Cubs

Theo: Dont believe the Garza trade hype

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Theo: Dont believe the Garza trade hype

This is nothing new to Matt Garza, who has tried to block out the trade rumors for almost all of his professional life. All winter the speculation has been where the Cubs might deal one of their few marketable assets.

The Tigers were the latest team said to have interest in Garza, and those reports were shot down in Detroit. The Yankees and Red Sox seem unwilling to part with their best prospects.

Garza remains under club control for two more seasons and stands to make around 9 million this year through the arbitration process. If the Cubs dont think theyll truly compete until 2015, they could trade him for multiple prospects to restock the system.

But Theo Epstein has also repeatedly said that Garza is exactly the type of pitcher youd like to build around, and acknowledged the possibility of a contract extension. The president of baseball operations plans to talk to his best pitcher this weekend at the Cubs Convention.

Ive kept his representatives updated every step of the way to pass it on to Matt, Epstein said Wednesday. Lets try to downplay this. I can truly say more has happened in the media with this than has happened in reality. Its not been an everyday (thing). Theres no attempt to shop him.

As we do with all our players, were going to weigh all our options to see whats best for the Cubs. I think very highly of Matt Garza. I think hes a top-of-the-rotation-type guy and Im looking forward to him being on the mound for us this season.

But were just being transparent about the fact that, hey, were in this for the long haul. And sometimes it makes sense to weigh your options to see if you can bring something better for the long haul.

Almost exactly a year ago, the Cubs gave up five players to acquire Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays. This was a bold move former general manager Jim Hendry believed would help the team win now and in the future, because Garza was better than anyone else whod be on the free-agent market this winter.

Epstein knows what the 28-year-old right-hander once did in the American League East. Last season Garza went 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 198 innings for a 91-loss Cubs team.

Garza could get traded, but it wont be a corresponding move because the Cubs just signed Paul Maholm. They also have four more starters on paper: Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Chris Volstad and Travis Wood. Plus, Jeff Samardzija will be stretched out in spring training, even though he may end up as a late-inning reliever.

But the plan all along has been to stockpile as many pitchers as possible, to avoid the disaster that happened when the Cubs lost 40 percent of their rotation during the first week of last season.

You never know whats going to happen over the course of the rest of the winter, general manager Jed Hoyer said, (or) whats going to be available to us. But a huge priority as weve said many times is building depth. We feel like weve really done that. You can never have enough pitching.

Garza, a high-energy player with a quirky personality, would be a reason to watch this team, which doesnt have much of a Q rating right now. And just because a player is rumored to be on his way out of town doesnt make it so.

It sounds like Kerry Wood will likely be back with the only team he wants to play for, and not chasing a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Weve said all along that we really want to get this done, Epstein said. It should be a no-brainer. Sometimes in the winter it gets more complicated, but we have a lot of things going for us, mainly that we want Kerry here. I sincerely want Kerry here. He sincerely wants to be a Cub.

Like I said before, if we cant figure this thing out, somethings wrong. Ill stand by that, so were going to continue to work on it and see what happens.

What will Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once Addison Russell returns?

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USA Today

What will Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once Addison Russell returns?

What will the Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once - or if - Addison Russell is able to return to the field?

Russell is still in concussion protocol and it's unknown when he will resume baseball activities. There are no clear timelines for head injuries and every person responds differently.

He was still showing symptoms this weekend after taking a 94 mph fastball to the face in Milwaukee last Sunday. Russell meets with team doctors each day, but will be relegated to the bench until he is given medical clearance to return.

Even if Russell is able to play again over these next couple days, how could the Cubs possibly take Hoerner out of the lineup right now?

The rookie collected 3 more hits Saturday, including a 3-run homer in the sixth inning:

That now gives him 11 RBI in his first six MLB games.

"Nico's performance cannot be overlooked," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "That [homer] was the first pitch he saw yesterday? I mean, c'mon. And beyond that, the thing I'm really focused on is the defense. He's really done a nice job on defense, which we really need that moment out there. The offense has been a plus.

"I have not given that thought until I know that Addison is ready to rock and roll. And once he does, I know one thing for sure - even if Nico were to start the game, we could upgrade the defense later with Addison in the game, too. So it's one of those things - I don't even permit myself to go there. I don't even know if [Russell is] gonna play or not. I don't know that.

"So in the meantime, Nico: just keep doing what you're doing. He's impressed probably the industry, but more importantly - the clubhouse. The guys have really been impressed by him."

