Cubs’ Matt Szczur: Joe Maddon sending message with praise

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Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur is out of minor league options. (AP)

MESA, Ariz. — Outfielder Matt -Szczur heard manager Joe Maddon’s public praise of him. What it means, though, is another question.

“I feel like Joe puts a lot of messages in the media, and he lets us know that,” Szczur said Sunday. “So it’s up in the air to me. I know he likes me. Apparently he loves me. So it’s a good feeling to be wanted.”

But by whom? Because he’s out of minor-league options, Szczur could be traded if the Cubs decide he won’t fit on the opening night roster Sunday against the Cardinals.

Maddon was effusive in his appreciation for Szczur on Saturday — “I love Matt,” he said — but was sending a message. Asked if Maddon was stumping for his inclusion on the roster or advertising his services to other teams, Szczur smiled.

“He was doing a little bit of both,” Szczur said before the Cubs lost a split-squad game to the Padres 9-4. “I don’t think anything he said was false. I think that he’s honest, and I appreciate his honesty.

“I try to do everything for the team, and all I want to do is win, whether it’s coming off the bench or starting. For me, I’m trying to help this team that I’m on win.”

An American League source said the Cubs are “listening” to proposals for Szczur. The Twins and Braves are interested and are among the many teams that could give him more at-bats than the Cubs, who have Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, John Jay and Albert Almora slated for the outfield.

Infielders Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant can man the corner-outfield spots, too, but the sheer number of part-time outfielders doesn’t necessarily equate to quality depth.

Increased playing time on another team has its appeal, Szczur said.

“Obviously it would be enticing,” he said. “But I’m trying to win the day right here. I put myself in a good position for this team or whatever team I’m on.”

Perhaps the Giants could be a good fit, but it’s doubtful the Cubs would deal him to another National League contender. Maddon was clear that he views Szczur as a big-league player. He’ll be just that next week, whether it’s with the Cubs or someone else.

“It forces their hand to kind of make a move,” Szczur said of being out of minor-league options. “Whether they want me on the roster or want to make a move otherwise.”

Maddon said the Cubs hadn’t yet decided between Szczur and left-handed-hitting infielder Tommy La Stella, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI in the Cubs’ 22-4 win over the Reds in Las Vegas and is hitting .273 with two homers and three RBI this spring. La Stella has options left, and the Cubs won’t let his three-week holdout after last year’s minor-league demotion dissuade them from sending him down.

Szczur went 0-for-4 in Mesa, but he’s hitting .301 with one home run and seven RBI during Cactus League play.

“Listen, this guy as a teammate, you’re not going to get a better one, and nobody’s going to get a better one on any team, for any reason,” Maddon said of Szczur.

The outfielder was flattered, even as he tried to parse what message, if any, was being sent.

“That’s great praise from a manager who’s very established,” he said. “It definitely felt good.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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