The Chicago Cubs’ final roster spot will likely come down to either Matt Szczur or Tommy La Stella. There’s only one right choice and it’s an easy one.
There was a time when the idea of dumping a multi-positional bench player would be taboo. But, thankfully for the Chicago Cubs, that’s not the case heading into the 2017 season.
By all indications, the team will have to make a choice between two players when it comes to the final spot on the big-league roster: outfielder Matt Szczur or infielder Tommy La Stella.
The antics of La Stella drew criticism last season when he refused to join Triple-A Iowa, instead going home and throwing what amounted to a temper tantrum over the club’s decision.
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It was a drawn-out affair between La Stella and the team. He was left off the postseason roster in all but the National League Division Series last year.
During his walk-out last August, he told members of the media he would not play for any other team in Major League Baseball – or even remain with the Cubs’ Triple-A team.
"“I’m not going to go play for someone else. That’s not something I have any interest in doing. I’m here for a reason. This is where I want to be…I’m just waiting to hear back from the team and keeping up with all the workouts and training and hitting.”"
Something’s gotta give
But, as we rapidly approach the start of the 2017 regular season, the Chicago roster question seems to be boiling down to one of these two players missing out. And, given La Stella has minor league options remaining and Szczur doesn’t – this is a no-brainer.
Last season, Szczur played an integral role for the Cubs. He excelled as a pinch-hitter for Joe Maddon, hitting .261 in such situations. He also brings a lot of heart and character to the locker room, which fits perfectly with the reigning World Series champions.
"“He’s so sincere about everything and everyone he comes in contact with,” Maddon told the Chicago Tribune. “Here’s a guy who is still trying to establish himself as an everyday player, but he’s there for everyone else all the time. He’s just a different animal.”"
Not only does Szczur know his role on a roster featuring the likes of Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber in the corner outfield slots, but he embraces it. He understands that he can still make a huge impact on this team. This isn’t just done when he’s on the field, but when he’s in the clubhouse.
And, to be blunt, I can’t say the same for La Stella.
In my opinion, he turned his back on his teammates, coaches and the entire Cubs organization behaving the way that he did. I’m sure he had his reasons, but in this day and age, there’s no room for such theatrics in professional sports.
Logic prevails – or at least it should
Chicago is loaded with infield talent: Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez will split time between second and short. Kris Bryant can play third base or an outfield slot, depending how Maddon lines the Cubs up on any given day.
The simple truth is the team doesn’t need La Stella as much as it needs someone like Szczur. Having an insurance policy against injury or shortcomings there, as well as adding a seasoned pinch-hitter, makes the most sense.
And, to be even more frank, it comes down to this. Keeping Matt Szczur on the big-league roster doesn’t mean the organization loses Tommy La Stella (remember, he has two options left). The only way that scenario comes to fruition is this: La Stella himself chooses to put his own desires ahead of the team’s needs.
If it really came down to needing another infielder on the big-league club, there’s only one player I’d tap right now: Ian Happ. La Stella burned his bridges last season and it’s time he accepts his role – even if it means a demotion to Triple-A Iowa to start the year.