It’s been a nightmare season for Russell. He missed the first month serving out the rest of his suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. He was optioned to Triple-A Iowa initially after the suspension and then came up to the big leagues, where he struggled and was unable to carve out consistent playing time despite the Cubs' need for production at second base.

Russell was then demoted to the minors again in late-July after persistent baserunning/mental mistakes. When Javy Baez went down with injury on the last homestand, Russell stepped in to play shortstop (his natural position), but committed a throwing error in three straight games last weekend in Milwaukee.

Saturday marked only the 95th professional game in Hoerner's career, but he has drawn rave reviews from every corner of the Cubs clubhouse, including seasoned veteran Jon Lester tabbing him as a sparkplug.

Less than a week ago, Hoerner was sitting at home in Oakland with his family, thinking his regular season was done and getting ready to play in the Arizona Fall League soon.

Now, he and his family are at Wrigley Field, soaking it all in:

"[My first game at Wrigley] was amazing. It felt like I had always hoped it would," Hoerner said. "Something you think about for a long time and it definitely lived up to the hype. I had hyped it up to my family a lot just from seeing one game here last year. I said it was unlike anything I had ever seen before and they agreed."

After his debut week, it's natural for fans to wonder if Hoerner should be the Cubs' starting shortstop on a playoff roster even if Russell is able to come back healthy. Baez's exact timeline looms as an x-factor here, too.

Who knows how this will all play out over the next two weeks, but the Cubs have to get to October first and right now, Hoerner is clearly the answer to help them do so.

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How Cubs are viewing the Cardinals-Brewers series this weekend

How Cubs are viewing the Cardinals-Brewers series this weekend

While the Cubs are battling the last-place Pirates at Wrigley Field and trying to claw their way back into an enviable spot in the pennant race, their top two competitors are squaring off in St. Louis.

The Cardinals and Brewers are playing each other this weekend, and the Redbirds already took Game 1 Friday night. With that and the Cubs' big win, it moves the Brewers 1 game behind the Cubs in the fight for the final National League playoff spot. But it also kept the Cubs 4 games behind the Cardinals in the division with only 15 to play.

No matter what happens down in the shadow of the arch, the Cubs have to take care of business themselves this weekend. That much is a given.

The perfect scenario would include sweeping the Pirates and the fourth-place Reds before the Cardinals come into town for a four-game series beginning Thursday night.

But the series in St. Louis is prime fodder for scoreboard watchers, and it also brings about an interesting conundrum for Cubdom: Are fans and the team rooting for the Cardinals or Brewers?

The Cardinals already won the first game, but if they were to sweep and the Cubs also sweep, the Cubs would remain 4 games back of the division with only 13 to play. However, they would also hold a 3-game lead on the Brewers in the Wild-Card race, which is crucial given Milwaukee's schedule the rest of the way is cake (San Diego, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Colorado). 

If the Brewers storm back to win the next two games while the Cubs take care of their own business, it would diminish the NL Central lead to only 2 games with 13 to play — including 7 head-to-head matchups between the Cubs and Cardinals.

Which is the better scenario? 

"Our goal is to win the division, so you want any kind of help you could possibly get to win the division," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "So that would be that the Brewers would beat the Cardinals. It doesn't matter — just Cubs win, Cubs win. We just gotta take care of our own house and if you do that, this is all gonna work out properly. 

"Rooting interests or whatever — yes, I did look at the score before I went to bed last night, but I was much happier about the fact that we really swung the bats well [Friday] and the bullpen was great."

The Cubs have admitted over the last few weeks that they've been scoreboard-watching a bit and are cognizant of the incredible run the Cardinals have been on. They also have the advantage of playing in the afternoon both Friday and Saturday and seeing their games conclude before the Brewers and Cardinals even begin.

But that doesn't mean the players care one way or the other. 

"Earmuffs — we don't give a shit about what anybody else is doing," Jason Heyward said. "We have enough fun right here with what we can control and after that, we leave it up to whatever's going on. That's out of our hands.

"We've done a lot of winning [at Wrigley Field] fortunately and that's fun to be a part of. But along with that is not worrying about what everybody else is doing. And that's the fun part of this job and the fun part about being with a group of guys like this here."

Even if the players aren't super concerned with scoreboard watching, Cubs fans are going to have their eyes glued to the box scores early next week, too. Before the Cardinals come to Wrigley, they will host the Wild-Card-leading Washington Nationals for three games Monday through Wednesday.

That means if the Cubs continue to win, they will be guaranteed to gain ground on at least one of the teams they're chasing each day.

Of course, if the Cubs can't win at home — where they're 48-24 this season — this is all a moot point.