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It is officially Opening Day, and the Cubs roster is set to kick off the 2023 season.
Though most of these spots have been set for weeks, there were a couple of surprises and down-to-the-wire battles that were only just decided. The 26-man roster will obviously not look the same the entire season, but the Cubs are rolling out a group they hope will get them off on the right foot to begin the year.
Get to know a little bit about the 26 players who make up the Cubs’ Opening Day roster.
Catchers (3): Yan Gomes, Tucker Barnhart, Luis Torrens
Gomes: He’s not going to replace Willson Contreras on his own, but Cubs pitchers have raved about Gomes’ catching since last season. The defense he brings — particularly those “soft” factors — exemplifies what the Cubs want in their backstops. He’ll be a big part of the catching group.
Barnhart: He got to learning his new pitching staff as soon as he signed in December. That helped Barnhart get familiar with the group before spring training began, which gave them a solid rapport from the start. While it won’t be a straight lefty-righty split between him and Gomes, they will both split the majority of the time behind the dish. Barnhart is also looking for a much better season at the plate (63 wRC+ with Detroit in 2022), and he’ll have plenty of runway to try to make that a reality.
Torrens: A surprise Opening Day addition, Torrens reportedly had an assignment clause, where he could be released from his deal with the Cubs if another team wanted him on their 26-man roster. Though that may have forced the Cubs’ hand anyway, he also impressed with a 1.021 OPS in 22 spring at-bats. The Cubs also like that he provides some position flexibility while serving as the third catcher behind Gomes and Barnhart.
Infielders/Outfielders (10): Eric Hosmer, Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson, Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal, Edwin Ríos, Trey Mancini, Miles Mastrobuoni, Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger
Hosmer: Looking for a better 2023, Hosmer will start the season as the Cubs’ first baseman. If the shift restrictions do in fact help him find some more holes on the right side, he could find himself with a bounce-back year at the plate. The Cubs are only on the hook for the league minimum, so it won’t be too much of hit if they want to move on from an under-performing Hosmer. But his leash shouldn’t be too short out of the gate.
Hoerner: Even though he proved he can play strong defense at shortstop, Hoerner is moving to second base — where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. Hoerner had his own breakout season in 2022 that showed he’s a building block for this team. And now, with his extension becoming official Wednesday, he can just focus on baseball.
Swanson: He’s the Cubs’ $177 million man for a reason. Coming off an All-Star and Gold Glove season in 2022, Swanson was as big a lock as anyone on the roster to start on Opening Day. He’ll provide elite defense at one of the most important positions on the infield. The key is if he can continue the upward trajectory of his offensive numbers (25 homers and a career-high 116 wRC+ in 2022).
Wisdom: While he should mainly be in the third-base committee this year, he may factor in the outfield, too. At third, specifically, he’ll have to prove his 2022 defensive showing was a fluke and that he can rebound to his 2021 form. Regardless, the Cubs clearly value the power he adds to the lineup — despite also owning the worst strikeout rate in baseball last year.
Madrigal: The idea of Madrigal as a third baseman seemed unlikely a couple months ago, but the Cubs were encouraged by his performance this spring. It probably won’t be an everyday starting role, but a little added versatility has kept Madrigal on the active roster. Now, he needs to prove he can handle himself at the hot corner, that he can be productive with the bat and that he can stay on the field.
Ríos: Left-handed power was something the Cubs lacked last year. Despite his inability to stick with the Dodgers, the Cubs were impressed with Ríos’ slug. He finished Cactus League play with four homers and a .924 OPS. It was a small sample size, but his left-handed power will still be valuable in a lineup that doesn’t really have much of it.
Mancini: He feels like a stronger fit to open the year as mostly a DH. That doesn’t mean Mancini won’t be in the mix in right field and at first base early on, but hey, he hit .320 this spring. For a guy who wants to rediscover his best form at the plate, letting that be his main focus could pay dividends.
Mastrobuoni: Acquired from the Rays in November, Mastrobuoni had a solid spring in both the Cactus League (.350/.500/.350 in 20 ABs) and the World Baseball Classic (.278/.316/.389 in 18 ABs). He’s also versatile defensively, having played six different positions in the minors. He may not be be up all year — the Cubs likely value that he has minor league options remaining — but he’ll play the utilityman role for now.
Happ: He’s coming off the best season of his career. He’s a team leader, an All-Star and a Gold Glover. Happ admitted Wednesday that there was no update on contract extension talks, which puts him in line to test the free-agent waters this winter. Until then, he’ll work to put together another complete season and earn himself a nice payday.
