Roster decisions: Best 25 or need?

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was just Thursday that Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, “You want to take the best 25” in reference to his roster for the regular season. In other words, the best 25 players who deserve to make the team.

Many of those choices are easy ones. No matter what kind of spring Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have, they’re making it. Same goes for most of the Cubs roster, save a few position spots and bullpen openings. Every team in baseball goes through the same thing.

But what about those final spots? Are they won based on spring games or are they won based on past major league production -- or both? When it comes to the final roster positions, many times there isn’t much past production to go by so spring training is all there is.

Take the case of Oak Lawn native Brian Bogusevic. He was a first-round pick for Houston in 2005 as a pitcher but he switched to outfield in 2008. The Cubs picked him up as a free agent in the offseason and now he might be proving he’s one of the best 25 in camp, but he’s still a longshot to make the team. Entering action on Friday he was hitting .444 with seven extra base hits, most on the team. But because he bats from the left side he may not be needed.

“We’re a pretty left-handed team,” Bogusevic said Friday morning after doubling home two runs on Thursday against the Dodgers. “At the same time that’s not something you can control. So the only thing you can do is try to prepare as best you can and perform as best you can and leave the decisions up to the decision-makers.”

That may be true, but it has to be frustrating if he continues hitting like he has while his main competition, Darnell McDonald and Dave Sappelt, struggle. They’re hitting .185 and .167, respectively. But they’re right-handed and hence have a better chance of making the team.

“The spring... isn’t about stats it’s about other things,” manager Dale Sveum said in regards to Bogusevic. “And it’s all on a need basis and what we need at that time. But he’s definitely opened up some eyes.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for him to make the team. So is it the best 25 or what they need at the time? This isn’t about Sveum talking out of both sides of his mouth, it’s about what’s reality and what’s not.

The reality is the Cubs have two left-handed outfielders in Nick Schierholtz and David DeJesus and Bogusevic could hit .800 and he wouldn’t be beating them out. And three left-handed outfielders with other left-handers or switch hitters on the roster isn’t needed.

“It’s always nice to put together some nice at-bats in spring and when you’re competing for a spot that’s what you have to do,” Bogusevic said.

But sometimes you have to do more. And sometimes you can never do enough to make it. The numbers and politics are simply against you.

This isn’t to say it’s an easy decision for the manager or front office. Chris Rusin is pitching lights out this spring but was beat up when he threw in the big leagues last year. Meanwhile, Scott Feldman has an 11.81 ERA so far after getting hit again on Friday against the White Sox. But he’s a former 17-game winner.

“Results aren’t always indicative of how you throw the ball sometimes, especially here in spring training in Arizona,” Feldman said after his 3.2 IP and five-run performance on Friday.

Isn’t that what every pitcher says after he gets hit in the spring? But who’s to say he’s wrong? After all, this is the time to work on things and not necessarily just concentrate on getting outs. Would his pitch sequence to the Sox’ Jordan Danks, who homered against Feldman, be different if this was the regular season?

And do his struggles mean Rusin should be starting over Feldman come April or maybe even over Carlos Villanueva? Sveum is so sure that’s not the answer he’s already announced his rotation for the first week -- and it doesn’t include Rusin, whose ERA is a sparkling 0.69.

No one is saying it should mean everything, but spring games have to have some meaning -- especially for those who are young or trying to establish or re-establish themselves.

The bottom line is decisions have to be made and can always be “fixed” but sometimes it’s at the cost of wins and losses. Take the best 25 or what you need at the time? Sveum has said it both ways.

  • After the weekend of split squad games the Cubs will make cuts and get closer to their regular season roster. One squad plays in Las Vegas on Saturday and Sunday against the Texas Rangers.

    “It’s kind of nice,” Sveum said of the trip. “It breaks it up a little bit. Then all of sudden we get back and it’s time to start kicking things into gear.”

  • Injured prospect Junior Lake was optioned to Triple-A Iowa. With the progress he made this spring when he returns from a shoulder problem Sveum said he's “a phone call away” if needed to play for the Cubs.

  • Brett Jackson was a scratch from Friday’s split-squad game against the Japanese team from the WBC.

    “Ongoing shoulder problems,” Sveum said. “We’ll see what happens the next couple days. ... I think it's soreness. Not (always) bothering him, hitting just when he throws.”

  • Sveum was out to dinner on Thursday night when he found out top prospect Albert Almora broke a bone in his hand on a swing that afternoon.

    Almora tweeted the injury and Sveum was asked if that’s how he found out.

    “You guys know I don’t twit,” he replied.