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24 for ’24: What will the 2024 Cubs Opening Day roster look like?

1 month agoAndy Martinez

As the Cubs embark on a new campaign with a new manager (Craig Counsell) at the helm, we answer 24 of the most pressing questions for the 2024 season.

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs are exactly a week away from breaking camp and boarding a charter to Arlington, Texas to take on the World Series champion Rangers.

So, who are the group of 26 players that will be on that plane?

Here’s our roster projection with Opening Day around the corner:

Starting Rotation (5+1 IL)

Justin Steele
Kyle Hendricks
Jordan Wicks
Shota Imanaga
Drew Smyly
Jameson Taillon (15-day IL)

Steele will take the ball on Opening Day, but the way the rotation is currently lined up, Hendricks would start game 2 of the season and Jordan Wicks could toe the rubber in the series finale, breaking up the lefties. 

Imanaga then would pitch the home opener on Monday, April 1. He’s been pitching on five days rest and is scheduled to start a minor league game on Wednesday. That would line him up to start the Spring Training finale against the Cardinals and the home opener after that.

Counsell has been intentional in his past about trying to maximize time off for starters to keep them fresh throughout the year. While Imanaga has been used to pitching on five days rest in Japan, the move isn’t done solely for him — Counsell wants to build in rest for starters as much as he can.

“Don’t just focus on Shota, I think that’s important,” Counsell said earlier this month. “I think everybody can benefit from that throughout the course of the season.”

That second game at Wrigley, then, becomes interesting for Counsell and the Cubs. They could turn to Smyly in that spot, then wrap up the series against Colorado with Steele on 5 days rest and then go Hendricks, Wicks and Imanaga against the Dodgers. That would then allow them to really go with just 4 in their rotation from that point forward, while Taillon fully builds back up from his back injury.

Smyly is somewhat of an X-factor for Counsell. He can serve as that fifth starter, but he’s done well in a relief role that could provide an option for him, too, especially if and when Taillon returns.

Bullpen (8)

Adbert Alzolay
Héctor Neris
Mark Leiter Jr.
Julian Merryweather
Yency Almonte
Javier Assad
Luke Little
José Cuas

Alzolay developed into the Cubs closer in 2023 and while Counsell has yet to name a closer for this season, he and Neris are likely to serve as the highest leverage options. Behind that duo, Merryweather had a breakout campaign in 2023 and will look to build upon that. Leiter was a lefty specialist last season but has been working this offseason to be more than just that.

“He’s taken a point this offseason to really hone in on what he can do to be better against righties,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “These guys don’t want to be put into pockets and matchups they want to have like, ‘Hey I pitched myself into the 8th inning and 7th inning.’ And that’s what you ideally want to see happen.”

Almonte, acquired in the Michael Busch deal in January, is an intriguing relief option. He was solid in 2022 and 2020 with the Dodgers and Rockies, respectively, but struggled in the seasons around those. He had a 5.06 ERA last year and is out of options but could be the perfect change-of-scenery type pitcher. Almonte is reunited with bullpen coach Darren Holmes, his bullpen coach in Colorado when he debuted in the majors.

Assad, like Smyly, is a Swiss Army knife type for Counsell. He’s shown the ability to start and relieve and could be the perfect swingman for the Cubs when they open the season. He’ll figure to make starts at some point this season, too.

Little gives Counsell a lefty reliever option. He’s the only lefty reliever on the 40-man roster and showed flashes in his short time up in the majors last season. Cuas, acquired at the trade deadline in 2023, is a valuable piece in the bullpen. He’s shown both the desire and ability to pitch whenever, appearing in 72 games last season. Having a reliever that can be relied upon nearly every day is valuable to a bullpen to cover innings and provide cover for others.

Carl Edwards Jr., a member of the 2016 World Series championship team, signed a minor league deal with a camp invite in the offseason. He’s looked good this spring (1.59 ERA, 0.88 WHIP in 5.2 IP). He still stands a chance to make the team, but the Cubs currently have a full 40-man roster and would have to make room to add him to their Opening Day bullpen. He could be added to the team if Caleb Kilian (shoulder) is moved to the 60-day IL or if the Cubs find another way to open a roster spot, but that could be used on a position player, too.


