Counsell unveils Cubs' Opening Day roster

March 25th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- After six weeks of getting to know his new team, Cubs manager Craig Counsell is ready to start his first campaign. The goal is to get back into the playoffs, and the manager believes he has a roster capable of completing that task.

“You’re excited about it, because we're at the start of something fun,” Counsell said on Monday. “But we have to start writing the story on Thursday.”

Righty Jameson Taillon (back), infielder Patrick Wisdom (back) and righty Caleb Kilian (right shoulder) are set to begin the season on the injured list. Those developments played a role in how Counsell and Chicago’s front office pieced together the Opening Day roster.

Here is a breakdown of the Cubs’ initial 26-man cast, which will be finalized ahead of Thursday’s opening clash with the Rangers in Texas:

Catchers (2): ,
The Cubs picked up Gomes’ option for 2024, keeping the well-respected veteran aboard to guide the staff, provide an experienced bat and offer continued mentorship to Amaya. The younger catcher impressed last season and has a great opportunity in front of him to try to show he can be Chicago’s catcher of the future.

First base (1):
The Cubs swung a trade with the Dodgers this offseason to land Busch, who is ranked No. 51 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list. After posting a 1.049 OPS in Triple-A last year, Busch is being given runway to lock down the first-base job with the Cubs. Busch worked steadily at first throughout the spring, earning strong reviews for the athleticism he brings to the position.

Second base (1):
Hoerner is a key piece to the Cubs’ current core group and was signed to an extension last year that runs through 2026. Last year, he hit .283 with 43 steals and 98 runs, and picked up his first career Gold Glove Award for his defensive skills at second. Counsell believes there is still room for Hoerner to grow as an offensive threat, too.

Shortstop (1):
Swanson is entering the second season under the seven-year, $177 million contract he signed with the Cubs last winter. After seven seasons with the Braves, Swanson was an All-Star and Gold Glove recipient in his first tour with the Cubs. Hoerner doubles as Swanson’s backup at shortstop. This spring, Swanson felt his increased comfort with Chicago would help him in Year 2.

Third base (1):
Morel has worked diligently at third base since Counsell made it clear that he wanted to take a long, close look at the infielder at the hot corner. The manager felt that was the best path to getting Morel’s powerful bat into the lineup on a consistent basis. The young infielder can still offer depth at other spots or get at-bats as a designated hitter.

Outfielders (4): , , ,
The Cubs’ resigning of Bellinger kept the starting trio from last season intact. Two-time Gold Glover Happ is locked in for left field and Suzuki (one of the hottest hitters in the second half last year with a .938 OPS) will be in right field. Suzuki is coming off a scorching-hot spring that fuels optimism he can build off that strong finish. Tauchman serves as the fourth outfielder, offering a lefty bat off the bench and protection at all three positions.

Designated hitter: Multiple players
The makeup of the Cubs roster creates flexibility for the DH slot, allowing Counsell the opportunity to rotate players in and out of that role.

Bench/utility (3): , ,
With Wisdom set to open the year on the IL, the veteran Cooper steps in as an experienced right-handed bat for first base and DH. Last year, Cooper hit .324 with a .904 OPS versus lefty pitching. When the Cubs place Kilian on the 60-day IL, that will clear a spot to add Cooper (non-roster invitee) to the 40-man roster. Madrigal dealt with a right hamstring issue in spring, but worked back to game readiness. He offers an elite contact bat off the bench and an option for second and third base. Mastrobuoni gives Counsell a lefty bat and a versatile defender who provides depth all over the infield and outfield.

Starting pitchers (5): , , , ,
The Cubs plan on handing the ball to Steele for Thursday’s season opener against the Rangers, marking the lefty’s first Opening Day assignment after his breakout showing in 2023. Hendricks slots in behind him, followed by Wicks, Imanaga and Assad. The Cubs signed Imanaga to a four-year deal over the winter, he impressed the club this spring both in his performance and behind the scenes, and he projects to be the starter for the home opener. With Taillon set to begin the year on the IL, the last slot went to Assad, who was a valuable piece to the rotation and bullpen last season.

Relief pitchers (8): , , , , , , ,
The trio of Alzolay, Leiter and Merryweather stepped up as the Cubs’ primary late-inning trio last season. Over the offseason, Chicago signed Neris and traded for Almonte, adding even more veteran experience and durability to the mix. Smyly competed for a rotation job this spring, but will begin the campaign as a versatile relief piece. Cuas (a durable sidearmer) and Little (a 6-foot-8 lefty with a high-octane fastball) round out the group to start the year.