Cubs

Sell Garza? Epstein thinks Cubs could be buyers

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Sell Garza? Epstein thinks Cubs could be buyers

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs say they want more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas.

That has been a talking point for Theo Epsteins front office. But it would be impossible to clone Garza, a high-energy, hard-edged personality who screams into his glove and yells from the top step of the dugout.

The trade deadline is still five months away. But the market may not see anyone quite like Garza, whos only 28 years old and under club control through the end of the 2013 season. This is a big-game pitcher proven in the playoffs and the American League East.

There are going to be many variables that go into what the Cubs do with Garza. Fridays news brought in one more: The extra wild card added to each league for the 2012 season and beyond.

Perhaps more executives will think their teams are in the race, or maybe the Cubs realize theyre farther along in their rebuilding process than everyone first thought. It wont be that simple, but Epstein is aggressively optimistic.

Hopefully, were in a position at the trade deadline where were looking to add that final piece to get us in a better position for postseason play, Epstein said. If things dont go our way, and were not, then the landscape is always defined by how many teams are looking to add and how many teams are willing to move a piece.

Does an additional playoff team change that? Sure, sure it does. It changes that dynamic. But Im not going to go into it expecting the club to be sellers. I think were trying to play our best possible baseball we can to put ourselves in a position to be in contention at the deadline. But if youre selling at the deadline, by definition its been a failed year.

Epstein has said that the Garza trade speculation was driven by the media over the winter. But the president of baseball operations did make an assessment after leaving his old job at Fenway Park.

Epstein once watched Garza eliminate the Boston Red Sox and capture the 2008 ALCS MVP award with the Tampa Bay Rays. Epstein sees the value in big-game performance.

General manager Jed Hoyer has said that the Cubs expect to discuss a long-term extension with Garzas camp during spring training. The five-year, 65 million contract the White Sox gave left-hander John Danks figures to be one data point.

When Garza reported to camp, he said he wont negotiate through the media. Its hard to imagine it would be a distraction for someone whos already been traded twice in his career. He really would be concerned only if his name wasnt mentioned in all the rumors.

Its out of my hands. I cant control any of it, Garza said recently. If they tell me to go pitch wherever, Ill go pitch wherever. It would suck, but it is what it is. The games a business and theyre going to make moves with whats best for the organization (in mind). Thats what they should be doing.

Its (Theos) job to look out for not only the present, but the future of the organization. Right now, yeah, Id love to be part of the future. It would be awesome. But if its better for the club, theyre going to obviously, weve seen it (already) make the best possible decision for the club.

Around this time last year, there were questions about how Garza would fit into the Cubs clubhouse and handle a market much bigger than Tampa Bay. There were unfair comparisons to Carlos Zambrano that didnt prove to be accurate.

Teammates see how Garza works. They also love wolfing down the Popeyes fried chicken he gets for the clubhouse on the days he pitches.

I dont think it was my comfort level, Garza said. It was more everybody else getting comfortable with me. Im kind of one of those guys. It was more everybody getting comfortable to how I was. I think it happened pretty quickly. Everybody figured out what I was about.

I just love playing. I love being here. I love having fun, and I think thats what were going to do.

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.