Cubs Opening Day 2024 Roster Projection: Pitching Remains a Weak Spot

Nico Hoerner

Getty Nico Hoerner

After narrowly missing out on a playoff berth last season, the Chicago Cubs are going into 2024 with a lot to prove. The dismissal of manager David Ross at the end of 2023 and subsequent hiring of ex-Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell showed they were taking their contention window seriously, but did the Cubs do enough this winter to ensure they can dominate the NL Central in 2024?

On February 27, the Cubs re-signed slugger Cody Bellinger to a three-year, $80 million deal, effectively locking in their offense for Opening Day on March 28. While Bellinger’s signing dealt with an obvious lack of power in the the Cubs’ batting lineup, as well as a hole in their outfield, there’s arguably still a lot of room for improvement across the rest of the roster.

Still, Bellinger was likely the last major move the Cubs will make before Opening Day, especially since they’re nearing the luxury tax threshold, so the team’s current group is probably as good as it’s going to get. With that in mind, which players are Chicago likely to lock in on their 26-man roster?

Batting Lineup

  1. Nico Hoerner (2B)
  2. Ian Happ (LF)
  3. Cody Bellinger (CF)
  4. Dansby Swanson (SS)
  5. Seiya Suzuki (RF)
  6. Michael Busch (1B)
  7. Christopher Morel (3B)
  8. Yan Gomes (C)
  9. Nick Madrigal (DH)

On February 27, the Cubs finally secured Bellinger on a three-year, $80 million deal, ending a lengthy free agency saga. After his remarkable comeback performance in 2023, Bellinger opted out of the second year of his contract with the Cubs, instead choosing to reset his value on the market.

All winter, Chicago was picked as his most likely landing spot, though a deal to re-sign the first baseman certainly didn’t come together as quickly as some fans would’ve hoped. Regardless, the Cubs’ locking down Bellinger re-adds some much needed power to an otherwise rather shaky lineup, considerably increasing the team’s chances in the NL Central.

With Bellinger returning to the roster, Mike Tauchman will fit in as the team’s fourth outfielder. On March 4, Counsell told reporters at spring training that Tauchman has a spot on the 26-man roster, according to 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine, providing some level of clarity around the manager’s plans for depth in the outfield and essentially confirming that Alexander Canario and Pete Crow-Armstrong will start the season in Triple-A.

Catcher Miguel Amaya is likely to split time with Gomes behind the plate — and may even start on Opening Day — and Patrick Wisdom will almost definitely start on the bench as a backup DH. Miles Mastrobuoni is likely to take the final spot on the 26-man roster, though infielder David Bote is also in contention.

Bote has appeared in just 41 major-league games since the start of 2022 and played all of 2023 in the minors, despite hitting .329/.438/.589 in 20 games in June. It’s unclear if there’s an organizational reason why the Cubs seem set on keeping the 30-year-old in Triple-A, but unless something changes, Mastrobuoni will almost certainly round out Chicago’s bench to start the season.

Starting Rotation

  • Justin Steele (LHP)
  • Shōta Imanaga (LHP)
  • Kyle Hendricks (RHP)
  • Jameson Taillon (RHP)
  • Javier Assad (RHP)
  • Jordan Wicks (LHP)

The Cubs lost ace Marcus Stroman to free agency at the end of 2023, and while newly-acquired Japanese pitcher Shōta Imanaga was a very solid addition to try and make up for it, Chicago’s rotation definitely isn’t show-stopping. Justin Steele is now the team’s only certified ace and the Cubs don’t have a strong option for a No. 2 to put behind him.

Imanaga’s performance in spring training has been extremely promising, but he’ll need time to adjust to pitching every five days, which is one of the main reasons Counsell has said he’ll use a rotation of six starters this season, per The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney. Imanaga is also a left-hander like Steele, which leans to him fitting better in the third rotation spot than second.

Kyle Hendricks appears to be back in fine form after shoulder surgery in 2022, but he’s simply no longer the top-of-the-rotation pitcher he was a few seasons ago. Jameson Taillon has a rotation spot on lock, but he’s not moving up the order, and Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks still have to earn their starting positions over Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski in spring training.

That leaves the Cubs with a pretty thin rotation.

Since missing out on both two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December, Chicago has been linked to free agent starters Blake Snell and Jordan Montogomery at multiple points in the offseason. Earlier in the winter, both Snell and Montgomery were set on securing longterm deals, but as their signing options have thinned and Opening Day draws closer, the two starters have been looking to shorter-term contracts to find a team, which may make an eleventh-hour deal with the Cubs more likely.

As it currently stands, the Cubs’ rotation is a weak spot in their roster, and if they don’t sign a top starter before Opening Day, they will almost certainly have to trade for one at the midseason deadline.


  • Adbert Alzolay (RHP) — Closer
  • Héctor Neris (RHP)
  • Julian Merryweather (RHP)
  • Yency Almonte (RHP)
  • Mark Leiter Jr. (RHP)
  • José Cuas (RHP)
  • Drew Smyly (LHP)

In 2023, the Cubs’ bullpen recorded a 3.85 ERA in 584 innings, ranking them 13th in MLB. With the addition of ex-Houston Astros reliever Héctor Neris, the team is presumably hoping they can clean up their performance in the later innings this season.

Adbert Alzolay is returning as the team’s closer, and Neris, Julian Merryweather, Mark Leiter Jr., José Cuas, and recently-acquired Yency Almonte are effectively locked in with bullpen spots. That leaves one remaining slot on the 26-man roster and two pitchers — Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski. Prospect Cade Horton could also figure into the mix during the season, but he will almost certainly start in the minors.

Smyly and Wesneski both fancy themselves contenders for a rotation spot this season, and if there’s an injury, they’re likely to see starts. Still, starting the season in the bullpen is likely the best both can hope for right now, and after his extremely disappointing performance in 2023, Wesneski is almost certain to start 2024 in Triple-A unless something very dramatic happens in spring training.

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