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Cubs: Matt Garza feels like hes been locked in a cage

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Cubs: Matt Garza feels like hes been locked in a cage

Matt Garza would probably be on edge anyway.

Even if his season hadnt ended July 21 last year. Even if he wasnt about 10 days away from getting on the mound and throwing a bullpen session. Even if he wasnt pitching for a big contact in his platform year. Thats just how he rolls.

Ive kind of been locked in a cage for six months, Garza said Friday.

Garza is perhaps The Most Interesting Man at the Cubs Convention, because his health will be a major story line and from the beginning of the Theo Epstein administration what the front office did with him would say a lot about this rebuilding project.

Right now, Garza says he wont have any restrictions in spring training and expects to be part of the Opening Day rotation. In reality, whatever the Cubs decide to do with Garza is on hold as he recovers from the stress reaction in his right elbow.

Garza avoided arbitration on Thursday by agreeing to a 10.25 million deal that should take him into free agency. Hes curious to see what direction the organization takes, and surely understands that the team will have to get off to a good start or else it will be time to sell-off the short-term assets. Hes open to a future in Chicago, but knows he will have to take control of the situation first.

Ive said multiple times I love this city, Garza said. My family loves this city, but at the end of the day its: Do I fit? My ability to pitch, is it there? Its all going to come down to me pitching. Thats kind of it. All of the decision will be based off that.

The Garza question has been asked so many different ways across the past 14 months: Trade? Extend? Play it out? But its pointless now to look anywhere beyond his rehab schedule and wonder if the Cubs would be willing to offer something north of the four-year, 52 million deal Edwin Jackson got this winter.

Its not the right time, general manager Jed Hoyer said. If theres a time in the future where he feels really good, thats a more rational time to have that discussion. I dont think right now is the time to enter those discussions. Were really happy with everything weve heard, both from the doctors and from Matt and were optimistic that hes ready to go.

When healthy, Garza is the ultimate win-now player, a big-game pitcher whos done it before in the playoffs and the American League East. That makes him an awkward fit for a franchise thinking 2015 and beyond.

They werent messing around when they came in last year and said they were going to rebuild from the bottom up, Garza said. Last year when we did rookie dress-up I bought like 27 costumes. I knew there was going to be a lot of new faces. (But) its like a breath of fresh air. These guys want to play, theyre hungry. And I know the front office wants to win.

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.