CHICAGO -- Manager David Ross noted that the final decisions over his first Opening Day roster were difficult, even with an expanded list to begin this season. He knows the depth behind the group selected will be important in pushing for Chicago's season-end goal of winning the World Series.
He also believes the core's experience is what can give the Cubs an advantage.
"These guys have been through the gamut," Ross said. "Whether it's winning, expectations, living up to expectations, not living up to expectations, falling short, every narrative surrounds a lot of the guys that are in that room. So I don't think there's going to be anything thrown at them this year that is going to keep them from [accomplishing our goals]."
The Cubs put the finishing touches on their 30-man roster on Thursday with a handful of transactions.
On the eve of Friday’s opener against the Brewers, Chicago placed José Quintana (left thumb) on the 10-day injured list and utility man Daniel Descalso (sprained left ankle) on the 45-day IL. The Cubs also recalled righties Dillon Maples and James Norwood, while also selecting the contracts of catcher Josh Phegley and left-hander Rex Brothers.
That helped bring the rest of the roster composition into focus.
The Cubs reassigned non-roster invitees Hernán Pérez, Ian Miller, P.J. Higgins and Danny Hultzen to the alternate training site in South Bend, Ind. Righties Jharel Cotton (optioned), Ryan Tepera (optioned) and Colin Rea (assigned) also joined the South Bend group.
Utility man Robel García was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, which remains at capacity in light of the other moves. Outfielder Mark Zagunis also elected not to play this season, removing him from the 60-player pool.
Here is a breakdown of the Cubs’ 30-man roster for Opening Day.
Contreras started for the National League All-Star team in each of the past two years and returns as a key cog for the Cubs. That said, Ross values Caratini more than a traditional backup and will look for ways to keep him in the mix. The addition of the designated hitter could help on that front. Phegley had an impressive Spring Training and Summer Camp, earning a spot on the roster.
First base (1): Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo kept Cubs fans on the edge of their seats all Summer Camp, as he worked through a back issue similar to those that have popped up in past seasons. The first baseman returned to the lineup Wednesday against the Twins, belted a home run, finished with two hits and is projected to be in the second slot of the order on Friday night.
The Cubs head into the 2020 campaign with a second-base tandem of Hoerner and Kipnis. In a normal season, this might be viewed like a platoon setup (Kipnis vs. righties and Hoerner vs. lefties), but expect Ross to mix and match more than that. Hoerner is the better defender and Ross has emphasized playing the hot hand in a shortened season.
Shortstop (1): Javier Báez
Báez was an MVP candidate two years ago and made an impressive transition to full-time shortstop in ’19 (leading all MLB infielders with 19 Outs Above Average, per Statcast). He will anchor both Chicago’s defense at short and line up as the No. 3 hitter this season. Báez has the kind of talent that could carry a team in a 60-game setup.
Third base (1): Kris Bryant
Since Dexter Fowler left the Cubs, the team has cycled through 17 leadoff hitters with inconsistent results over a three-year span. Ross is hoping for more stability and impact at the top in ’20, and he assigned that job to Bryant. The manager believes Bryant’s power, on-base ability and underrated skills on the basepaths will make him a catalyst atop the order.
This is one area on the roster where the addition of the DH can benefit the Cubs. Ross can rotate Happ, Schwarber and Souza through the DH role in order to find ways to maximize matchups and defense. Almora and Happ will split time in center, with the latter also getting work in left. Souza should see at-bats against lefties.
Utility (1): David Bote
Bote is primarily a second baseman and third baseman, but he got work at both first base and in left field during Summer Camp. He can also man shortstop, if needed. The right-handed-hitting infielder posted an .898 OPS in the final two months of the ’19 season, so Ross will surely be looking for ways to get him into the lineup.
The injury to Quintana essentially set the rotation, though it was solidified with a healthy Summer Camp for the rest of the group. Hendricks will take the ball on Opening Day, followed by Darvish, who was one of MLB’s best pitchers in the second half of ’19. Based on workload readiness, Chatwood was bumped up to the third slot, followed by Lester as the No. 4 starter. Mills was in line for a bullpen job as a swing-man prior to Quintana’s injury, but he has been promoted to the No. 5 role.
This is where Chicago needs a couple of arms to emerge as reliable weapons quickly. Kimbrel returns as the closer, with Jeffress, Ryan and Wick as setup options to start. Maples, Norwood, Underwood and Wieck are less-experienced arms, but boast plus pitches and could be intriguing multi-inning arms. Winkler was added over the offseason, providing more veteran experience to a group chalk full of question marks.