Cubs

Epstein will have to answer the Garza question

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Epstein will have to answer the Garza question

Forget Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. The bigger litmus test will be Matt Garza. That could reveal what Theo Epstein really thinks about this team.

The tricky question of when the Cubs will truly be able to compete could be answered by what Epstein does with Garza. There wont be an easy answer. Even the new president of baseball operations seems conflicted.

Epstein watched Garza eliminate the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and win the ALCS MVP award. Garza wasnt afraid of pitching in a brutal division and loved Fenway Parks big stage.

Thats why, when pressed, Epstein will say: Hes exactly the type of guy that wed like to build around.

But its more complicated than that. Garza, who made close to 6 million last season, remains arbitration-eligible for two more years. For a team looking to win now, a 28-year-old, big-game power pitcher might be more attractive than any free agent on the market.

The Cubs will have to at least wonder what they could get for that, maybe multiple pieces that will help accelerate this rebuilding process.

Thats one of the greatest challenges of the job, Epstein said Thursday, balancing short-term interests with long-term interests and making sure they align, being honest about where you are as an organization and when your opportunity to really win comes.

Jim Hendry never felt like he was mortgaging the future when he sent five players to the Tampa Bay Rays almost 11 months ago. The ex-general manager had studied future free-agent classes and knew it was a rare opportunity to get a frontline starter under club control through 2013.

When the industry gathers for the winter meetings next week in Dallas, Garzas name will be linked to trade rumors all over again. But that doesnt automatically mean hes going somewhere else.

There are ways to turn quote-unquote short-term assets into longer-term assets, Epstein said. Its not just through trade. You can also do it through contract extensions. There are a lot of different ways to build a foundation.

Well be open-minded about that with all of our players and see which way things go.

Epstein isnt emotionally attached to these players the way Hendry once was, though he is locked into the idea of getting more pitching. Look for more value signings, like the reasonable two-year, 10 million commitment (plus an option) just given to outfielder David DeJesus.

We need starting pitching, Epstein said. You cant take your chances very seriously as a club if you go into the season without not just five guys you can point to but six, seven, eight guys. You better know who your ninth starters going to be because (the) numbers show youre going to need (him) at some point during the course of the year.

Which seems to suggest it wouldnt make sense to unload your best starter. Epstein had good things to say about Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner, but wouldnt reveal whether those two young pitchers are ticketed for the bullpen.

Epstein isnt prepared to move Sean Marshall to the rotation: If you have the best left-handed reliever in baseball, its hard to think about taking him out of that role.

Garza went 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA last season, though thats deceptive because he left with the lead seven times without factoring into the decision. He has the ability to make hitters swing and miss (197 strikeouts in 198 innings), which is something this front office values.

Garza did miss a few weeks with a right elbow contusion, but has made at least 30 starts in each of the past four seasons. He definitely has an edge, a few personality quirks, but teammates respected his energy and effort. He answered the questions about how hed handle playing in a big market.

DeJesus has spent his entire major-league career in Kansas City and Oakland, but he seems ready for the bright lights. He recently moved into a home in Wheaton with his wife and 18-month-old son, so hes seen the wall-to-wall Epstein coverage.

The hype thats going around, its a beautiful thing, DeJesus said. To be able to be a part of it (is) such a blessing.

Perhaps the biggest question for the Cubs this winter remains unanswered: Will Garza become part of Epsteins grand plan?

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow won't be riding in to save the day for the Cubs bullpen this October.

Theo Epstein ruled the closer out for the year Tuesday evening, saying Morrow just couldn't make it all the way back from a bone bruise.

"Every time he pitched, it got worse," Epstein said, according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat.

Morrow hasn't pitched since before the All-Star break while battling the bone bruise in his forearm.

The Cubs gave him as much time as possible to recover and then he tried to ramp up his rehab over the last couple weeks in an effort to make it back for the postseason. 

He threw off a mound twice last week and then faced live hitters in a sim game Saturday that supposedly went well with the hope of being activated either sometime this week in Arizona or over the weekend on the South Side for the Cubs-White Sox series.

This leaves the Cubs in a serious hole in the bullpen for October, a time when relievers become some of the most important players on the roster.

With Pedro Strop's hamstring injury he suffered last Thursday in Washington D.C., the Cubs are down their top two relief pitchers for the final two weeks of the regular season and will be down at least Morrow in the playoffs. 

Strop said Monday he hoped to be able to return to the Cubs over the final weekend of the regular season (Sept. 28-30), but there is still a lot up in the air with his timeline. 

The Cubs are now left with a bullpen that includes Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jesse Chavez plus a bunch of question marks.

[RELATED — Jesse Chavez has emerged as the most important pitcher in Cubs bullpen]

Will Dillon Maples be able to carve out a role in the October bullpen? What about Jorge De La Rosa or Jaime Garcia? 

The next 13 days will be telling.

Morrow has a long history of injuries over his career - making only 91 appearances (21 starts) and pitching 180.1 innings over the last five seasons entering 2018. He emerged as a dynamic piece of the Dodgers bullpen last October and appeared in each game of the World Series against the Astros.

This is the second pitcher the Cubs have ruled out for the season with a bone bruise, as Yu Darvish also had to be shut down due to a bone bruise in his elbow. Darvish had a debridement procedure on his elbow last week and is supposed to be ready to go for spring training 2019.

Theo Epstein gets a little sassy in response to doubt about Cubs bullpen

Theo Epstein gets a little sassy in response to doubt about Cubs bullpen

Theo Epstein made it known to everyone that he believes in the Cubs bullpen and even shared some statistics with reports yesterday when asked about his club's lack of a true closer. 

The rest of Epstein's comments can be found here, but the Cubs President of Baseball Operations clearly has heard enough about the Cubs bullpen being doomed without Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow, but that hasn't been the case. Since Strop injured his hamstring, the bullpen has thrown 9.2 scoreless innings and seen three different pitchers collect saves in Randy Rosario, Steve Cishek, and Jorge De La Rosa. 

And Epstein is right, the Cubs do own the best ERA among bullpens in the National League with a 3.30 ERA, Padres are in behind them at 3.52 ERA. However, if someone were to check Twitter about the state of the Cubs bullpen, it might seem like things are far worse than they really are. And while they may not have a true closer at the moment, and possibly longer with Brandon Morrow being shut down for the season, the Cubs are the best in baseball at keeping the ball in the park (0.79 HR/FB) and have the best opponent batting average in the National League. 

And when factoring in how many relievers in the bullpen have closing experience, the Cubs bullpen is in better shape than most despite suffering injuries in the second half to their two main closing options in Strop and Morrow. So, for Theo Epstein's sake, stop worrying about the bullpen because the Cubs certainly are not.