Opening day is next Friday (April Fool’s Day, appropriately) and the Cubs are getting to the serious business of figuring out what 25 guys will be on that roster. Granted, the roster that starts the season normally looks nothing like the one that ends it, but that doesn’t mean you can just botch it and figure it all out later. Although that’s been the Cubs approach for about 70 years now.

In truth, there aren’t that many roster spots open.  That’s normally true of two kinds of teams.  Really good ones, and really mediocre ones.  Guess which one the Cubs are?

So let’s start with the givens:

Your starters are Carlos Pena at 1B, Starlin Castro at short and E-ramis Ramirez at third.  That gaping crater between Starlin and Carlos is where the second baseman is supposed to be.

Four guys are going to get the bulk of the playing time with Alfonso Soriano in left, Marlon Byrd in center and the how-in-the-hell-can-you-platoon-two-lefty-batters platoon in right of Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin.  The fifth outfielder spot is yet to be determined.

Geovany Soto figures to be one of the best catchers in the National League, his backup does not.  I was going to make fun of all of the angst over who the backup catcher is going to be, but then I remembered that I made three years of jokes about Gabor Bako and I founded the Hank White Fan Club.  So angst away!

Starting pitchers
Four of the spots are locked in with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and an encouragingly competent Randy Wells.  The fifth spot is probably locked in, too, but we’ll humor Carlos Silva a little later.

The Cubs have a closer in Carlos Marmol and lefty-righty setup guys in Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood.  John Grabow’s contract doesn’t fit under the seat in front of him or in the overhead storage unit, and that guarantees him a spot.  So, in theory, the rest of the guys are fighting over three spots.

So what’s left to decide?

Second base
Going into the spring, it seemed certain that the Cubs would platoon the righty hitting Jeff Baker (who crushes lefties) and the lefty hitting Blake DeWitt (who…uh…bats lefty.)  Baker’s been fine, and in fact is going to lead off against lefties.  But DeWitt has been awful.  He’s hitting under .170 and playing Todd Walker-like defense.  Thanks to Augie Ojeda’s back problems (and the fact that Augie is old and bad) Darwin Barney is going to make the team as the backup at second and short…but, not only has DeWitt’s struggles put Barney in position for more playing time, but it might open a roster spot for 74 year old Bobby Scales or 250 pound Scott Moore.

Scales is a switch hitter and he’s really only 33 (he’ll turn 34 during the NLDS, which the Cubs will be watching on TV), and he seems like an awesome guy.  If he makes your team, you probably suck.

Moore is really only 200 pounds, he just looks bigger.  He can play third and first and supposedly second (he played 22 games there for Baltimore last year), and if it ended up a Moore-Baker platoon, the Cubs would have the biggest, slowest second base platoon this side of Mets era-Carlos Baerga.

What’s likely to happen is that Mike Quade starts the season with DeWitt-Baker at second and Barney in reserve, but if DeWitt continues to struggle, and Barney shows any ability to hit righthanders, the Cubs might have a pair of same-side-of-the-plate platoons in the lineup, with Fukudome-Colvin in right and Barney-Baker at second.  Wow, these guys can really build a roster, can’t they?

Fifth outfielder
This one comes down to switch hitting speedster Fernando Perez and righthanded hitting Reed Johnson.  I’ll start by saying Reed Johnson is one of my favorite players, and that I think the Cubs should cut him.  He’s old (34), he’s got a bad back and while a shift from the SkyDome (Rodgers Center…whatever) turf to Wrigley Field grass did him a lot of good in 2008, he’s turned in a pair of bad, injury plagued seasons since.  In a perfect world, the Cubs would send Perez to Iowa for a month to continue to work on his switch hitting.  He had to give up batting lefthanded last year because of a hand injury and he’s still not all the way back yet.

The other problem is that while of the two, Perez has the only plus skill (he’s superfast), he’s played terrible defense this spring.  At least you know Reed is going to catch anything he can limp after.  I think Reed has already won this job.  There’s a chance Perez will clear waivers (other teams have to have noticed he’s forgotten how to catch a flyball) and end up at Iowa, and that would be fine.  But some team is going to stow him on their bench.  Hell, Joey Gathright played six seasons in the big leagues.

Fifth starter
The only question about handing this job to Andrew Cashner is that because of the rain shortened game yesterday he has yet to pitch more than four innings in a Cacti League game.  But Cashner was a starter almost exclusively in the minors (39 starts in 43 minor league games) so it’s not foreign to him.  Though strict pitch counts in the minors left him with a crazy stat line.  He went 10-7 with a 2.79 ERA in those 39 starts.  Seventeen decisions in 39 starts with a sub 3.00 ERA?

