The 2016 regular season is approaching and the Chicago Cubs still have a few decisions to make before packing up and heading north. The fate of two players with no remaining player options could be aided by young slugger Javier Baez.
The Unfortunate Case of Christian Villanueva
The trade of 2012 that sent Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks to Chicago from the Rangers in exchange for Ryan Dempster is widely viewed as a win for the Cubs organization. Two young, promising prospects for an aged pitcher looking for one more run at a title. Hendricks, who has become a major part of the evolution of the Chicago Cubs, is growing before our eyes. It has been a different story for Villanueva, however.
Having arrived with a lot of potential behind him, Christian Villanueva has struggled to crack the deep organizational depth of the Cubs. Known primarily for playing 3rd base, Villanueva is also serviceable on the opposite side of the diamond. When Kris Bryant broke out on the scene and staked his claim to playing 3rd every day, Villanueva realized his chances of making it would be hurt.
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It seems a bit unfair that a guy as talented as Villanueva is being drowned in a pool full of future all-stars and high-caliber talent. When your positions are currently occupied by the two most recognizable players and the faces of the organization, luck is not on your side.
Luck reared its ugly head again this spring training when Villanueva fractured his fibula in a freak occurrence. Out of player options, this season was crucial for Villanueva. Before the injury, it appeared that Villanueva was in the midst of losing the starting role at Triple-A Iowa to Jeimer Candelario.
Once Christian Villanueva returns from the disabled list and completes his rehab assignment, he may return only to find himself playing for a new team. A once bright future star now must contend with falling out of the game altogether.
All Hail Szczur
Matt Szczur is like the one friend from college that you never really talked to but he finds his way into almost every photo you take that night. Similarly to Villanueva, Szczur is being buried behind a deep and strong depth chart in the outfield.
A career .224 hitter in the big leagues, albeit only covers 80 career games spanning two seasons. The sample size, in my opinion, just isn’t there. Based on the very limited eye test, Szczur offers plus defense and a decent option off the bench. He has terrific speed, which could make him valuable in an October push.
Struggling to find a role, and like Villanueva again, Szczur is about to enter the 2016 campaign with no remaining player options left in his contract. With that being said, it brings up an interesting decision.
Understanding that his hitting abilities are limited, Szczur does have the qualities that teams look for in a player. Given that his roster status must be addressed, enter Javier Baez.
Javier Baez is yet another young, talented slugger trying to find his way on this team. Joe Maddon likes Baez and intends on making him part of the future, but that future is logjammed at the moment. Baez has two options left on his contract.
While he continues to move from position to position, training to become the next super utility guy, it would be much more beneficial for Baez to do so in the minors. While major league exposure can be good for his development, Baez is going to struggle to find consistent at-bats and the limited playing time with only hurt his development moving forward.
A minor league option opens up the ability for the Cubs front office to see Baez perform the duties on an everyday basis. By doing so, this would open a potential roster spot for Szczur.
It’s pretty clear a future with the Chicago Cubs may not be in the cards, but Szczur could use the call-up to showcase his skills and maximize his trade value. Szczur wants to play in the show, and the Cubs want to get the best return on their investments. This is a win-win.
Christian Villanueva and Matt Szczur are headed in different directions, but both are doing so in the same boat. Tough decisions remain for the Cubs before spring camp concludes and it’s a guarantee that these players are part of that decision.