who could cover multiple innings in relief last year, and I think that’s the role he’ll take on to start the year. Almonte has no options left, and while that’s not a guarantee he’ll start the year with the Cubs, I see them taking the chance that he can rediscover his 2022 form over the alternative. And while that last spot could’ve went to a handful of players, among them Daniel Palencia or Jose Cuas, Little being a left-hander gives him the edge.

That’s it for now. Make sure you’re locked into CHGO Cubs all week for more from Arizona as Opening Day draws closer.

PS — Also check out our clearance sale at the CHGO Locker for 30 percent off most of dope merch! Discount is automatically applied at checkout.

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