PITTSBURGH —After watching infielder Scooter Gennett bob and weave in right field for the Reds over the weekend and first baseman Jose Osuna make an adventure out of the position for the Pirates on Monday, it became even more obvious just how much demand there is everywhere in baseball for an outfielder like Matt Szczur.
Well, almost everywhere.
“I don’t like to think about it too much,” said Szczur, the Cubs’ fifth outfielder, “because once I start thinking about it, I feel I take away from what it is here. I’m not thinking about anything else but the Chicago Cubs.”
Szczur, who got a lot of playing time early last season because of Kyle Schwarber’s knee injury, has started just once in the Cubs’ first 20 games, with only 10 plate appearances.
“No one said it would be easy,” he said. “I’m up for the challenge.”
An embarrassment of riches on the hitting side of the Cubs’ roster has left the versatile Szczur, a good fielder, on the bench more than any other Cub just a month after the team scrapped efforts to shop him.
Scouts from multiple teams say Szczur would be a candidate to play every day for their teams (and you can add the Pirates to that list after Starling Marte’s suspension for steroids).
But Szczur also provides valuable depth for the Cubs, who aren’t likely to find full value in a trade this early in the season and have no interest in helping a division rival such as the Pirates either way. They can’t make any other non-disabled-list roster moves without losing Szczur for no return because he’s out of minor-league options.
“People may think about it, but I don’t, really,” he said. “I bring a positive head to the field every day, and I’m just trying to have as much fun and make the most of my opportunity here.”
Szczur, also one of the National League’s best pinch hitters last year, said he had to come to grips with the possibility he could be waived or traded this spring when it looked like the final roster spot would come down to him or infielder Tommy La Stella.
The Cubs were able to keep both at the time, but the same roster-crunch decision came up again last week, with La Stella getting optioned to the minors.
Manager Joe Maddon said cutting Szczur loose “could come back to bite you in the butt relatively quickly.”
“I’m a human being, so first thoughts are what’s going to happen,” Szczur said. “I’m nervous about it. I don’t want to leave this team. But when you’re able to have the perspective of ‘Everything’s going to be OK,’ then you’re able to cool it down. And you can go out there and play your best and control what you can control. For anybody, that’s the best you can do.”