Friday, Jan. 7,2011
By Patrick Mooney
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.