Examining where the Cubs' roster stands after Jackson signing

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Examining where the Cubs' roster stands after Jackson signing

As the Cubs added two more pitchers to the mix Thursday, the Opening Day roster has rounded into focus a bit more.

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Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva figure to be integral parts of the pitching staff in 2013. If Villanueva doesn't crack the rotation to start, he will have an impact in the bullpen and provide insurance should a starter suffer through injury or ineffectiveness.

Jackson and Villanueva join Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Kyuji Fujikawa, Hector Rondon, Cory Wade and Sandy Rosario as new additions to the Cubs' pitching staff this offseason.

With so much shake-up, let's take a look at what the 25-man roster could be when the Cubs break camp and head to Wrigley Field. Keep in mind, there's still roughly two months left in the offseason, so things may change an awful lot between now and then.

Position players

C: Welington CastilloDioner Navarro
1B: Anthony Rizzo
2B: Darwin Barney
3B: Ian StewartLuis Valbuena
SS: Starlin Castro
LF: Alfonso Soriano
CF: David DeJesusTony Campana
RF: Nate SchierholtzDave Sappelt

The Cubs are hoping Castillo can, indeed, fulfill his promise as a catcher of the future, and Navarro should provide a veteran presence and help mentor Castillo. Steve Clevenger also figures to be in the mix. He was handed the job of Geovany Soto's backup in spring training last season. There's a chance Clevenger winds up cracking the roster as a third catcher and backup first baseman.

Journeymen Brian Bogusevic (outfield) and Edwin Maysonet (infield) may take on utility roles, with young guns Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Expect some more changes to this group, as the Cubs currently lack position player depth.

Pitchers

SP: Matt Garza
SP: Jeff Samardzija
SP: Edwin Jackson
SP: Travis WoodScott Baker
SP: Carlos VillanuevaScott FeldmanArodys Vizcaino

CL: Carlos Marmol
RP: Kyuji Fujikawa
RP: Shawn Camp
RP: James Russell
RP: Hector Rondon
RP: Michael BowdenSandy RosarioCory WadeRafael Dolis

The Cubs signed Wade this week in an under-the-radar move. The 29-year-old righty has a career 3.65 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in four seasons with the Dodgers and Yankees. But his big league career has been marked by inconsistency -- he had an ERA of 2.27 in '08 and 2.04 in '11, but ERAs of 5.53 in 2009 and 6.46 in '12 -- so there's no guarantees.

Whoever doesn't crack the starting rotation figures to be moved to the bullpen, with Feldman and Villanueva having spent extended time as relievers in the past. Wood may also be an option as a reliever, providing another left-handed arm for manager Dale Sveum to call on.

There's also no guarantee Garza or Baker are healthy at the beginning of the year, as each is coming off an elbow injury. Vizcaino is coming off Tommy John, and as Insider Patrick Mooney has said all winter, will be brought along slowly.

RELATED: Would Cubs go all-in on Samardzija or Garza?

Rondon is a Rule 5 draft pick, so the Cubs have to keep him on the 25-man roster all year or risk losing him. They can also put him on the disabled list -- as they did with Lendy Castillo last season -- to retain his services beyond 2013 even if he struggles to get outs in the majors, but the MLB is reportedly cracking down on such loopholes this season, so he may fill a roster spot all year.

Dolis spent part of last season as the closer when Marmol went to the DL and could find his way back in the big-league bullpen at some point in 2013.

Young lefties Jeff Beliveau, Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley could be in the mix as well and Castillo, Casey Coleman, Marcos Mateo, Blake Parker, Jensen Lewis and Jason Berken are other options from the right side. Alberto Cabrera has been stretched out a bit as a starter this fall and winter and may wind up an option in the rotation or bullpen late in the season while 2011 draft pick Tony Zych is quickly climbing through the system.

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

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The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Matt Szczur or Tommy La Stella on the Cubs Opening Day roster?

How about both?

Theo Epstein told reporters Wednesday morning the Cubs plan to keep both Szczur and La Stella on the Opening Day 25-man roster with relief pitcher Brian Duensing headed to the disabled list.

Duensing, 34, has been hampered by a back issue this spring.

Szczur is out of minor-league options, meaning the Cubs would have had to either keep him on the 25-man roster or place him on waivers, which would almost assuredly mean they'd lose him to another team.

La Stella has options left and already told manager Joe Maddon this spring he would head down to the minors if asked (something La Stella was unwilling to do in August last year when he refused assignment).

The move makes the most sense for the Cubs, as the need for eight relief pitchers is not as imperative in April when the team has five off-days in the first month of the season.

Of course, the Cubs still have four days left of exhibition action, but assuming nothing else changes, here's how the Cubs roster will look Opening Night in St. Louis Sunday:

Catchers

Willson Contreras
Miguel Montero

Infielders

Anthony Rizzo
Ben Zobrist
Javy Baez
Addison Russell
Kris Bryant
Tommy La Stella

Outfielders

Jason Heyward
Albert Almora
Jon Jay
Kyle Schwarber
Matt Szczur

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Jake Arrieta
John Lackey
Brett Anderson
Kyle Hendricks

Relief pitchers

Mike Montgomery
Justin Grimm
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
Koji Uehara
Wade Davis

The Cubs figure to eventually make room for Duensing on the roster as the bullpen could use another left-handed pitcher, but those decisions often take care of themselves with either health problems or trade options, etc.

Remember, there is a 10-day disabled list this year in the MLB, so placing a guy on the DL doesn't guarantee losing him for more than two weeks anymore.