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Who might make the Cubs' Opening Day roster?

@MLBastian
January 28, 2020

CHICAGO -- The bulk of the change that has taken place for the Cubs this offseason has been behind the scenes. Manager David Ross is now at the helm with a retooled coaching staff, and there have been alterations throughout the front office and farm system. In what has been

CHICAGO -- The bulk of the change that has taken place for the Cubs this offseason has been behind the scenes. Manager David Ross is now at the helm with a retooled coaching staff, and there have been alterations throughout the front office and farm system.

In what has been a wild winter for Major League maneuvering, though, the Cubs have been relatively quiet. Chicago's decision-makers have been waiting out the top end of the free-agent market and weighing trade talks. There is still time for the Cubs to make a blockbuster move to shake up their Major League roster, but Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, has emphasized that he would not "force" anything in trade negotiations.

Epstein was asked at the Winter Meetings last month if he would be comfortable heading into 2020 with the status quo.

"I'd feel good. I feel like we'd have one of the most talented teams in the league," Epstein said, "but that we'd have some areas of exposure where we would need a lot of things to go right. But we'd have guys in place that have a lot of potential, where things could really break our way and we could be fairly dynamic.

"But leave no doubt, there are areas [where] we want to acquire players to address our weaknesses and put us in the best possible position to succeed. Status quo, it's not a bad option, but we're obviously out there looking to make changes and change the dynamic and improve and grow."

MLB.com examined the possible Opening Day rosters for all 30 teams at the start of the offseason. Here is an updated look at the Cubs' roster as things stand and with Spring Training less than a month away.

Catcher
Locks: Victor Caratini, Willson Contreras

Early in the offseason, Contreras' name was a popular one in trade rumors, reports and speculation. That chatter has quieted as the winter has progressed, making it seem more likely that the Cubs will return with a tandem of Contreras and Caratini for '20.

First base
Lock: Anthony Rizzo

The Cubs picked up Rizzo's $16.5 million team option for '20, and the club has another option at the same value for '21. That's a bargain for one of the best all-around first basemen in the Majors. During the Winter Meetings, Epstein confirmed that there have been no extension talks with Rizzo.

Second base
Locks: None
Possibilities: David Bote, Daniel Descalso, Robel Garcia, Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, free agent/trade

The key to unlocking the second-base mystery will be the decision on Hoerner. The team's top prospect will either start the season with Triple-A Iowa or get a chance to open with Chicago. From there the Cubs could pair him (or Bote) with a lefty-hitting option (an external solution is possible).

Shortstop
Lock: Javier Báez

Báez proved in '19 that moving off second base full-time was not a problem. He continued to put up robust numbers offensively and played elite defense at short. It would take something drastic for him not to be back at shortstop come Opening Day. The only real question is whether he and the Cubs find a common ground in extension talks.

Third base
Lock: Kris Bryant

Most of the rumors swirling around the Cubs this offseason have involved Bryant. A number of teams needed third-base help, and Chicago happens to have one of the best in baseball under control. So far there has been more smoke than fire. With Josh Donaldson headed to the Twins, things could get rolling again on this front when the Cubs get resolution concerning Bryant's service-time grievance.

Outfield
Locks: Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber
Possibilities: Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Steven Souza Jr., free agent/trade

The Cubs would have loved to bring back Nick Castellanos, but there proved to be too many obstacles for a reunion, and he opted to sign a four-year deal with the Reds. Chicago's moves to date have made it clear that the club is operating with budgetary restrictions. That includes signing Souza to a one-year contract that includes a base salary of $1 million (plus up to $2 million in incentives), following two seasons marred by injuries for the corner outfielder. If healthy and on the roster, Souza can provided a right-handed complement to Heyward in right field. Barring something unexpected, Happ and Almora will likely form a timeshare in center. Happ showed improvement down the stretch, and the Cubs believe Almora is a prime bounce-back candidate after a rough '19.

Utility
Locks: David Bote, Daniel Descalso
Possibilities: Robel Garcia, free agent/trade

Although the Cubs have not yet officially announced any non-roster Minor League signings, the versatile Hernán Pérez will be in camp as a utility candidate. Depending on how the rest of the infield shakes out, Bote and Descalso will also be in the mix, along with Garcia.

Rotation
Locks: Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, José Quintana
Possibilities: Tyler Chatwood, free agent/trade

Barring a trade, Darvish, Hendricks, Lester and Quintana are locked in as the front four. The Cubs will look to the lower tier of free agency for a possible fifth starter. In any significant trade talks, Chicago will also be targeting young, controllable starting pitching. If there are no additions, Chatwood looks like the best bet to get the No. 5 job, with Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay serving as the next two options. Behind that group are Jharel Cotton and Colin Rea, among others.

Bullpen
Locks: Craig Kimbrel, Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick
Possibilities: Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood, Jharel Cotton, Jeremy Jeffress, Travis Lakins, Dillon Maples, Trevor Megill, Alec Mills, James Norwood, CD Pelham, Casey Sadler, Ryan Tepera, Duane Underwood Jr., Brad Wieck, Dan Winkler, free agent/trade

Even if more moves are coming, the Cubs' bullpen will be an ongoing topic throughout the spring and into the season. Kimbrel is set to return as the closer, with Ryan and Wick as setup options. The Cubs also have an agreement in place on an MLB deal with Jeffress, who will be hoping to bounce back from a subpar showing in '19. From there, it's a wide-open race for jobs. Although the move has not been officially announced, Brandon Morrow will be in camp as one of a slew of non-roster invitees, giving the Cubs a no-risk, high-reward possibility.

Mills and Underwood are out of options, so Chicago will take a close look at them this spring, along with Rule 5 Draft pickup Megill. Signed to one-year deals, Winkler and Tepera will be leading candidates for Opening Day roles, though it is worth noting that they have Minor League options. Jeffress is out of options. Maples, Norwood and Wieck are among the top returning candidates.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.