The Chicago Cubs will have some tough decisions to make when Javier Baez is ready to come off of the DL. Has Matt Szczur staked a claim to the roster spot?
Much of the talk in the offseason for the Chicago Cubs centered around their versatility, especially with Javier Baez learning to play the outfield. With Baez becoming the “new” Ben Zobrist, the Cubs looked to have countless options for Joe Maddon to choose from. But a headfirst slide left him with a left thumb bruise, keeping from his chance at making the Opening Day roster.
The injury did allow the Cubs to keep Szczur and Neil Ramirez on the roster as both are out of minor league options. Szczur has gotten off to a scorching start in the two games in Anaheim, driving in four runs in five at-bats. The Cubs are full-up in the outfield, even considering Kyle Schwarber‘s status as a part-time catcher. With Jorge Soler looking for at-bats, how many would there be for Szczur?
If the Cubs decided to bring up Baez once he’s ready to come off the DL, who gets sent down? Szczur is the “obvious” choice, but he would have to make it through waivers before making it to Triple-A Iowa. With the hot start, that might not happen and the Cubs would lose a valuable reserve.
I believe there are two other options here. One is to leave Baez in Triple-A to get some work before a call-up. He does deserve to be in Chicago, but with his new role he needs some more innings on defense, as well as the fact he hasn’t seen much live pitching in the last few weeks. Maybe Szczur cools off and it’ll sting less if they have to send him through waivers. Maybe not, though.
The other is to send down Tommy La Stella. The problem here is there are certain things unspoken and respected, and sending down La Stella without a valid reason other than he still has options isn’t something I can see the Cubs doing. But La Stella has spent a good bit of time on the DL with the Cubs, so his body of work is similar to that of Baez. Effective, but minimal. I’m just glad I don’t have to make that decision.
Neil Ramirez is another interesting case. After a spectacular rookie season, injuries took their toll on Ramirez and his velocity last year. He returned to the Cubs late in the season but saw minimal action either because he was being protected–or Maddon didn’t have faith in him. Whatever the case, Ramirez forced the issue this spring as he learned to pitch without the high-90’s velocity, but he still has a solid breaking ball. Whether or not he can get that back, there is still a high-upside there, and the Cubs gave him a chance as he’s out of options as well.
Injuries, roster moves and other changes will come this season. It’s inevitable. In those that come, will they be able to keep Szczur and Ramirez in Cubs’ pinstripes?