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by Derek Smart
With the resolution of this offseason's big question finally coming down this week (the answer being, "Run!Run for your lives!"), it's time to turn our attention to some of those nagging little queries that have been dutifully placed on the backburner for months. So I figure, what with recent events filling the 40-man roster, it's the perfect moment to begin speculation on who will be the last member of the bench - the Twenty-Fifth Man.
Here's a list of the position players who are currently assured spots on the big club:
I know, it's not nice to list the bench all together like that, but I'm hoping that no one will read this while eating. In any case, that's twelve men by my count, and assuming the Cubs take twelve pitchers with them when they leave Arizona in April, that leaves one more spot for a position player on the Major League roster.
As I mentioned earlier, the 40-man roster appears to be full (I'm not aware of anyone on the 60-day DL, but please correct me if I'm wrong), so barring a trade that sends away more roster-bound men than it nets, we likely have a pretty set group of guys to work from, and all those NRIs are SOL. The position players remaining on the 40-man are:
I may not always agree with the Cubs' bench construction, but one fetish I have thankfully yet to see Dusty Baker or Jim Hendry indulge in is that of carrying a third catcher. Unless the Cubs suddenly hire Tony LaRussa, Soto will remain on the farm.
The infielders above are in various stages of development with their order of current Major League usefulness being Fontenot, Lewis, then Cedeno. Of course, Macias, Hairston, and Neifi! already thoroughly cover any defensive positions the three minor leaguers play, so it would take some prodigious woodworking to force their way north. Don't count on it.
That leaves Kelton and Dubois battling it out for the final spot. Take away a pitcher and you don't have a problem; both men can come along for the ride, keeping each other company playing Pinochle and Whist, while Jose Macias gets the first call from the bench day after day after day. Unfortunately, I don't see the Cubs bringing only eleven pitchers north, so a decision must be made.
Considering talent alone, it's Dubois' call to get. He's been a better hitter for his entire career, and he's got nothing left to prove as a minor league player. Naturally, it's not that simple. Kelton is out of options, which means that he'll have to pass through waivers in order to be sent down to Iowa, and the Cubs could easily lose him. Not that they have anywhere to put him anymore, but it would be a shame to have him taking up a roster spot all this time when all along there was a willingness to let another team snap him up.
However, despite the risk of losing him, I think Kelton will be sent down and Dubois will be with the Cubs. Dubois is simply too good a hitter to keep off a roster completely devoid of right-handed power off the bench. Yet, I'd still expect to see this drag on for the entire spring. The Cubs' 25-man roster doesn't have to be set until the clock strikes twelve on April 3, and if they wait long enough, there might be enough 40-man rosters at capacity to render Kelton unworthy of a waiver claim.
Dubois stays and Kelton goes back to Iowa, slipping though the waiver wire - that's what I think the Cubs are aiming for, and I think it's the best they can do with what they've got.