Cubs

Garza believes Cubs will play with a hard edge

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Garza believes Cubs will play with a hard edge

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum walked over and introduced himself to a young player leaving the batting cages, who shook his hand and joked: You just missed the laser show.

That Friday morning scene at Fitch Park will be replayed over and over again across the next few weeks. The Cubs have a first-year manager in Sveum, a front office restructured around Theo Epstein and enough new faces that you kept asking: Who is that guy?

With his hat turned backwards and Oakley sunglasses shielding his eyes, Matt Garza looked relaxed and content, the picture of spring training. He is one of the few big names left.

Pitchers and catchers officially report on Saturday, and will go through their first formal workout on Sunday, but Garza has been in Arizona for almost two weeks. He has made it clear that he would like to stay here with the Cubs.

It became a running joke in the Garza house this offseason, watching the crawl on the bottom of the screen during the winter meetings and wondering where hed be traded next.

No hard feelings, Garza says, because he has already been traded twice and heard the rumors for most of his career.

Epstein has also mentioned the possibility of a contract extension for Garza, who is under club control through the 2013 season. The two sides recently avoided an arbitration hearing by agreeing to a one-year, 9.5 million deal.

Some players set deadlines and dont want to negotiate once they get to camp, or when the season starts, but Garza doesnt seem to have any ultimatums, other than refusing to go through the media.

I dont talk about that, Garza said. Thats between my agent and myself, and then my agent and the front office. If they want to contact us, we contact them, whatever way it works, thats great. But my main focus is on getting ready for April 5 and having some fun again.

Sveum was a coach on a Milwaukee Brewers team that appeared to have a lot of fun (Prince Fielders bowling ball celebration at home plate) and didnt seem to care what other people thought (Nyjer Morgan calling out Alberta Pujols on Twitter).

The new manager doesnt want a vanilla team, and expects his guys to play with an edge. That sounds like Garza screaming into his glove.

You play hard for nine (innings), thats going to determine your identity, Garza said. You can be scrappers. You can be rollovers. You can be whatever. But (if) you play hard for nine, youre going to develop your own identity.

Were going to be a bunch of scrappers. We dont have the big-name power threats. We have (Alfonso Soriano) in the middle of our lineup. We have (Starlin) Castro, whos going to be a great hitter and an even better shortstop this season. We got a lot of (role players, so) were going to be scrappy, and thats the best way to play.

If you got a big bopper and (he) doesnt come through, its not going to (work). But if you got a bunch of guys who hit-and-run, squeeze, bunt, move-em-over, get-em-in, thats what wins you ballgames. The guys we have in place are going to pay attention to a lot of detail. Little things count up here. Thats going to be a huge asset for us.

That has already started, Kerry Wood throwing from the mound and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo breaking down David DeJesus swing. After two straight fifth-place finishes, and deeper cuts into the major-league payroll, the little things will have to make a difference.

Garza will have to cut down on his errors, the wild, rushed throws to first. He could use more run support after going only 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA last season. But hes still a very good bet for 30 starts and 200 innings, and hes done it before in the playoffs.

Garza spent most of the winter in Chicago, if thats any indication of where his heads at. He took his family on a vacation to Italy. He worked out for awhile at Northwestern University and found another indoor facility in Chicago. He enjoyed driving his Range Rover through the snow. He still thinks he can win here.

I like pitching day games, Garza said. I like waking up early. I like going home and having dinner with my kids, so for me it was a lot of fun. I had a blast last year. Our record didnt indicate it, but if Im on a field, Im having a good time.

I love pitching at Wrigley. Its a blast. A lot of great people have played there. I want to be able to leave a legacy like they did.

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

Monday’s interview with Jim Hickey in Chicago — roughly 72 hours after the Cubs fired pitching coach Chris Bosio and within a week of manager Joe Maddon saying “of course” he wanted his entire staff back — is a first step in the reboot at Wrigley Field.

Maddon would probably like to have that answer back, knowing he could have softened the language with corporate speak and created some wiggle room in the middle of a National League Championship Series where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game.

But Hickey, the former Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach, is a familiar face and an expert voice at a time when Maddon’s honeymoon period appears to be over, repeatedly first- and second-guessed about his decisions, from the World Series Game 7 the Cubs won last year through a frustrating 43-45 start to this season and deep into another playoff run.

That staff is already in flux, with bench coach Dave Martinez scheduled to interview with the Washington Nationals for Dusty Baker’s old job and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske now leaving to take a lead role with the Los Angeles Angels hitters.

Here’s why the Cubs will probably have to make Hickey an offer he can’t refuse:

— A rival scout noticed how often Maddon looked like a solitary figure in the dugout, standing there looking down at his lineup card. Whatever friction Maddon felt with Bosio — a big presence who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and isn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks — Hickey is someone the manager trusts after their eight seasons together with the Rays.

Maddon insisted he wasn’t maneuvering behind the scenes when he reached out after Hickey surprisingly parted ways with Tampa Bay in October, but it still showed the depth of their relationship: “I called him to console a friend.”

— While working for the Boston Red Sox, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer got an up-close look at what Hickey did in the American League East, helping build the small-market contender that advanced to the 2008 World Series, the beginning of five seasons with at least 90 wins in six years.

Between his time with the Rays and Houston Astros, look at the All-Star pitchers Hickey has worked with: Chris Archer, David Price, Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Matt Moore, Fernando Rodney, James Shields, Rafael Soriano, Scott Kazmir, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Roger Clemens.

— Hickey can also offer unique insight into Alex Cobb, a free agent the Cubs will have to do more background work on as they try to replace 40 percent of their rotation. Cobb — who went 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 career starts for the Rays — just turned 30 and has only 700 innings on his major-league odometer after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the middle of the 2015 season.

“He has a talent that most organizations search for relentlessly,” Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times after Hickey left the Rays with a year remaining on his contract. “He will have a great time being a free agent.

“I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better.”

— Beyond the connection to Maddon, Hickey is someone who knows Chicago after growing up on the South Side, and that hometown draw will probably matter at a time when the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are among several marquee teams in the market for a new pitching coach that now might be thinking: "Better Call Boz."

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”