Cubs

Mooney: Garza's always on the move

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Mooney: Garza's always on the move

Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
Posted 8:05 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Matt Garza leaped over the first-base line as he walked to the mound at HoHoKam Park. He appears to be in constant motion.

You rarely see him killing time at his locker. He yells out to the other side of the clubhouse to ask a question. The other day he reluctantly stopped to do a quick interview with a national columnist right there in the middle of the room, no need to find a more quiet space.

Landing Garza became close to an obsession for Jim Hendry. The Cubs general manager spoke with Andrew Friedman, his counterpart in Tampa Bay, basically every day except Christmas and New Years for a month while trying to close the deal.

Hendry sat in the first row watching on a 49-degree Sunday afternoon. Garza didnt throw a breaking ball during his two innings in this Cactus League opener.

Coco Crisp drove one pitch into the right-field bullpen for a grand slam. Matt Carson crushed another off the green batters eye, 410 feet out in center. It ended in a 15-7 loss to the Oakland As in front of 6,892 fans.

The ball felt good coming out of my hand, Garza said. I felt like I was very explosive toward home plate. Everything that needs to be there is there. Location will come with time and more innings. Im not disappointed. Im pretty upbeat about it.

Garza had already moved on from his final line: five runs on five hits in two innings. Its hard to sweat those numbers when youve been an ALCS MVP.

Mike Quade didnt watch Garza throw a single pitch in bullpen sessions or batting practice during the two weeks the Cubs trained at Fitch Park. The manager had read all the reports on Garza, but mostly wanted to see how he carried himself.

Hes almost more wired than I am, Quade said. Hes going a mile a minute.

You combine talent with energy with what looks like really good work ethic does it get any better than that?

Garza paused long enough Sunday morning to watch episodes of The Simpsons and The Office on an iPad-type device. Headphones plugged into his ears, he leaned back in his chair with his legs on a water fountain.

Hes always laughing, always smiling, said first baseman Carlos Pena, a teammate in Tampa Bay. (But) when he gets on the mound, (he) wants to beat the other team so bad and dominate. Its just cool to see how he can turn it on like that. You think hes just unapproachable, the next thing you know hes just the friendliest guy.

But this doesnt seem like someone who sits still for long. A Twins first-round pick made it to the majors by his second professional season, rising from Class-A Fort Myers to Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Rochester to Minnesota in 2006. Hes still only 27 and has already been traded twice.

I was watching him (the other day) in the bullpen at 8:15 in the morning and he was just as intense there as he would be at 7 at night, catcher Koyie Hill said. A lot of that is just adrenaline, which is good. Coming to a new place, hes excited. Hopefully it doesnt wear off. I dont think it will. I dont see it happening.

Garza has said that hes not playing to the trade, which cost the Cubs some of the best prospects in their system. But it wasnt a complete win-now move, because Garza is under team control through 2013. So in time this should be his manager, his team, his league.

On Sunday Garza even got the first hit he could remember. Someone supposedly threw the ball into the Cubs dugout. He was laughing about that. The pitching numbers didnt matter.

It was a good jumping-off point, Garza said.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.