Money has been discussed as the primary obstacle preventing the Cubs from adding a seasoned reliever to the bullpen, but a full 40-man roster is probably a bigger impediment. That will all change in a week because the 60-day IL once again becomes an option the day pitchers and catchers report. Not only will the Cubs open up several roster spots via procedural moves, but the asking prices for those remaining free agents may be lower with camps opening up.
That gives Jed Hoyer and Co. at least two months to decide how to handle other roster decisions, with some players likely convalescing for half the season or more.
Kyle Hendricks hasn’t thrown from a mound yet and isn’t expected to until early March, at which point his return to the big club won’t come until late April if things go well. Codi Heuer and Ethan Roberts are both throwing again as they work back from elbow reconstructions in March and June, respectively but neither will be available until at least June.
Alexander Canario will also miss a significant chunk of the season after undergoing procedures for a broken left ankle and dislocated left shoulder suffered in a nasty spill during a Dominican Winter League game. Canario seems to be moving well in a walking boot and the dislocation was to his non-throwing shoulder, but it will be a while before he’s able to resume full baseball activities.
In addition to — or perhaps rather than — signing free agents, the Cubs could also allot those freed-up spaces to some of the pitchers they’ve picked up on minor league deals. Ryan Borucki and Anthony Kay are both lefties who figure to be battling for a spot in an arm barn that boasts just one southpaw in Brandon Hughes.
Then there’s Mark Leiter Jr., who just re-signed with the Cubs after being DFA’d and rejecting his assignment to Iowa. His solid performance in a relief role featured very strong reverse splits and it’s entirely likely he chose to come back based on the knowledge that he’d have the inside track to regaining a roster spot in spring training.
The team won’t be in any rush with those internal decisions, but I could see them working quickly to add someone new and then waiting until the 15th to make it official.