Opening Day roster projection: A flurry of moves illuminates Cubs’ decisions

The Cubs traded Zach McKinstry, outrighted Rowan Wick, optioned Christopher Morel and reassigned Mike Tauchman and Roenis Elias to minor-league camp.

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The Cubs optioned Christopher Morel to Triple-A Iowa on Monday.

The Cubs optioned Christopher Morel to Triple-A Iowa on Monday.

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs are close to finalizing their Opening Day roster. Another wave of players was called to manager David Ross’ office Monday to learn whether they would be breaking camp with the team.

The Cubs traded infielder Zach McKinstry to the Tigers for minor-league pitcher Carlos Guzman, outrighted right-hander Rowan Wick to Triple-A Iowa and optioned utility player Christopher Morel to Iowa. They also reassigned outfielder Mike Tauchman and left-hander Roenis Elias, both non-roster invitees, to minor-league camp.

Even three days before Opening Day, things might change before the Cubs have to submit their roster — if they wanted to add a player off waivers, for example. But here’s a prediction, based on the Sun-Times’ reporting, of how the roster might shake out.

Rotation (5)

• RHP Marcus Stroman

• LHP Justin Steele

• RHP Jameson Taillon

• LHP Drew Smyly

• RHP Hayden Wesneski

The rotation is set. Ross has named the Opening Day starter (Stroman) and the fifth starter (Wesneski). The other three are lined up to pitch in the order above.

The Cubs named Wesneski to the Opening Day roster after his first big-league spring training.

‘‘I think we probably expected this, but not quite as quickly, honestly,’’ president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of Wesneski, who was acquired from the Yankees at the trade deadline last year. ‘‘He’s thrown great. He was obviously really fun to watch last year, and then he’s carried that over and had a really great spring.

‘‘Everyone talks about the ‘fifth’ starter role. Our expectation, hope, is he throws a lot better than what you’d consider a fifth starter, and he certainly looked like that all spring.’’

Bullpen (8)

• RHP Javier Assad

• RHP Adbert Alzolay

• RHP Keegan Thompson

• RHP Brad Boxberger

• RHP Michael Fulmer

• RHP Julian Merryweather

• RHP Michael Rucker

• RHP Mark Leiter Jr.

Left-hander Brandon Hughes (inflammation in left knee) likely will start the season on the injured list. That leaves the Cubs without any left-handed relievers. The team opened two 40-man roster spots by trading McKinstry and outrighting Wick, and one of those spots is expected to go to a pitcher.

Leiter Jr. and left-hander Ryan Borucki, non-roster invitees with strong track records against lefty batters, have impressed the Cubs. Leiter is thought to have the edge. And the Cubs don’t want to lose him, given he has an opt-out built into his contract.

Ross said Monday that Assad made the Opening Day roster in the bullpen, as expected, after his impressive spring.

‘‘He’s pretty unflappable,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We’ve seen him go into New York and throw a gem. We’ve seen him pitch on a big stage in the [World Baseball Classic]. I don’t think anything really concerns him, and that’s wonderful. So he certainly earned the job. And he earned the job, in part, with how he threw in the WBC. That certainly opened everyone’s eyes and made it clear that in short bursts like that, he can be really effective.’’

Catchers (3)

• Yan Gomes

• Tucker Barnhart

• Luis Torrens

The other open spot on the 40-man roster goes to Torrens.

‘‘The way he can catch and throw, the power he has, there’s a lot of reasons to like him,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘He’s also versatile.’’

Torrens, who entered play Monday hitting .316 with two home runs in Cactus League play, essentially slides into the role P.J. Higgins filled last season. He could be an impact bat off the bench or a designated hitter, and he has played some first base.

The Cubs also value depth at catcher. And because of language in Torrens’ contract, they would have risked losing him if they had decided to carry only two catchers.

Infielders (8)

• SS Dansby Swanson

• 2B Nico Hoerner

• 1B Eric Hosmer

• 1B/DH Trey Mancini

• 3B Patrick Wisdom

• 3B Nick Madrigal

• UTL Edwin Ríos

• UTL Miles Mastrobuoni

The trade of McKinstry cleared up the Cubs’ bench picture. McKinstry and Mastrobuoni have similar profiles, both left-handed batters who can play multiple positions. Mastrobuoni has been part of the mix in right field lately, making him a candidate to help fill in for Seiya Suzuki (strained left oblique).

Mastrobuoni also has been hitting well this spring, both in Cactus League play (.500 on-base percentage entering Monday) and the World Baseball Classic (5-for-18 with two doubles). And he has minor-league options left, unlike McKinstry.

Adding Mastrobuoni to the roster, however, made Morel the odd man out. Morel has been on a tear, launching four homers this month and going 3-for-4 with two doubles Saturday.

‘‘He’s the nicest kid in the world and super-upbeat, respectful; he’s awesome,’’ Hoyer said of delivering the news to Morel. ‘‘It was just like: ‘Hey, you’re just not going to play every day here. That’s not the best thing for your development. And when we do call on you, we want you to play. So go get a lot of at-bats, and when we need you and you’re playing great, we’ll bring you up.’ But for the role he was likely to be in for us, it didn’t make a lot of sense.’’

Outfielders (2)

• LF Ian Happ

• CF Cody Bellinger

The Cubs, of course, will put three outfielders in the field every day. But they’re poised to fill Suzuki’s spot in right field with a rotating cast until he returns. Mastrobuoni, Mancini and Wisdom all are expected to pitch in. But Suzuki might not be on the injured list for long, which played into their decision to leave Tauchman off the roster.

The Cubs haven’t announced a timeline for Suzuki’s return. And after his minor-league progression in Arizona, he still will have to go on a rehab assignment with an affiliate. But if he remains on schedule with his rehab, he realistically might return as early as mid-April.

Injured list

• Codi Heuer (60-day)

• Ethan Roberts (60-day)

• RF Seiya Suzuki

• LHP Brandon Hughes

• RHP Kyle Hendricks

Hughes originally was tabbed to throw in the Cubs’ game Monday against the White Sox, but he threw a high-intensity bullpen session instead. That change in schedule will allow the Cubs to backdate the expected IL move.

Suzuki was scheduled to play three innings on defense in a minor-league game Monday, Ross said. As long as he continues to progress smoothly, the team hopes to get him at-bats sometime around this coming weekend.

Hendricks said recently that he’s scheduled to throw live batting practice by the second week of April.

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