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.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: