How many relievers? That's the question for Cubs come April

MESA, Ariz. -- As Cactus League games begin on Thursday, the Chicago Cubs have only a few roster decisions to make over the next month as most of the team is set. In fact, they may only have one real decision: whether to start the season with seven relievers or eight.

With the ability of several players to play both the infield and outfield, combined with the talent on the roster, the simple call might be to take the extra reliever.

“We have a lot of depth,” manager Joe Maddon reminded reporters on Tuesday. “We have depth everywhere.”

Right now the “extra” position players include either Kyle Schwarber or Jorge Soler -- whoever isn’t starting in left field -- along with Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella and David Ross. That leaves room for the extra reliever, which could come in handy because the Cubs intend to back off their starters.

“You have to look at the entire picture,” Maddon said.

That picture includes righty Neil Ramirez, who is out of options and can’t just be sent to the minors. If Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon are locks, then the Cubs would have to say goodbye to Ramirez, who could be a sleeper this season if he returns to previous form.

While Maddon stressed spring results don’t mean much, the radar gun combined with the eye test could make the difference for Ramirez. Remember he was the Cubs' best reliever in 2014 when he compiled a 1.44 ERA with a 1.053 WHIP in 50 games. But his shoulder has been fragile at times so it’s hard to know if he’ll ever return to that kind of success.

Keeping eight relievers means saying goodbye to Matt Szczur, who’s been a good solider, especially last year when he rode the Iowa-to-Chicago shuttle. He’s out of options as well. Shane Victorino would probably move on also. Otherwise, the last outfield spot would be between those two players. The Cubs have a month to figure it all out while injuries incurred during Cactus League play could make the decisions for them.