Cubs

Sell Garza? Epstein thinks Cubs could be buyers

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Sell Garza? Epstein thinks Cubs could be buyers

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs say they want more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas.

That has been a talking point for Theo Epsteins front office. But it would be impossible to clone Garza, a high-energy, hard-edged personality who screams into his glove and yells from the top step of the dugout.

The trade deadline is still five months away. But the market may not see anyone quite like Garza, whos only 28 years old and under club control through the end of the 2013 season. This is a big-game pitcher proven in the playoffs and the American League East.

There are going to be many variables that go into what the Cubs do with Garza. Fridays news brought in one more: The extra wild card added to each league for the 2012 season and beyond.

Perhaps more executives will think their teams are in the race, or maybe the Cubs realize theyre farther along in their rebuilding process than everyone first thought. It wont be that simple, but Epstein is aggressively optimistic.

Hopefully, were in a position at the trade deadline where were looking to add that final piece to get us in a better position for postseason play, Epstein said. If things dont go our way, and were not, then the landscape is always defined by how many teams are looking to add and how many teams are willing to move a piece.

Does an additional playoff team change that? Sure, sure it does. It changes that dynamic. But Im not going to go into it expecting the club to be sellers. I think were trying to play our best possible baseball we can to put ourselves in a position to be in contention at the deadline. But if youre selling at the deadline, by definition its been a failed year.

Epstein has said that the Garza trade speculation was driven by the media over the winter. But the president of baseball operations did make an assessment after leaving his old job at Fenway Park.

Epstein once watched Garza eliminate the Boston Red Sox and capture the 2008 ALCS MVP award with the Tampa Bay Rays. Epstein sees the value in big-game performance.

General manager Jed Hoyer has said that the Cubs expect to discuss a long-term extension with Garzas camp during spring training. The five-year, 65 million contract the White Sox gave left-hander John Danks figures to be one data point.

When Garza reported to camp, he said he wont negotiate through the media. Its hard to imagine it would be a distraction for someone whos already been traded twice in his career. He really would be concerned only if his name wasnt mentioned in all the rumors.

Its out of my hands. I cant control any of it, Garza said recently. If they tell me to go pitch wherever, Ill go pitch wherever. It would suck, but it is what it is. The games a business and theyre going to make moves with whats best for the organization (in mind). Thats what they should be doing.

Its (Theos) job to look out for not only the present, but the future of the organization. Right now, yeah, Id love to be part of the future. It would be awesome. But if its better for the club, theyre going to obviously, weve seen it (already) make the best possible decision for the club.

Around this time last year, there were questions about how Garza would fit into the Cubs clubhouse and handle a market much bigger than Tampa Bay. There were unfair comparisons to Carlos Zambrano that didnt prove to be accurate.

Teammates see how Garza works. They also love wolfing down the Popeyes fried chicken he gets for the clubhouse on the days he pitches.

I dont think it was my comfort level, Garza said. It was more everybody else getting comfortable with me. Im kind of one of those guys. It was more everybody getting comfortable to how I was. I think it happened pretty quickly. Everybody figured out what I was about.

I just love playing. I love being here. I love having fun, and I think thats what were going to do.

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

The Brewers' best pitcher is in some serious hot water before the second half of the MLB season gets underway.

As he was serving up a 3-run homer in the All-Star Game Tuesday night, Josh Hader's Tweets from 2011 were aired publicly and the result was...not good.

Hader's Tweets as a 17-year-old reflected racist and homophobic remarks, among other issues. (A summary of his Tweets can be found at Deadspin.)

After the All-Star Game, Hader was immediately put in front of reporters to respond to the Tweets and admitted he will accept any punishment that comes his way — including any possible suspension:

Regardless of whether or not he misses any game action for this (a suspension here would be rather unprecedented for MLB, but the world is certainly changing), this absolutely could affect Hader mentally moving forward. 

Case in point:

He can ask teammate Ryan Braun how to deal when fans turn on you, but it's going to be a lot more difficult for a 24-year-old in his first full big-league season to deal with any hate that comes down. 

Hader has been the Brewers' most valuable pitcher all season, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.7 K/9. 

But over the last month-plus, he's been...human.

Ever since Jason Heyward turned on a 98 mph Hader fastball to tie the game in Milwaukee on June 11, the Brewers' relief ace has a 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 13.5 K/9.

Still great numbers, to be sure, but not the Superman-esque line baseball fans came to expect from Hader after the first couple months of 2018. (Plus, the All-Star Game homer he served up to Jean Segura, but that obviously doesn't count for anything.)

With the Brewers already chasing the Cubs by 2.5 games in the division in the second half, they can't afford Hader's slump to worsen.

Though Cubs fans may be rooting for that...

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.