Matt Szczur passes up football to stay with Cubs

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According to Jim Callis of Baseball America, Cubs prospect outfielder Matt Szczur has accepted a $1.5 million deal to stick with baseball rather than pursue a career in the NFL. The story was first reported by Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net.

Szczur originally signed for $100,000 after being drafted in the fifth round last June. The 21-year-old batted .347/.414/.465 over his first 116 professional plate appearances before returning to Villanova to play football for his senior year. As Callis notes, his initial contract would have secured him $500,000 if he made a written commitment before February 10, so the Cubs tripled their original offer in order to keep him.

Callis writes that Szczur “has a knack for barreling balls, which combined with his top-of-the-scale speed will allow him to hit for high averages.” His coach at Villanova Andy Talley called Szczur his fastest player ever, even ahead of former Eagles and current 49ers running back Brian Westbrook, so it’s easy to see why he was drawing some interest among NFL teams.

Baseball America recently ranked Szczur as the No. 7 prospect in the Cubs organization, but those rankings pre-dated the Matt Garza trade.

Noah Syndergaard: ‘I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency’

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Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.

While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.

Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”

Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.

If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.