Cubs

Sell Garza? Epstein thinks Cubs could be buyers

689516.png

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.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

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."