The Rundown: Return on Szczur Trade, More Roster Moves Coming, Rizzo Makes Huge Donation

When I was asked the other day what would happen with Matt Szczur, I said that he’d probably end up clearing waivers and signing with the team of his choice. If he was to be claimed, however, the return would be a pitcher who was likely to serve as little other than organizational depth. So when it was announced that Szczur had indeed been traded to the Padres for right-handed reliever Justin Hancock, I was only mildly surprised.

Drafted by the Padres in the ninth round of the 2011 draft out of Lincoln Trail College, Hancock has matriculated slowly, and perhaps steadily, through San Diego’s system. He lacks elite swing-and-miss stuff and doesn’t have pinpoint command, but has flashed potential at times. Working primarily as a starter, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound pitcher has a 60 fastball (on a 20-80 scout scale), a 55 change, and a 50 slider that have made him look at times like a back-end rotation hopeful.

After struggling with injuries and inconsistent performance at AAA, Hancock has worked strictly out of the bullpen at the AA level this season. At first blush, there isn’t really much there to generate excitement, and there probably still won’t be with this next part I’m about to mention. Maybe there are a couple areas of interest, though.

Since being moved to the pen this season, Hancock has posted a 7.62 K/9 mark that is his highest since low-A ball in 2012. And the corresponding 4.85 BB/9 that ranks among the highest of his career is largely fostered by the short stints in which he now pitches. It appears that Hancock, like many pitchers, has been able to get a little more giddyup on the fastball when coming out of the pen, which could explain the increase in strikeouts.

What’s really interesting, though, is the 61 percent groundball rate he’s generated thus far this season. That’s probably why we’re seeing such a disparity between his 6.23 ERA and 3.51 FIP, very strong evidence that Hancock has been a victim of bad luck or perhaps less than stellar defensive support. A .386 BABIP against offers further support of that theory. So, you know, maybe there’s a possibility there.

Truth is, anything the Cubs get from Hancock from here on out is a plus. After trying to trade Szczur over the last few months, it was looking like a foregone conclusion that he was going to walk for free. And it was clear he wasn’t going to be contributing anything to the Cubs this season, not with so many other players vying for time in the outfield. So this gives Szczur a chance to find more playing time while freeing up roster space for the Cubs to manipulate in all kinds of ways.

Roster moves galore, Cubs need a 26th man

Just in the last few days we’ve seen Justin Grimm sent down and recalled, Tommy La Stella brought back, Rob Zastryzny called up and sent back down, and both Felix Pena and Dylan Floro called up. The last of those was precipitated by the placement of Jason Heyward on the DL with a sprained finger, not to mention the need for additional pitching representation after the taxation of poor starting performances and that marathon game.

Now the unscheduled doubleheader forced by the hailstorm in Denver means the Cubs are able to make one more move, albeit a temporary one. MLB rules allow them to add a 26th man to the roster in these situations, so expect them to call up another bullpen arm just in case the starters don’t manage to go seven or eight innings in both games. Which, you know, it’s Denver, so…

Could this be Eddie Butler’s shot? It’d follow the trend of Cubs pitchers making appearances against their former teams, though bringing him up for the day doesn’t make much sense unless they’re really worried that either Jake Arrieta or John Lackey will flounder. Or they could go with a six-man rotation for a while here, utilizing Butler and Mike Montgomery at the back end and optioning Pena back to Iowa tomorrow.

Then again, the Cubs could look to Floro — who recently pitched 4 innings as a starter last week and who had gone at least 2 innings in four of seven relief appearances — as an auxiliary long-man, which might mean carrying an extra bat. Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register suggested that Jeimer Candelario might be getting the call in that case. Birch has his finger on the pulse of the I-Cubs and has been right about the other recent calls.

Ideally, this will be one of those moves that ends up being strictly precautionary. Even in the long slog of the season, this stretch has felt particularly sloggy. The good news is that built-in off days Thursday and the following Monday will provide ample opportunity for recovery and recalibration.

Rizzo Family Foundation donates $3.5 million

Is there anything better than getting an email notification that you’ve got a bill due or that your automatic payment for one debt or another has been drafted? Those are the best. There is one email I’ve gotten repeatedly over the last couple years, though, that I don’t mind one bit. It comes from and the subject line reads: Anthony Rizzo HR Donation.

For at least the last two seasons, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has held a genius fundraising campaign in which donors sign up to give a certain amount for each home run hit by the Cubs first baseman. It’s incredibly simple and you know you get to celebrate another dinger with a donation to a good cause. You’d probably be surprised by how quickly those little amounts add up, too.

There’s obviously more to the ARFF than just the home run fundraiser, but that’s a big part of the donation the foundation announced Monday. Here’s the full text of the letter they sent out to donors yesterday:

Dear Supporters,

When we started the Foundation 5 years ago, the thought of making a one-million-dollar donation is something we never imagined would be possible. Today, with great excitement, we are announcing a new 3.5-million-dollar commitment to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
Over the past 5 years we have had the opportunity to visit Lurie Children’s more than 25 times. Each visit, we have spent time talking with patients, nurses and families. We have shared in their struggles and stood with them as they face their greatest challenges.
We have heard their stories and shared in their grief. Their heartbreaking tales include families being evicted from their homes, parents not being able to afford life-saving medication for their children and families taking buses hours each way because paying for another night of parking is just too much. This is not okay. As a society, we must do better.
Through these stories and Anthony’s own battle with Cancer, we have learned first-hand what we can do to support these amazing children and their families. It will start with a gift.
This 3.5-million-dollar gift will be donated in the form of two endowments, the Hope 44 Endowed Fund and the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation Child Life Endowed Fund. By making this donation in the form of endowments we are ensuring that patients at Lurie’s can receive these needed resources for generations to come.
The Hope 44 Endowed Fund will provide grants on a case-by-case basis for families facing financial hardship due to unexpected needs resulting from a child’s treatment for cancer. These expenses include, but are not limited to, insurance co-pays, meals, parking, rent, utility bills and child care for siblings. The fund will enable oncology social workers to immediately assess a family’s need for assistance, without restrictions on a patient’s age or stage in diagnosis or the need for a formal application. Patients and their families have already benefited from the Rizzo Foundation’s Hope 44 Fund already, which in 2016, granted approximately $75,000 to offset these types of expenses. 
The second endowment, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation Child Life Endowed Fund, will provide ongoing support for two oncology Child Life specialists. These integral members of a patient’s healthcare team employ a variety of methods to reduce anxiety and normalize the hospital experience for both patients and families. Child Life specialist positions are funded entirely by philanthropy.
These endowments would not be possible without ALL OF YOU. We can’t thank you enough for your continued generous support. You are making a difference! 
Together WE WILL knock Cancer out of the park! 
The Rizzo Family

Good stuff. To learn more about how you can help, check out more information and join the Home Run Challenge or just make a one-time or recurring donation.

More news and notes

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