Cubs

Garza unplugged: Beating Theo and the chase for a ring

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Garza unplugged: Beating Theo and the chase for a ring

MESA, Ariz. This was Matt Garza unplugged, predicting that Carlos Zambrano would contend for the Cy Young and bragging about how he used to own Theo Epsteins teams.

Garza doesnt like to sit still, and he doesnt particularly enjoy talking to the media. But when he does, well, forget it, hes rolling.

At this time last year, no one was quite sure what the Cubs got from Tampa Bay in a blockbuster eight-player trade. Garza doesnt think his comfort level has changed: It was more everybody else getting comfortable with me.

Garza didnt disappoint the crowd around his locker on Sunday. A Boston reporter working on an Epstein feature asked the 2008 ALCS MVP what he knew about his new boss.

That I was able to kick the crap out of him every year, Garza said. Thats what I learned. But the ballclubs he built were always good. He brought up (Dustin) Pedroia (and Jacoby) Ellsbury (and Kevin) Youkilis through the farm. Thats how you keep a championship-caliber ballclub.

The Yankees learned it late, (but) now theyre doing the same thing, running everything through the farm. And if you look at the sleeper teams over there in Tampa, theyve been doing it for the last 10 seasons. They might have sucked for eight, but they cant be stopped now.

Thats what baseballs turned into. (The) route were going is awesome.It was time for it.

Rebuilding the right way could mean trading the 28-year-old Garza, or extending him with a long-term contract, two options the Cubs considered over the winter. Either way, he wont take it personally.

Garza certainly wasnt bothered by the Red Sox using his name as a starting point in the Epstein compensation negotiations.

Why not? Hes a great GM (who) won two World Series, Garza said. Why not go after a starter (for an area) they lacked depth in? Go after (Starlin) Castro, a guy whos 21 and already an All-Star, (or) a premier prospect in (Brett) Jackson, why not? Why not see what you can get. I would. I would ask for the farm.

Whats Garza going to ask for in his next contract? Hes vowed to keep those demands out of the media. But a good reference point would be the five-year, 65 million the White Sox recently gave John Danks.

Garza who will make 9.5 million this year and is under club control through the 2013 season enjoys living in Chicago. It doesnt sound like hed cut off negotiations once the season starts, or consider these talks (or the constant trade rumors) a distraction.

I dont focus on anything like that, unless something came across like, Whoa! Garza said. Then I would definitely sit down and think about it. But right now, my agent knows where Im at and where I want to be at and thats all there is to it.

Youre not going to hear a peep from me. My job is to get ready for April 5 (and) try to get this team to the postseason.

How far are the Cubs from the playoffs? What they do with Garza could be telling.

First-year manager Dale Sveum watched Garza push the Rays into the World Series, and noticed the wound-up personality that leads him to yell from the top of the dugout on the days he doesnt pitch. It reminded Sveum of David Cone, another big-game pitcher who liked to irritate opponents.

You knew there was something special (in Garza) with the stuff and that inner-cockiness, Sveum said. When you got an arm and a competitor like that, a guy (with character who) works that hardthats the kind of guy a manager wants to see somebody give a long-term contract to not trade.

Garzas 2008 ALCS ring, which was covered in diamonds and valued at 30,000, was stolen from his Fresno County (Calif.) home last month. He found out Saturday that the police have no new leads and plan to suspend the case.

Its a tough break, Garza said, but I got better news because today camp starts, so (were) ready to go try to earn another onea bigger one.

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

With the second half of the season about to kick off Thursday afternoon, the Cubs front office is in the final stretch of roster building as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looms.

Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer spoke with NBC Sports Chicago's very own David Kaplan today on his ESPN 1000 radio show answering plenty of questions on what the Cubs' gameplan is before the trade deadline. 

There has already been a flurry of moves over the past few days, with two of the more enticing trade pieces being moved in new Dodger shortstop Manny Machado and former Padres reliever Brad Hand, who was traded to the Indians Thursday morning.

But when asked about going after big-name talent at the deadline, Hoyer explained while the team may "engage" in those conversations, the focus for him and the Cubs was on adding depth to the roster. 

