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.

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.