Looking ahead to 2017, the Chicago Cubs have several players who may or may not make the roster. Next season, the team could have one very important roster decision to make. Who should make the Opening Day roster: Stella or Szczur?
Okay, maybe the question of La Stella vs. Szczur isn’t that simple. After all, both players have proven to be valuable assets to the Cubs’ in the past, both in multiple ways.
If the Cubs had it their way, they’d most likely have both players make the roster to start the season. As of now, though, it looks like the team will only have space for one of the two. The Cubs’ roster is so versatile that they can afford to carry an extra pitcher opposed to another position player.
For Szczur, the Cubs’ roster versatility hurts him more than it hurts La Stella. As of today, the Cubs have more outfield options that they can count; not only do they have several “natural” outfielders, but they have infielders who can rotate out there as well.
In baseball, it is easier for an infielder to play outfield than it is for an outfielder to play infield. Infielders make plays on essentially every type of contact off the bat that there is, with extremely low reaction time.
At the same time, it’s true that playing outfield is no easy job by any means. Outfielders and infielders both field many types of contact, such as fly balls, line drives, and ground ball hits. The difference is that an infielder generally has to make a play on every ball hit to them to record an out.
On the other hand, an outfielder generally either makes a catch or throws the ball back to an infielder to halt a runner’s progress. It is true that there are hits that force an outfielder to make a play to potentially record an out. All in all, though, these situations occur far less in the outfield than they do in the infield.
Why is this significant? For the Cubs, a large number of their infielders have the ability to play the outfield. Notably, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist have played left and/or right field the last two seasons. Current Cubs’ outfielders Albert Almora, Jason Heyward and Jon Jay haven’t played infield once in their entire MLB careers.
As of today, the updated Cubs’ depth chart on their website has only three “natural” outfielders listed. Almora and Jay are categorized as center fielders, while Heyward, of course, is listed as the starting right fielder. Every player on the left field depth chart is a “natural” infielder.
Looking at that same depth chart, every pitcher listed is a lock to make the roster, and it still is not a complete list. Newcomer Brian Duensing is not listed and Mike Montgomery is listed as a reliever. Another reliever or two will be needed if Montgomery becomes the team’s fifth starter as expected.
Who makes the cut?
If the Cubs do in fact sign two more relievers, they’d have 13 pitchers in line to make the Opening Day roster. With 25 spots available, that leaves 12 openings for the position players. Bryant, Contreras, Schwarber, Zobrist, Almora, Jay and Heyward are locks. Javier Báez, Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo and Miguel Montero also have a spot solidified.
With the 13 pitchers and 11 position players listed above, the Cubs would have room for one more player. While the team has tremendous depth, carrying 14 pitchers is not an option due to the need to pinch hit. In this situation, one more hitter is needed and it more than likely would come down to La Stella and Szczur.
In 2016, La Stella hit .270 in 148 at-bats; Szczur hit .259 in 185 at-bats. La Stella has played second base, third base and most likely could play shortstop if needed. Szczur has and can play all three outfield spots, a valuable asset for a team sharpening its late-game defense. In 2015, La Stella was the Cubs’ best pinch hitter; for a large chunk of 2016, Szczur was the team’s best.
Both La Stella and Szczur can be valuable to a potential 2017 Chicago Cubs’ roster. Because of the makeup of the roster, though, it seems likely that La Stella will get the last roster spot. With so many potential outfielders, Szczur is stuck in roster purgatory until an injury, trade etc. takes place.
Szczur could be traded if a valuable offer comes about, or the team could stash him in Triple-A. Between both players, though, a good player will miss out on starting the season on the roster of the defending World Series champion.