C – Yan Gomes
1B – Michael Busch
2B – Nico Hoerner
3B – Christopher Morel
SS – Dansby Swanson
LF – Ian Happ
CF – Cody Bellinger
RF – Seiya Suzuki
DH – Mike Tauchman

The DH spot figures to be a rotating spot for Counsell, but with Nathan Eovaldi scheduled to start for the Rangers, Tauchman in that spot would be the logical choice, like he did last season against righties. The rest of the positional setup is no surprise — Counsell mentioned at the beginning of camp that Morel will have everyday looks at the hot corner and Busch will have a runway at first base.

Counsell has been known to maximize his lineups for matchups, so Busch could have a day off against a tough lefty or Morel could sit against a righty.

Bench (4+2 IL)

Miguel Amaya
Miles Mastrobuoni
Alexander Canario
Dominic Smith
Patrick Wisdom (10-day IL)
Nick Madrigal (10-day IL)

Counsell’s ability to mix-and-match means his bench will have to be versatile enough to let him do that. There’s really only one position on the bench where he’s locked into it.

“I mean, we’re gonna have a second catcher,” Counsell said with a smile. “That’s really the only thing that you have to have. The rest, I think, can be very different for really every team, but ultimately I think we’re gonna put a group together [that] they’re hopefully complementing each other in some way.”

Feel free to pencil in Amaya for one bench spot, then. 

After that, it gets a bit more tricky. 

Wisdom and Madrigal have been hampered by injuries and are out of game action. They could return this weekend, but that gives them a short ramp up, so for the purposes of this projection, we’ll assume both are starting on the IL while they recover. 

Mastrobuoni is a left-handed utility option that can play third base, second or shortstop and can play corner outfield. He has some speed, too, making him a nice fit for Counsell’s bench. 

Tauchman is the Cubs’ fourth outfielder, after Counsell confirmed he’d be on the Opening Day roster. If he’s in as DH against right-handed options, that makes it more justifiable to carry Canario as an extra outfielder and a platoon option against left-handed pitchers. 

With Kilian’s injury, that creates a 40-man spot for a non-roster invitee hitter. Smith has hit well in spring (.400 AVG, 1.029 OPS) and is a lefty bat that can play first and the outfield in a pinch. 

Garrett Cooper is also in camp as a non-roster invitee. He’s hit well, too, (.300 AVG, 1.067 OPS, 2 HR) but has a similar offensive profile to Wisdom, with less power. Carrying both would create redundancy. Wisdom is on a guaranteed contract and went through the arbitration process, so the Cubs aren’t going to give up on him so quickly. 

If they can create two more 40-man spots (assuming Kilian lands on the 60-day IL), then it becomes possible they carry Edwards in the bullpen and both Cooper and Smith while having Canario start in the minors. That, though, creates a little of a roster conundrum, with only Mastrobuoni and Amaya as optionable bench players. 

24 for ’24 series

What are the Cubs expecting from Kyle Hendricks in 2024 and beyond?
What role will Drew Smyly fill on the 2024 Cubs?
How will Jameson Taillon fare in Year 2 with Cubs?
How will Shota Imanaga handle the adjustment to MLB?
Who will DH for the Cubs?
Who is the Cubs’ fifth starter?
Will defense once again be the Cubs’ strength?
Can Seiya Suzuki pick up where he left off? 
What are the Cubs’ long-term plans at first base?
Have the Cubs done enough to address their left-handed hitting?
Will Justin Steele replicate his stellar 2023 season?
When will Pete Crow-Armstrong be up with the Cubs in Chicago?
Will Adbert Alzolay be Cubs’ closer again?

Who will hit leadoff?
How will Christopher Morel fare at third base?
How is the Cubs’ bullpen shaping up?
What will Year 2 look like for Dansby Swanson with Cubs?

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