MESA, Ariz. — The message has been made clear: Right-hander Adbert Alzolay is going to be a part of the Cubs’ plans in 2021. When and how are still to be determined this spring.
The Cubs are waiting to hear if they’ll be granted a fourth option on Alzolay, 26, a decision that could loom large as the team prepares to put together its Opening Day roster.
Alzolay has been competing with right-hander Alec Mills to be the Cubs’ fifth starter this spring, but the additional option could mean he starts the season at the team’s alternate site in South Bend.
That’s not the plan he has in mind, however.
“In my mind, I’m going to make the [Opening Day] roster,” Alzolay said. “That’s what I have on my mind.
‘‘I don’t really like all the [option] things on my mind. Those things are negative to me. I don’t try to put that in my mind. I’m just trying to control what I can do on the field.’’
MLB deemed that 2020 was not a “full” season. Players who were called up and sent down in ’20 would have an additional option, which is what the players’ union is arguing against.
Every player gets three minor-league options once he’s added to a team’s 40-man roster. The process allows players to be called up and sent down without being forced to go through waivers.
Alzolay pitched for the Cubs and the team’s alternate site in South Bend last season, using his third and final option. If the arbiter rules in favor of the union, Alzolay would be out of options, which would give him a clear path to being on the Opening Day roster.
If the ruling goes against the union, the Cubs would gain an additional option year on players whose third option was exhausted in the shortened 60-game season.
“I don’t ever look at players when they’re on the field [in terms] of their options status,” manager David Ross said. “I look at them like, how are they performing and do they have a chance to make our team and make our team better? Or, how are we best fit to break camp to be the best version of ourselves?
“Obviously, with guys that have options, you have depth pieces. But if a guy has an option, I don’t just all of a sudden think he’s gonna go to the alternate site. If he’s the best pitcher or he’s the best position player, they should make the team.”
Ross’ feelings are absolutely spot-on, but baseball has shown, especially in the last few years, that the best players don’t always make the team. The issue of service-time manipulation throughout baseball has made that clear.
The fourth option would allow the Cubs to monitor Alzolay’s innings. Alzolay has been in the Cubs’ system since 2013, but he has never thrown more than 130 innings as a pro, and after the abbreviated 2020 season, pitchers’ workloads are going to have to be carefully monitored.
“I think, from my perspective right now, that option doesn’t really affect our work that we’re putting in,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “We know that if we’re gonna do what we want to do this year, he’s gonna be a big part of it.
“So option or no option, that may come into play more in terms of starts and how we’re trying to put together all these innings for all these guys.
‘‘But for right now, for Adbert, our goal is to just continue to progress through spring training so that he’s ready to compete and do everything he can once the season starts.”