How the Cubs landed on their Opening Day roster
In advance of Opening Day, the Cubs have set their roster for the 2020 season — with a few surprises in the mix.
As expected, José Quintana was added to the 10-day injured list (retroactive to July 20) with his thumb injury and veteran infielder Daniel Descalso was also placed on the 45-day IL with a left ankle sprain.
Descalso felt a pinch in his left ankle on a swing in Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the Twins. He dealt with an injury to the same ankle last season.
Descalso’s status on the long-term IL opened up a spot on the 40-man roster. The Cubs also cleared room by designating utility player Robel García for assignment.
With those two spots, the Cubs added Josh Phegley and Rex Brothers to the 40-man roster, introducing a third catcher and another left-handed reliever into the mix.
Phegley gives the Cubs depth at an important position where both Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini are in the mix for the DH spot on days they’re not behind the plate.
Here is the complete Opening Day roster:
Albert Almora Jr.
Steven Souza Jr.
Duane Underwood Jr.
The bullpen has been a main area of focus for this Cubs team since the first iteration of spring training back in Arizona. There were a lot of arms competing for the Opening Day bullpen and the four extra roster spots helped give the Cubs some wiggle room on those decisions.
“It was extremely difficult,” David Ross said. “Talking with the coaching staff, talking with the front office, just trying to weigh in on everybody’s thoughts and what we’ve seen. Some guys really stood out. Some guys throwing really well in Arizona kinda took a step back and some guys that weren’t throwing as well in Arizona took a step forward in the down time.
“So trying to weigh all options — it’s so hard and difficult in such a unique environment where you’re facing your own team with not a lot of adrenaline, especially when you’re a veteran player. … I had to go with my gut and my heart and you see how it played out.”
Ryan Tepera is a notable name absent from the initial bullpen. He has 216 big-league appearances under his belt and threw a dominant inning against the White Sox Monday night with 2 strikeouts.
The Cubs ultimately felt the 32-year-old right-hander needed more time to get up to speed. He was delayed several times during summer camp from appearing in sim games or throwing bullpens due to process-related issues and as a result, the organization made the tough decision to assign him to South Bend to start the year.
“We think he’s gonna pitch really big innings for us,” Theo Epstein said. “We just believe that he’ll benefit from a little bit of time, a couple more times off the mound to continue to get stronger, continue to lock it in and then he’ll be ready to come up and contribute.”
Tepera’s move to South Bend leaves room open for a guy like Maples or Norwood to take the opportunity and run with it.
As Epstein said, “it can’t be about development in a 60-game season” and the Cubs want to see what Maples can do with his electric stuff. Ross fought hard to get the 28-year-old on the Opening Day roster.
“A lot of power arms in the ‘pen, a lot of upside potential,” Epstein said. “We’re gonna need those guys to be good to get where we want to go this year.”
Brothers, 32, has made more than 300 MLB appearances in his career, but only 28 of those have come since 2015 as he’s battled injuries and control issues. He’s always posted big strikeout numbers and gives Ross another left-handed option out of the expanded bullpen.
“[He’s] someone else who’s improved quite a bit, pitching in the mid 90s with a plus slider – someone the staff really fought for,” Epstein said. “He was really good in the second half of last year and then carried it forward through spring training into this camp, so another swing-and-miss arm to go with our other lefties, Ryan and Wieck.”
Two weeks into the season, the roster will move from 30 to 28 spots and two weeks after that, it will be bumped down to the standard 26-man roster format.