I started writing something about Matt Szczur in the Bullets this morning – he’s been great this year in his bench role! – but as I followed the train along its logical path, it wound up taking me off to rehabbing outfielders to reclamation pitchers to the bullpen and to the roster as a whole. It needed is own post, so I ported it here.
So, if you’ll allow me …
Matt Szczur went through a bit of a down patch, but he’s picked things up recently, and, on the whole, continues to be very valuable to the Cubs off of the bench. After last night’s three-hit effort, Szczur is up to .294/.333/.451 on the year, while offering positive value on the defensive side of the ledger, as well as the ability to run the bases in a pinch.
I say all of that against the backdrop of Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler beginning rehab assignments at Iowa today, Chris Coghlan (rib cage injury) returning at some point in the future, the Trade Deadline looming, a crowded bullpen that will soon see Joe Nathan and Brian Matusz added, and the eventual return of Trevor Cahill.
Because so much can change with other injuries and the impending Trade Deadline, it would be a mistake to put too fine a point on what exactly will happen when each and every one of those players joins the roster, but it is worth noting that things will soon get very crowded. And, with Coghlan already on the DL (he’s not taking a roster spot as it is), and with those three relievers coming, it’s not quite as simple as saying “dump Coghlan and option a reliever” to make room for Fowler and Soler. Szczur, for his part, is out of minor league options, and it’s almost impossible to imagine him clearing waivers at this point, what with so many rebuilding teams out there that would probably love to give him a regular shot when there’s no real cost to them.
Short term? I suspect we’ll see Albert Almora optioned back to AAA Iowa to accommodate Fowler, and then a reliever sent down if Soler also returns very quickly (I’m not so sure that he will, though). Tommy La Stella, for one other bench example, does have minor league options remaining, but it’s hard to see him going anywhere at this point. Ditto for Willson Contreras.
Thus, figuring out the positional side of the roster inevitably bleeds into the pitching side. And that’s got its own crowding looming.
If and when the other relievers (Nathan, Matusz, Cahill) come up, the Cubs will have to decide whether they want to option a guy like Adam Warren or Justin Grimm or Carl Edwards Jr., or whether they’re willing to lose a guy like Clayton Richard, or whether they won’t actually add all three of Nathan, Matusz, and Cahill after all. We’ll see what happens organically (i.e. injuries and trades) over the next 10 days, but if nothing happens, then the decisions the Cubs will have to make are not going to be easy.
Speaking of Cahill, he had a mixed rehab outing at Iowa last night (though the conditions were extremely conducive to offense, with the wind howling out). Interestingly, he threw 57 pitches, and looks to be stretching out just like Adam Warren, Clayton Richard, and Brian Matusz before him. As we’ve said with those three guys, some of the stretching is to provide coverage for the big league rotation in case a need develops, but I also think we’re clearly seeing an organizational philosophy about using minor league starts to work things out for guys who are otherwise going to be big league relievers. And not just “starts” of an inning or two to get regular work – actual, full-on, lengthy starts. Like Richard last year, Cahill was a starter for much of the season before the Cubs moved him to the pen late in the year. Maybe, like the hope is with Richard, letting Cahill start for a bit in the minors will help move some things into focus for him, which will translate in the bullpen. Having Cahill back to what he was late last year for the Cubs out of the pen would be huge down the stretch …
And that’s where I was before I realized this was going to be too much to get into in the Bullets.
Why am I framing it like that instead of just writing a normal post? Because I don’t have a great landing point for any of this. Sure, I can offer some speculation on how the Cubs will handle the initial move or two, but, as I said, there is going to be so much turnover in the coming weeks that it’s almost fruitless to try and peg it all come August 2.
So instead, I just wanted to tee all this up for you, especially in light of Fowler’s impending return (as soon as this weekend) and the addition of Nathan to the bullpen (as soon as this week). A lot is going to happen on the margins of this roster in the next two weeks, and the decisions might not be especially easy for the Cubs. You might not love everything that happens. But the logistics of a 25-man roster, a set Trade Deadline, injury rules, and minor league options are all conspiring together to make this a tricky business.