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Countdown to Camp: The bench

2/7/2014
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With Chicago Cubs spring training set to begin Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.

Major additions since Opening Day 2013: Donnie Murphy, Ryan Sweeney, Justin Ruggiano, George Kottaras

Subtractions: Dioner Navarro, Cody Ransom, Brent Lillibridge, Alberto Gonzalez, Scott Hairston, Dave Sappelt

Holdovers: Luis Valbuena

Analysis: The problem with the Cubs bench is it’s intertwined with the starters. Murphy saw a lot of action last year in the final two months and could again this season. Same goes for Valbuena. On contending teams these are purely role players. In the outfield the left-handed Sweeney provides some versatility and can hit lefties and he will also get a good amount of starts. Ruggiano could come off the bench when a right-hander is on the mound and will spell Nate Schierholtz against tough lefties if manager Rick Renteria starts Sweeney alongside him.

If Mike Olt or Javier Baez eventually take a starting spot it will strengthen the Cubs bench by leaving the above players for pinch-hitting and spot duty. In all, Valbuena, Murphy and Sweeney were more productive than not in 2013 so the Cubs do have some decent role players. Based on last season, the biggest loss will be Navarro. He had a huge year at the plate and was a good mentor for starting catcher Welington Castillo.

Outlook: Kottaras has big shoes to fill after hitting just .180 in 100 at-bats last season for Kansas City. His career high in home runs is only nine while he’s never hit higher than .252, although he does take his share of walks. It probably won’t be enough to replace Navarro’s production. Expect him to get far less playing time than his predecessor. Besides that drop off, the bench doesn’t look bad for the Cubs, depending on who gets the majority of starts in the outfield and at third base. It’s unclear what new manager Renteria will do in terms of resting Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Dale Sveum didn’t believe in it until he was forced to as both players slumped in 2013. Will Renteria be more proactive and rest those players before the major slumps occur? Expect Murphy to spell both players at shortstop and first base.