MESA, Ariz. — Is it actually possible Nico Hoerner doesn’t make the Cubs’ Opening Day roster?
It certainly looked that way when the Cubs added veteran infielder Eric Sogard to the mix two weeks ago.
But team president Jed Hoyer might loosen the roster bottleneck when it comes to second base and the infield bench jobs just enough to find room for both the talented young Hoerner with the Gold Glove ability and the reliable lefty-hitting veteran with all that defensive versatility.
In a lengthy conversation with NBC Sports Chicago, Hoyer left open the possibility that the club would change its original plans to open with a nine-man bullpen and open a 13th spot for a non-pitcher on the roster.
“We’ve talked a lot about 14 pitchers and 12 position players,” Hoyer said in the wide-ranging conversation that can be heard in its entirety on the Cubs Talk Podcast.
“But that’s not set in stone either. We could end up with 13 and 13 as well.”
That’s where room for both Hoerner and Sogard could be found to join David Bote in the infield mix, especially if the Cubs keep a fifth outfielder in Cam Maybin.
"Those are questions that we have to answer," Hoyer said. "Some of that comes down to how stretched out our pitchers are. Some of that comes down to the early part of the season and what we feel is most beneficial against our opponents.
"But those are real questions as well and questions we haven’t answered yet.”
Also influencing those decisions will be the health statuses of a handful of key relievers, who may not be ready to open the season on time — most notably late-inning linchpin Rowan Wick, whose lingering oblique injury only recently subsided enough for him to begin a throwing program.
Wick is all but certain to open on the injured list. And others such as left-handers Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck, and right-hander Pedro Strop have been slowed enough by various issues in camp to at least put on-time starts in question.
Originally, the Cubs looked at a 14-man pitching staff as a likely necessity with all the uncertainty surrounding some of the workload issues coming off a 60-game season and some projected roster considerations.
But how much sense does it makes to go with the No. 11, 12 or 13 pitcher on the depth chart to fill out the end of the bullpen early in the season if it means leaving out a potentially important bench player — or the best defensive man on the bubble in 2020 Gold Glove finalist Hoerner?
Sogard is on a minor-league deal but with an option to become a free agent depending on how long the Cubs plan to wait before adding him to the big-league roster.
And don’t forget switch-hitting Ildemaro Vargas as a sleeper orbiting the infield jobs battle.
Hoyer called the second base/infield mix perhaps the most challenging puzzle to assemble this spring.
“Obviously, the bullpen is still fluid as well,” he said. “These are decisions we talk about every day. Nothing is finalized.
“But it’s nice to have good players competing for jobs,” he added. “We’re going to have some hard decisions at the end of spring. Some of those decisions could end up with people going elsewhere. And some of those things could end up with guys staying in the organization and going to [alternate-site] South Bend. That’s obviously a better thing for us.
“We’ve got questions about roster fit; we’ve got questions about handedness, about role, about the 40-man roster. And most of those questions circle around the bench and infield in particular.”