MESA, Ariz. -- There were only a handful of conversations that Cubs manager Joe Maddon needed to have on Tuesday morning. Once those were complete, Chicago had its planned Opening Day roster in place.
Lefty Randy Rosario was informed that he made the bullpen over left-hander Kyle Ryan (optioned to Triple-A Iowa) and Allen Webster (reassigned to Minor League camp). Outfielder Mark Zagunis was told that he earned the final spot on the Cubs' bench. Those decisions brought the roster's initial alignment into focus as Chicago aims to climb back to the top of the National League Central this year.
"I told Rizzo he was on the team," quipped Maddon, referring to Cubs star first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "He was really sweating it out."
All kidding aside, this is an important season for Chicago, which won 95 games last year but lost its grip on the NL Central crown in a Game 163 loss to the Brewers before being pushed off the October stage by the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game. Maddon knows that the landscape of the NL, and especially in the division, will not be easier in the season ahead.
"I would take 95 every year," Maddon said. "That's going to be more difficult, even with a perfectly healthy roster all season and everybody pretty much playing up to their capabilities. I just think that the rest of the division [has] gotten better. I think the National League's gotten better. So taking all those things into consideration, to get to that number is going to be not easy.
"It's definitely attainable. Of course, it's our goal. But I just look at other teams that we see here and I watch and I listen and I see other teams that have gotten better. So I think it's going to be a very interesting National League year."
Here is the final makeup of the Cubs' 25-man roster:
Catcher (2): Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras
What changed? This catching tandem remained steady throughout camp. Chicago explored more veteran backup options in the name of depth, but the Cubs will start the year with Caratini in that role. Contreras led MLB in innings caught (1,109 2/3) in 2018 and will shoulder a heavy load again in '19.
First base (1): Rizzo
What changed? Status quo here. Rizzo got through camp fine and heads into this season as one of the NL Central's star first basemen, alongside Joey Votto of the Reds and Paul Goldschmidt of the Cardinals. Rizzo has averaged 30 homers and 105 RBIs over the past four years.
Second base (1): Ben Zobrist
What changed? Expect second base to involve a few players in the first month. The only change here is that Ian Happ -- thought to be in the mix at second -- has been optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Zobrist will get plenty of work here, while also garnering innings in the outfield.
Third base (1): Kris Bryant
What changed? The only update at third base is that Bryant got through camp healthy and feeling strong. He was confident that would be the case, but the full spring workload answered any questions he or fans had about his left shoulder. Bryant is hoping to be back to MVP-caliber production.
Shortstop (1): Javier Báez
What changed? Baez heated up at the plate late in camp, looking very much like the MVP runner-up he was last season. The only change at this spot could come in May, when shortstop Addison Russell will be eligible to come back from the restricted list. If that comes to fruition, Baez would presumably slide to second.
Outfield (4): Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Zagunis
What changed? With Happ's demotion to Iowa, the Cubs had an opening on their bench. That paved the way for Zagunis to be this year's surprise Opening Day addition. He can play the corners and help out against left-handed pitching. That also means Almora will have a chance at more than a platoon role, though Heyward can back him up in center. Schwarber is the primary left fielder, but Bryant could be worked in against lefties.
Utility (2): David Bote and Daniel Descalso
What changed? The presence of Descalso as an option for second and third (and as an emergency option for short) made it easier to send Happ down to get regular at-bats in order to further his development. Bote enters the season as the backup shortstop, but he is more likely to see time on the field at second and third base.
Rotation (5): Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and José Quintana
What changed? The rotation had a late-camp scare when Darvish developed a blister on his right ring finger, but the issue did not wind up being serious. So, the Cubs revealed that their rotation order for the first series in Texas will be Lester (Thursday), Darvish (Saturday) and Hamels (Sunday). The only real change here is that Hendricks received a chunk of change on the last day of camp. The Cubs inked the righty to a four-year extension (2020-23) with a team option for '24.
Bullpen (8): Brad Brach, Tyler Chatwood, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Brandon Kintzler, Mike Montgomery, Randy Rosario, Pedro Strop
What changed? At the start of camp, Tony Barnette looked like a leading contender for a 'pen spot, but a right shoulder issue slowed him down. In the second wave of predictions, lefty Brian Duensing was included, but he was designated for assignment. That paved the way for a race for the final spot between Kyle Ryan, Allen Webster and Rosario. It was Rosario who got the nod as the group's second lefty (besides Montgomery). Strop dealt with a right hamstring issue during camp, but he returned to the mound Monday and was deemed fine for the opener. Closer Brandon Morrow (right elbow) will start on the injured list and is expected to miss a month. Lefty Xavier Cedeno (left wrist) and Barnette will join him on the shelf to start the year.
Here's the roster breakdown:
Albert Almora Jr.
Carl Edwards Jr.