So if Cashner is in the rotation (and it appears he is) the next question is what do you do with Carlos Silva and his $11.5 million salary?  The answer of course is to get a backhoe and haul his fat ass out to the curb.  But big league teams don’t like to eat money.  It makes no sense, because it’s a sunk cost, and if it can’t help you win, pay it to not help you lose and go away.  But while the New York Madoffs are eating huge money to not play Luis Castillo or Oliver Perez, they’re the exception.

With his lousy spring, Silva has almost no trade value (not unless you want to take on two or more years of some other team’s bad salary) and if he’s waived he will not be claimed.  The smart thing for the Cubs to do is just let him go.  But how often do they do the smart thing?  Their plan might be to put him in the bullpen as the long man.  Hell, given Cashner’s track record they’re going to need one.  But there’s a problem with that.  It means you’d have to actually let him pitch once and a while.

There are no good options here.  Just one that’s worse than the others.  Let him go.

Backup catcher
It’s down to Koyie Dolan Hill, Max Ramirez or Welington Castillo.  Castillo is having a crazy spring, he’s hitting over .700 (yes, seven-hundred) he’s throwing out baserunners from his knees, and he’s probably got no shot to make the team.  He has options left and he needs to play every day, not sit behind Soto.  So he’ll go to Iowa and wait for Geovany to screw up his hand on a swing and a miss again and then come up to play every day while Soto’s on the DL.

But the backup is only going to play once a week or so, and so that ought to fall to Ramirez or Hill.

Koyie has a great story, but cutting off your hand and sewing it back on only gets you so far (it’s gotten him four extra seasons in the big leagues).  The fact is Koyie can’t hit.  He calls a good game, he’s a slightly above average thrower, but he has a career OPS plus of 49.  100 is an average player.  Forty-nine is terrible.  Hank White at one point had the lowest career average for players with more than 1,000 at bats and his career OPS plus is 67.

But is Koyie worse than Max Ramirez?  Ramirez was not so long ago considered a top prospect.  He’s 26, he’s flopped in two other big league shots (both with Texas) but he’s hit well in the minors.  He has a career OPS of .872 in the minors.  His biggest negatives?  He appears to be a shitty catcher.  He’s stiff behind the plate and he doesn’t throw well.

So, do you go with the switch hitter (who can’t hit) who is solid behind the plate, or do you go with the righthanded hitter who has a proven minor league track record, but can’t really catch very well?  Nice choice, eh?

For me, as much as I admire Koyie, I’d give Max a whirl.  If you send Koyie to AAA he’s going to get there.  Nobody’s going to claim him, and he can caddy for Castillo down there.  If Ramirez flops, bring Koyie back up to sit on the bench.

Is it bad that so far the trend is that the guys the Cubs are likely to cut are so bad that they’ll probably clear waivers?

Three spots in the bullpen

The Cubs have a plethora of options for the long end of their bullpen, some of them are actually decent.  (Most aren’t.)

Jeff Russell (L), Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer, Justin Berg, Smiley Caridad, Angel Guzman, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Maine (L), Marcos Mateo, Jeff Stevens

Quade has talked about keeping as many as four lefthanders in the bullpen, which seems a little insane.  But he’s stuck with Grabow and of this bunch, Russell and Maine are two of the better pitchers, regardless of handedness.  So let’s assume he does that.  It leaves one spot for a righthander.  Samardzija is out of options, and he’s been lousy, but the Cubs are loathe to try to pass him through waivers to Iowa.  So he’s going to start the season with the Cubs.

So that’s it?  Russell, Maine and Samardzija?

Probably not.  if the Cubs did that, their only righthanded relievers would be Wood, Marmol and Samardzija.  So, Russell will probably get sent back to Iowa to start the year, and that opens a spot.  Guzman isn’t close to being ready (he might never be) so he’ll stay behind in extended spring training.  That leaves Looper, Wellemeyer, Berg, Caridad, Mateo and Stevens.

The last four all have options.  (Mateo’s options always seem to be to either walk a guy or give up a 500 foot homer.) So did either Looper or Wellemeyer show enough to a) send the four young guys to Iowa and b) necessitate a roster move to open a spot on the 40 man?

If Silva really is waived, then there’s a spot, and I have a hunch Wellemeyer will get it.  How long he’ll keep it is another story altogether.

So here’s what we’re left with:
Infielders (6): Pena, DeWitt, Baker, Castro, Ramirez, Barney
Catchers (2): Soto, Ramirez
Outfielders (5): Soriano, Byrd, Fukudome, Colvin, Johnson
Starting Pitchers (5): Dempster, Garza, Zambrano, Wells, Cashner
Relievers (7): Marmol, Wood, Marshall, Grabow, Maine, Samardzija, Wellemeyer

That has 80-82 written all over it.

Nah.  You’re right.