As we reach the final week of Spring Training, the Chicago Cubs have a strikingly small number of roster decisions to make in advance of Opening Day. It seems like, for most teams, around this time you’re wondering about the final few spots in the bullpen, a spot in the rotation, much of the bench, and maybe even a positional starter or two.
For the Cubs, though, it’s really a limited subset of questions: will the Cubs carry a second lefty in the bullpen? Will that pitcher be the seventh or the eighth reliever? And if he’s the eighth, whom will the Cubs keep as the last man on the bench: Matt Szczur or Tommy La Stella?
On that last one, with rumors popping up about at least one team interested in trading for Szczur, we might be getting clarity soon. Indeed, tonight, Mark Gonzales reports via two big league sources that the Cubs are trying to trade Szczur, who is out of minor league options. (The report includes a bunch of other interesting roster tidbits, by the way, so check it out.)
As much as we may want to see Szczur stick around with the Cubs, the fact that he’s being shopped can hardly be a surprise. Without minor league options left, the Cubs had to choose whether to carry Szczur – a right-handed-hitting outfielder – as the 25th man, whether to drop down to seven relievers (something the Cubs indicated they did not want to do, as far back as December), or whether to try to option Tommy La Stella to AAA Iowa after last year’s fiasco. (La Stella, for what it’s worth, reportedly indicated he would accept an assignment this time around.)
Given the makeup of the roster, with three guys who can cover center field already (Jon Jay, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward), and so many infielders/catchers who can become outfielders if necessary, and just one reserve infielder on the bench (Javy Baez), La Stella – who also offers a solid lefty contact bat – was always the favorite, in terms of need.
That would leave the Cubs having to try to waive Szczur, a process that would almost certainly lead to him being claimed. So, then, absent a last-minute injury, it makes plenty of sense to try to trade Szczur somewhere that could more readily use him at the big league level. It would sting to lose a guy who was a very effective bench player all of last season for the Cubs, but he could potentially be much more on another team.
Moreover, the Cubs have guys like Jacob Hannemann, John Andreoli, Bijan Rademacher, and Mark Zagunis, all of whom figure to be playing in the outfield at AAA Iowa this year, and at least one of whom could come up as a 4th/5th outfielder in Szczur’s stead if a bench job opened up after the season begins (to say nothing of prospects like Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario, who are well on their way, and who could come up if a series of injuries necessitated it).
So, then, you can expect to hear more Szczur chatter over this final week of Spring Training. That doesn’t mean a trade is a lock – injuries could happen, a change of heart in the bullpen could happen – but it’s looking like the most likely outcome of this process.
Don’t forget, the Cubs’ gold championship gear just came out today, and you can pick yours up only at the official MLB Shop: