Cubs

Mooney: With Garza, Cubs future is now

Mooney: With Garza, Cubs future is now

Friday, Jan. 7,2011
2:17 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Whether a frustrated fan base believed it or not, Jim Hendryplayed to the cameras last summer and insisted that the Cubs were onlythree or four moves away from contention.

With atrade for pitcher MattGarza almost finalized Friday, the general managersoffseason is nearly complete. Suddenly the Cubs -- a team that appearedheaded toward 100 losses last season -- look like players in a verywinnable division.

The Rays do not compete in theNational League Central. They measure themselves against the Yankeesand Red Sox and have decided that now is the time to rebuild.

Sources said acquiring Garza, a 27-year-old impactstarter, will cost the Cubs five players, none of whom would beexpected to make their Opening Day roster: pitcher Chris Archer;shortstop Hak-Ju Lee; outfielder Brandon Guyer; catcher RobinsonChirinos; and outfielder SamFuld.

In exchange, the Cubs would alsoreceive two prospects from the Rays. Garza, who went 15-10 with a 3.91ERA last year, will earn a significant raise from his 3.35 millionsalary through arbitration, but he will not become a free agent untilafter the 2013 season.

Methodically,Hendry has addressed three primary needs, and it began with anotherplayer Tampa Bay couldnt afford.

First Hendrysigned CarlosPena a left-handed first baseman who can hit for power andplay Gold Glove defense to a creative one-year contract. Through asigning bonus and deferred money, only 3 million of Penas 10 millionwill appear on the 2011 books.

Then Hendrycapitalized on his strong personal relationship with KerryWood, agreeing to a 1.5 million deal that stabilized thebullpen, all with the understanding that the veteran reliever wouldhave a place in the organization once his playing careerended.

Now here comes Garza,who can join RyanDempster and CarlosZambrano near the front of what should be a strongerrotation. The Cubs have pursued Garza at least since the wintermeetings, though there was a perception that the Rays might wait untilJulys trade deadline to draw in more bidders.

MattGarza is one of those pitchers that wherever he goes is just goingto be an incredible asset, Pena said last month. Its no secret thathes extremely talented. The skys the limit with a guy like him. Ithink hes got Cy Young potential.

Maybe AndrewCashner can develop into the front-line starter the Cubs havelacked. But until now they have been sorting through too many back-endoptions to fill out their 2011 rotation: TomGorzelanny; RandyWells; CarlosSilva; CaseyColeman; and JeffSamardzija.

The Twinschose Garza out of Fresno State University in the first round of the2005 draft and later traded him to Tampa Bay in the DelmonYoung deal. There Garza went 34-31 with a 3.86 ERA in threeseasons.

Like Zambrano, Garza has had to beseparated from a teammate in the dugout, but hes also been tested infour playoff series, and was named the 2008 ALCSMVP.

Some who have only read about these prospectson the Internet will complain that the Cubs gave up too much. Inparticular they will wonder about Archer, who was acquired in the MarkDeRosa trade. The 22-year-old finished last season at 15-3with a 2.34 ERA in the minors and then excelled while pitching for TeamUSA in international competition.

But when you livein baseballs upper class as the Cubs do, despite their cautiousspending this winter this is the type of trade you make.

Lee, 20, is gifted defensively and has played inthe Futures Game, but not above the Class-A level. Anyway, the Cubshope StarlinCastro can be their shortstop for the next decade.

GeovanySoto is entrenched at catcher, with Welington Castillo on theway and outfielder Brett Jackson on the fast track. So Chirinos (26),Guyer (24) and Fuld (29) were also blocked to varyingdegrees.

To begin restocking the minor-leagueinventory, you could deal Gorzelanny, a relatively affordable28-year-old left-hander who has been rumored to be on the tradingblock.

You can take the money thats beingtransferred from the major-league payroll to international scouting andplayer development and find more prospects. You discover the nextplayers in South Korea and the Dominican Republic, like you did withLee and Castro.

You trust that scouting directorTim Wilken will continue to find assets in the draft. Guyer was afifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2007 and threeyears later became the organizations minor league player of the year.

You have confidence in Oneri Fleita, the vicepresident of player personnel with the vision to see what prospects canbecome. CarlosMarmol and Wells began their professional careers as positionplayers before being converted to pitchers. Chirinos has thrived sincebeing moved from the infield to catcher, hitting .326 with 18 homersand 74 RBI in 92 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-AIowa last year.

There is always risk involved, andHendry will be grilled at next weeks Cubs Convention about thedeparted prospects, the .196 hitter (Pena) and a pitcher whos been onthe disabled list 14 times (Wood).

There are no guarantees that this makesthe Cubs better than the Reds, the defending division champions. Itmight not match what the Brewers imported (ZackGreinke, ShaunMarcum) or the Cardinals already have on staff (ChrisCarpenter, AdamWainwright).

But its not like the Cubs could waste three seasons waiting to see if what played in Peoria would work at Wrigley Field (while charging some of the highest ticket prices in baseball). The first week of a new year saw a big-market team acting like one.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Brandon Morrow, Craig Kimbrel and the 'puzzle' that is the Cubs bullpen

Brandon Morrow, Craig Kimbrel and the 'puzzle' that is the Cubs bullpen

From potential trades to payroll to their exact offseason checklist, the Cubs are playing things close to the vest early this offseason.

Which makes sense, as it doesn't do them any good to publicly talk about which players they're hoping to trade or exactly how much they have to spend to reshape a roster that missed the playoffs for the first time in a half-decade. 

But one thing is certain: The bullpen ranks very high on the Cubs priority list this winter.

At MLB's GM Meetings last week, Theo Epstein acknowledged the bullpen is a major focus for his front office and said, "we need to hit on a number of relievers this winter."

If the season started today, the Cubs bullpen might look something like this:

Craig Kimbrel (closer)
Rowan Wick
Kyle Ryan
Brad Wieck
Tyler Chatwood
Alec Mills
Danny Hultzen
Duane Underwood Jr.
Adbert Alzolay

That also doesn't take into account the potential of Chatwood, Mills or Alzolay getting a shot at the starting rotation (plus Colin Rea, who was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month).

There's not a whole lot of MLB experience in that projected bullpen beyond the closer. Kimbrel has 565 career big-league appearances under his belt, but the other eight names on that list have combined for only 329 relief appearances spanning 374.2 innings. 

That's not to say there's no promise in this group — Wick, Ryan and Wieck all impressed in varying degrees of sample size in 2019 while Mills and Chatwood also performed admirably in swingman roles — but there's simply not much of a track record. 

To some degree, the Cubs are going to be counting on guys from the aforementioned group (plus other internal candidates like James Norwood and Dillon Maples) in 2020, but there's also clearly a lot of work to do for a unit that struggled mightily in high-leverage spots last season.

"That's a puzzle we're going to be putting together all winter," Jed Hoyer said. "We'll look at every possible angle to do it — minor-league free agency, major-league free agency, trades. We're gonna be creative in how we put a bullpen together, but right now, there's a lot of flexibility.

"It's hard to picture that painting right now, but I think we'll be creative and try to put together a good bullpen."

As Hoyer indicated, there is no one way to put together a quality relief corps.

For example, the Cubs signed Kimbrel to $43 million deal, acquired Wick and Mills in under-the-radar minor-league trades, moved Chatwood from the rotation to the bullpen, drafted Underwood and picked up former second-overall pick (2011) Hultzen on a minor-league deal as he made his way back from a laundry list of injuries. Wieck is the most recent acquisition, quietly coming over from the Padres in exchange for Carl Edwards Jr. while everybody was focused on the Nicholas Castellanos deal.

One such unconventional option could be Brandon Morrow, the oft-injured former closer who initially signed with the Cubs prior to the 2018 season, but was only able to pitch for a few months before missing the last year-and-a-half with ongoing arm issues. The Cubs declined his $12 million 2020 earlier this month and thus owe him a $3 million buyout.

Morrow, 35, is reportedly healthy and has expressed interest in making a comeback. If he doesn't manage to land a big-league deal (which is unlikely given his recent elbow issue and track record of injuries), he is open to signing a minor-league deal with the Cubs, as first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer

The Cubs would be interested in that, as well, as it's a low-risk, high-upside move. When he's been able to get on a mound over the last four seasons, Morrow is 7-0 with a 1.79 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 24 saves and 12 holds.

"When healthy, he can certainly be a big part of the solution," Epstein said. "We appreciate his sentiments about if he's gonna sign a minor-league deal, he feels a responsibility that it should be here. That certainly seems like the type of thing that makes sense for both sides down the road."

The Cubs are already probably going to have to get creative to fit all their desired moves into the 2020 budget, so a reunion with Morrow makes sense as a potential piece of the bullpen puzzle. But obviously the Cubs cannot go into the season expecting Morrow to stay healthy all season or relying on him as a key cog.

The biggest key to the success of the 2020 bullpen will be Kimbrel, who had a very forgettable debut season in Chicago. 

Kimbrel went 0-4, posted a 6.53 ERA, gave up 9 homers in 20.2 innings and blew 3 saves in 16 chances with the Cubs after signing midseason. He also missed roughly a month of action between a knee injury and then an elbow injury that lingered into September.

Will a typical offseason and spring training be enough to get the 31-year-old back to his Hall of Fame-caliber form?

"Some of the injuries may well have been because of the lack of spring training, ramping up too quickly," Hoyer said. "Of course there's a lot of variables. I don't think we know exactly why he struggled. I thought there were some moments where he looked like he was about to take off and he looked really good and some injuries held him back. 

"Hopefully a really good spring training and he can get back on track, really stabilize our bullpen and allow us to build a bullpen without having to worry about the last three outs."

Regardless of how the Cubs build the bullpen this winter, all eyes will be on Kimbrel. If he can't regain his form, it's going to make life a lot more difficult on Epstein's front office and new manager David Ross. 

However, it does help that Wick, Wieck and Ryan got valuable experience pitching in high-leverage moments in the midst of a pennant race last season. All three figure to be big parts of that bullpen puzzle moving forward. 

Before a minor shoulder issue cut his season short, Chatwood was dialing it up to 99 mph out of the bullpen and impressing in short spurts or in a long relief role. After a long road, Hultzen finally made his MLB debut in 2019 while Underwood struck out all six batters he faced in his season debut in August and showed some promise.

If the Cubs are going to have to lean heavily on the group of relievers without much track record, at least they got a bit of a head start.

"Yeah, it gives us some comfort," Hoyer said. "We have a lot of uncertainty, a lot of moving parts in the bullpen. But the way some of those guys pitched at the end of the year does give us hope that we can find some diamonds in the rough and some of those guys that we found last year can continue to make strides and help us." 

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Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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