<
>

Roster analysis: Munenori Kawasaki, Matt Szczur decision was close one

Munenori Kawasaki performed well this spring, but right now Triple-A is where he should be. Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports

MESA, Ariz. -- The roster moves the Chicago Cubs made Tuesday were pretty straightforward, though Munenori Kawasaki certainly made his case to make the team in the absence of Javier Baez, who’s out for the start of the regular season with a thumb injury.

Kawasaki has looked fantastic at the plate (.381/.469/.595/1.065) this spring, and the fact of the matter is Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant can play outfield while none of the current outfielders can play infield. Therefore, it was a little surprising to see Matt Szczur make the team instead of Kawasaki. Then again, Szczur is out of options and this solves that problem -- at least for the moment. In any case, it leaves Tommy La Stella as the lone infielder off the bench for the first week, but even that isn’t a big deal unless there are mid-game injuries. The first two contests of the season are played with the designated hitter, making pinch-hitting less likely.

“There’s less things probably to do,” Joe Maddon said Tuesday morning. “It presents differently, but there’s probably less likelihood or reason to pinch-hit in an American League game.”

La Stella: Some fans might think Kawasaki, or even others who have been sent down already, deserved a spot on the roster over La Stella, but Maddon set the tone for how he feels about the third-year player early in camp when he declared La Stella could “wake up at 3 am” and hit anyone. Many are forgetting that pinch-hitting is not an easy task. When healthy, La Stella has proven he’ll give a good at-bat no matter the situation. He’s looked good at the plate this spring since returning from a calf injury.

Neil Ramirez: The Cubs did the right thing here, both in keeping Ramirez and making the decision to keep eight relievers. Ramirez is slowly starting to show his 2014 form, and both Maddon and him believe Ramirez's velocity will find its way back up into the mid-90s. It takes time -- Ramirez has indicated there’s a process he won’t rush -- and either way it shouldn’t take away from his nasty breaking stuff, including a slider which will look only better as his fastball velocity increases. Giving up on him would have been a mistake, and the Cubs realized that.

Eight relievers: It just feels right, as the Cubs don’t want to put too much stress on their starting staff. Now Maddon can mix and match and not worry about overusing anyone, as possessing just one extra guy in the bullpen can make a huge difference. Plus, we simply don’t know which relievers are going to be on their game and which might struggle starting next week. Spring gave mixed results from Travis Wood to Clayton Richard to Hector Rondon.

If we went solely off of spring results newcomer Spencer Patton (0.00 ERA) would be here and someone else would be down, but Maddon has repeatedly stated spring statistics don’t mean much for established, healthy pitchers coming off success the season before. That pretty much describes every Cubs player, which makes sense considering that they won 97 games.

The fact of the matter is bullpens are volatile from year to year. The Cubs employ several relievers who came out of nowhere -- such as Richard and Trevor Cahill -- to help them to the postseason last year. Will they all repeat their success? Odds are they won’t, so the question is which guys will be THE guys out of the pen? When will the team need to dip into Triple-A for help? Their moves made sense right now, and the 25-man roster is set.