Bellinger: Will he ever reach an MVP level of play again? Nobody knows for sure, but the Cubs are paying him a lot of money to get as close to it as he can this year. Even if that doesn’t happen, Bellinger brings a steady glove that quickly earned him the Cubs’ center-field job. He may end up being the X-factor for a team that hopes he’s one of the bounce-back candidates who can lead it to a much more competitive season.
Rotation (5): Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly, Hayden Wesneski
Stroman: When he was finally healthy and properly built up in the second half of 2022, Stroman was who the Cubs thought they were getting. He was locked in pitching for Team Puerto Rico in the WBC, and he’s getting the ball on Opening Day. With the potential to opt out of his contract next winter, Stroman is looking to put a full, strong season together.
Steele: He fully established himself as a big league starter last year, despite him missing the last month of the season. Over the winter, Steele worked on his body to get to a point where he can handle a full workload. He’s said his goal is to reach 180-200 innings over 30-35 starts in 2023. Even if that doesn’t happen, Steele has a key role in this rotation.
Taillon: He was the Cubs’ big free-agent pitcher addition. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he has the best season of all the starters. With real potential to end up being the Cubs’ No. 1 starter, Taillon’s status on the Opening Day roster was never in doubt. Now another year removed from his second Tommy John surgery, and with a new slider in his arsenal, Taillon will look for another season of all-around improvement.
Smyly: The Cubs made the right move to bring Smyly back this offseason. He was a steady starter for them last year, and he wanted to stay in Chicago. He won’t be counted on to be the No. 1 starter, but he’s expected to provide some consistency to the rotation.
Wesneski: After winning the spring battle for the fifth-starter job, Wesneski makes his first Opening Day roster. Starting him off in Triple-A might’ve allowed the Cubs to manage his innings and keep him on a more consistent schedule to start the year, but he just kept proving that he deserved the shot. Armed with a nasty slider and a clear swagger on the mound, Wesneski could very quickly move up the Cubs rotation rankings.
Bullpen (8): Keegan Thompson, Adbert Alzolay, Brad Boxberger, Michael Fulmer, Julian Merryweather, Javier Assad, Mark Leiter Jr., Michael Rucker
Thompson: Ross has made it clear that he views Thompson as one of his main bullpen arm. That’s good news, since Thompson was dominant as a reliever in 2022. He’s proven how valuable he is out of the ‘pen, and despite some concerns over his velocity during the spring, the results were still more than fine. He’s set to continue his multi-inning relief weapon role as 2023 begins.
Alzolay: In the same boat as Thompson, Alzolay is primed to start the year in the bullpen. He’s had plenty of success in that role the last couple years, and as the multi-inning relief spot continues to evolve, Alzolay’s value likely comes best as a reliever.
Boxberger: He was a big part of a solid Brewers bullpen over the last two seasons, and he has plenty of late-inning relief experience. Boxberger is a veteran, high-leverage reliever the Cubs will count on in 2023.
Fulmer: Though he didn’t officially sign until a few days into spring training, Fulmer will play a significant role in the bullpen. He’s put together two solid seasons since becoming a full-time reliever. The Cubs don’t have a clear closer on the roster, but with plenty of late-inning experience, Fulmer should get some run in save situations.
Merryweather: That he was already on the 40-man roster, is out of minor league options (per FanGraphs) and touches high 90s consistently helped Merryweather case to make the Opening Day roster. Claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in January, a strong spring locked down Merryweather’s 26-man spot. The Cubs hope that velocity — plus the improvements in his secondary offerings — plays out of the ‘pen in the early going.
Assad: It was assumed that Assad would start the season in Triple-A Iowa’s rotation, but an eye-opening performance for Team Mexico in the WBC showed everyone how effective he can be out of the bullpen. He’ll likely function as a multi-inning weapon. Assad’s ascent has been impressive, and he’ll get to continue proving himself in the big leagues.
Leiter: Some roster shuffling had to be done to get Leiter on the 40-man roster, but he had solid numbers out of the bullpen in 2022 that made him a realistic option. A spring in which he continued to look good solidified his spot. His splits resemble a left-hander’s, so without a southpaw on the roster for the time being, Leiter could be useful in what would be lefty-on-lefty matchups.
Rucker: He pitched well after the trade deadline, posting a 2.93 ERA and 1.173 WHIP in his last 26 appearances. He also provides some early roster flexibility since he’s still got options. He may be looking at more low-leverage situations, but the Cubs like what he adds to their bullpen.
Injured list (5): Seiya Suzuki (10-day IL), Kyle Hendricks (15-day IL), Brandon Hughes (15-day IL), Ethan Roberts (60-day IL), Codi Heuer (60-day IL)
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