Cubs

Garza unplugged: Beating Theo and the chase for a ring

641436.png

Garza unplugged: Beating Theo and the chase for a ring

MESA, Ariz. This was Matt Garza unplugged, predicting that Carlos Zambrano would contend for the Cy Young and bragging about how he used to own Theo Epsteins teams.

Garza doesnt like to sit still, and he doesnt particularly enjoy talking to the media. But when he does, well, forget it, hes rolling.

At this time last year, no one was quite sure what the Cubs got from Tampa Bay in a blockbuster eight-player trade. Garza doesnt think his comfort level has changed: It was more everybody else getting comfortable with me.

Garza didnt disappoint the crowd around his locker on Sunday. A Boston reporter working on an Epstein feature asked the 2008 ALCS MVP what he knew about his new boss.

That I was able to kick the crap out of him every year, Garza said. Thats what I learned. But the ballclubs he built were always good. He brought up (Dustin) Pedroia (and Jacoby) Ellsbury (and Kevin) Youkilis through the farm. Thats how you keep a championship-caliber ballclub.

The Yankees learned it late, (but) now theyre doing the same thing, running everything through the farm. And if you look at the sleeper teams over there in Tampa, theyve been doing it for the last 10 seasons. They might have sucked for eight, but they cant be stopped now.

Thats what baseballs turned into. (The) route were going is awesome.It was time for it.

Rebuilding the right way could mean trading the 28-year-old Garza, or extending him with a long-term contract, two options the Cubs considered over the winter. Either way, he wont take it personally.

Garza certainly wasnt bothered by the Red Sox using his name as a starting point in the Epstein compensation negotiations.

Why not? Hes a great GM (who) won two World Series, Garza said. Why not go after a starter (for an area) they lacked depth in? Go after (Starlin) Castro, a guy whos 21 and already an All-Star, (or) a premier prospect in (Brett) Jackson, why not? Why not see what you can get. I would. I would ask for the farm.

Whats Garza going to ask for in his next contract? Hes vowed to keep those demands out of the media. But a good reference point would be the five-year, 65 million the White Sox recently gave John Danks.

Garza who will make 9.5 million this year and is under club control through the 2013 season enjoys living in Chicago. It doesnt sound like hed cut off negotiations once the season starts, or consider these talks (or the constant trade rumors) a distraction.

I dont focus on anything like that, unless something came across like, Whoa! Garza said. Then I would definitely sit down and think about it. But right now, my agent knows where Im at and where I want to be at and thats all there is to it.

Youre not going to hear a peep from me. My job is to get ready for April 5 (and) try to get this team to the postseason.

How far are the Cubs from the playoffs? What they do with Garza could be telling.

First-year manager Dale Sveum watched Garza push the Rays into the World Series, and noticed the wound-up personality that leads him to yell from the top of the dugout on the days he doesnt pitch. It reminded Sveum of David Cone, another big-game pitcher who liked to irritate opponents.

You knew there was something special (in Garza) with the stuff and that inner-cockiness, Sveum said. When you got an arm and a competitor like that, a guy (with character who) works that hardthats the kind of guy a manager wants to see somebody give a long-term contract to not trade.

Garzas 2008 ALCS ring, which was covered in diamonds and valued at 30,000, was stolen from his Fresno County (Calif.) home last month. He found out Saturday that the police have no new leads and plan to suspend the case.

Its a tough break, Garza said, but I got better news because today camp starts, so (were) ready to go try to earn another onea bigger one.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

andre_dawson.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.