With no last-minute acquisitions anticipated, Cubs’ opening roster all but set
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MESA, Ariz. — Two days before the Cubs break camp, their Opening Day roster came into focus Sunday when they designated struggling left-hander Brian Duensing for assignment. The move came one day after they optioned outfielder Ian Happ to the minors.
It’s still possible the Cubs will add a player from a waiver claim or trade to fill an opening on the roster, but president Theo Epstein said the likelihood is ‘‘pretty high’’ those who will make up the final mix are already in-house.
‘‘There’s always movement right at the end of camp,’’ he said. ‘‘There are players we have an eye on and teams we are still talking to, but we’ve been talking to them all spring. It’s probably more likely than not that the 25 guys that we break with are here in camp.’’
The Cubs did add a left-hander, using the 40-man roster spot vacated by Duensing to sign reliever Tim Collins, who recently was released by the Twins after pitching last season for the Nationals.
Collins, who signed a split contract worth $850,000 on the major-league side of it, immediately was optioned to Class AAA Iowa.
Barring a last-minute acquisition, the Happ move means corner outfielder Mark Zagunis will win the final position-player spot after what manager Joe Maddon called an ‘‘outstanding’’ spring. After an injury-hampered 2018, he showed the power and on-base ability minor-league instructors had touted the last two years.
‘‘What he’s doing is not a surprise; we just have not seen it here,’’ Maddon said of Zagunis, who had brief stretches with the big-league club each of the last two seasons.
The bullpen composition looks more potluck than prime rib at first glance, with closer Brandon Morrow (elbow) out for the first month, Pedro Strop coming off a hamstring issue, Tyler Chatwood stuck there after historic control problems last season, Brandon Kintzler back after a poor finish and only one veteran left-hander (Mike Montgomery).
And with Duensing out, the choices for the final spot look more Craigslist than Craig Kimbrel, with left-hander Kyle Ryan or left-hander Randy Rosario expected to get the call before the Cubs leave Arizona on Tuesday.
But Epstein, whose team used 23 pitchers and five position players in relief last season, looks at his bullpen over weeks and months as the eight-man opening crew, plus Morrow, plus another eight-man crew for depth at Iowa.
‘‘You always have some concerns every year because you’re always imagining what happens if this guy’s not healthy, what happens if that guy doesn’t perform, what are the backup plans,’’ Epstein said.
‘‘The next eight relievers that we have in Triple-A, it’ll be the best group that we have had there since I’ve been here. So when I look at that group of, say, 16 pitchers, I’m really confident that there are at least eight pitchers in that group that are going to have really good big-league years.’’
Duensing, a clubhouse favorite, enjoyed a career season for the Cubs in 2017 before signing a two-year deal to return and slumping during a 2018 season that also was hampered by injuries.
Assuming Duensing and his $3.5 million salary aren’t claimed off waivers, he’s expected to return to the organization and start the season in the minors.
‘‘This guy’s been a big part of our culture and our success the last couple of years,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He’s a big part of the maintenance of our bullpen. And even in the clubhouse, he’s just a really good guy to be around; guys gather toward him. And that’s missed right now.
‘‘But if this whole thing works out, you may see him back here again with us as he continues to work through some stuff.”
Cubs projected Opening Day roster
- Starting pitchers (5): LH Jon Lester, RH Yu Darvish, LH Cole Hamels, RH Kyle Hendricks, LH Jose Quintana.
- Relief pitchers (8*): RH Pedro Strop, RH Carl Edwards Jr., RH Steve Cishek, LH Mike Montgomery, RH Brad Brach, RH Brad Kintzler, RH Tyler Chatwood.
- Catchers (2): Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini.
- Infielders (6): 1B Anthony Rizzo, 3B Kris Bryant, SS Javy Baez, Daniel Descalso, David Bote, IF/OF Ben Zobrist.
- Outfielders (4): LF Kyle Schwarber, CF Albert Almora Jr., RF/CF Jason Heyward, LF/RF Mark Zagunis.
*-Final spot expected to go to one of the last two lefties in camp competing: Kyle Ryan and Randy Rosario.