"Obviously, we'll be involved in those [trade] discussions, but I do feel like adding depth is something we are going to do," Hoyer said. "We're going to be in on every discussion, but at the same time, I do believe we have the pieces internally to be a heck of a team." 

The name that has garnered attention recently has been Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who is currently having the best season of his career at age 30, but Hoyer made no indication the Cubs would once again facilitate another blockbuster deal.

And even with Tyler Chatwood struggling to locate in the strike zone this season, Hoyer made it clear the front office hasn't lost faith in their second biggest investment of the off-season. 

"We're confident [Chatwood] will have a better second half, we're going to have a really big, long pennant race," Hoyer said. "It's going to be really challenging second half and we're going to need all the pitching we can possibly get and I think Tyler is going to be a big part of that." 

In terms of team needs, the Cubs are a club with few holes on their roster but could stand to add more pitching in both the bullpen and rotation with everyone but Jon Lester having frustrating moments in the first half of the season.

Making moves similar to the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016 are what Hoyer relishes, telling Kaplan those are the moves the Cubs "pride themselves on." 

But when it comes to Cubs improving on their already impressive first half of baseball, Jed Hoyer continued to back the players who are currently on the roster.

And while it may not be the move that creates the social media buzz fans crave this time of year, Hoyer knows he can get more from his current roster in the second half. 

"There's no doubt that the best way we can get better is by having guys we already have [play] better than they have to date." 

 

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina has been playing the Cubs for a decade and a half.

For 15 years, Molina has been one of the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals, making nine All-Star Games, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in nine postseasons and winning a pair of World Series championships. And for much of that time, his Cardinals had the upper hand in the rivalry between the two National League Central foes.

But that's changed in recent years. The Cubs have ascended to the Cardinals' old spot as a perennial contender, and it was their defeat of the Cardinals in the NLDS back in 2015 that really seemed to usher in the current era of World Series expectations on the North Side.

If you watch any rivalry long enough, you'll see the balance of power shift back and forth. Molina has been watching this rivalry for a long time.

"They've got good chemistry, they've got good talent there, they play together," Molina said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., before suiting up alongside Willson Contreras and Javy Baez on the NL All-Star team. "So yeah, they remind me of what we were back in the day with the Cardinals."

High praise considering all that Molina and those old Cardinals teams accomplished.

It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals were a dominant force in this division and in this rivalry. Between 2009 and 2015, the Cubs lost double-digit games to the Cardinals in all but one season. The Cardinals won a World Series title during that seven-year span (2011), ending all but one of those campaigns with a postseason appearance. The Cubs, meanwhile, had five straight fifth-place finishes and missed the playoffs in all but the last.

But since the end of the 2015 regular season, the Cubs are 30-20 against their biggest rivals, a record that includes that 3-1 series win in the 2015 NLDS.

And now it's the Cubs who have seemingly built a winning machine. Like the Cardinals dominated the division with a core cast of characters that included Molina as well as Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, the Cubs now have that reliable core featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Baez, Contreras and so many others. They're expected to be at the top of the Central standings and compete for championships, just like the Cardinals were for much of a decade.

The Cardinals, of course, have quite recently been thrown into a state of atypical tumult with manager Mike Matheny fired in the middle of the season and a couple off-the-field controversies grabbing national headlines. That's not to say they're exactly out of contention, though, as they begin the second half with an above-.500 record, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs and only four games back for the second NL wild card spot.

But when you compare the drama-drenched Cardinals with the Cubs — who while no one would describe as firing on all cylinders have managed to stay not far behind their 2016 pace — there's a noticeable gap, a gap that's somewhat crazy to think about for those who can remember the Cardinals' past dominance in this rivalry.

Though the Cardinals have actually won more head-to-head matchups this season (five of the eight), the five-game set to begin the second half — the first of eight games between the two teams over the next two weekends — would figure to favor the Cubs, who won 12 of 15 to close out the first half.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to win the series. Right now, we need that as a club," Molina said. "It's going to be tough. The Cubs, they're playing good baseball right now, they've got chemistry there. It's going to be tough, but our concentration is on trying to win the series."