Cubs

Robel Garcia's 'intriguing' potential and where he fits on the Cubs in the second half

Robel Garcia's 'intriguing' potential and where he fits on the Cubs in the second half

By now, you've heard Robel Garcia's story.

It's more akin to a Hollywood script than a real-life situation, as Garcia spent six years playing baseball in Italy before returning to the U.S. That's where the Cubs found him last fall in Arizona.

With each passing day, it's looking more and more like they've discovered a diamond in the rough.

"He was playing on the backfields last fall and one of our amateur scouts happened to be scouting the Instructional League and saw this guy as a free agent," Cubs VP Jason McLeod said on the CubsTalk Podcast this week. "He started doing the legwork on him, getting the background and just said, 'Hey, this guy's really interesting — the ball's getting off his barrel really well, he looks like a good athlete.'

"That got the ball rolling. We saw him again a week or so later and we ended up signing him with an invite to spring training really with no guarantees. I mean, he had to come in and at the least, show that he could go to Double-A because he hadn't been around for six years.

"From Day 1, he just lit us up with his play on the field and how well he swung the bat in spring training. Things started from there and he hasn't stopped."

So now that Garcia is on the big-league team, what is his level of staying power and where does he fit as the second half of the 2019 season approaches?

The 26-year-old switch-hitter never even played above A-ball in America before this spring, but he's hit everywhere he's gone this year. That hasn't stopped in the big leagues, as he's clubbed 3 extra-base hits (including 2 homers) in his first 11 at-bats since last week's promotion.

"He's intriguing — there's no question," manager Joe Maddon said. "He could provide a lot for us. Don't forget — right now, he's just here for the first time. He's making his first impression; he's getting used to the situation."

Garcia started each of the Cubs' last three games before the All-Star Break and even with a roster filled with proven players, it's easy to see an avenue to consistent playing time if he continues to hit. That's mostly because some of those proven players are struggling to produce this season.

Garcia's glove may still be lagging behind his bat — he's already made a pair of errors in the big leagues — but with the Cubs struggling to get any consistent offensive production from the second base rotation of Daniel Descalso, Addison Russell and David Bote, maybe the journeyman from the Dominican Republic and Italy can be the answer.

In Sunday's 3-1 loss to the White Sox to wrap up the first half, Garcia provided the team's only offense with a seventh-inning solo shot off left-hander Aaron Bummer.

It's Garcia's left-handed swing that figures to be his best asset to the Cubs, but the fact that he can bring it right-handed is certainly a bonus. It also helps that he can play a variety of positions beyond just second base.

"Overall, he's made a great first impression," Maddon said. "From that right-handed side, I saw it in BP [Saturday] and I thought it was a really short [swing]. He hit that [homer] really well on a high-velocity fastball. I think he's really represented himself well coming from the background he has, showing up all of the sudden with a team that's a good team, but that's not playing as well as they can. And he's been able to step in there and be very helpful."

That home run Sunday was Garcia's 23rd of the season across three levels, including 6 in Double-A Tennessee to start the year before he mashed 15 bombs in 50 Triple-A games after that. 

Even when the Cubs were dreaming on what Garcia could be if everything played out right in 2019, they didn't envision this type of pop.

"No I didn't see that," McLeod said. "He was swinging the bat well in spring training and definitely showed early on that he could get to a fastball — that was the thing that stuck out right away in those spring training games. Yeah, there was some swing-and-miss as we've seen going into the season and now on offspeed [pitches].

"A lot of us watching him then, we were like, with how long he's been gone, with the quality of pitching he'll see, even if he makes the Double-A team, how's the swing gonna hold up? He's gone out and the ball's just carrying in general this year — as we've seen with both the home runs hit in the major leagues and in Triple-A. But that's not to take anything away from the great story this guy's been for the last three months now."

Everything about Garcia's season has been storybook, so why not add another chapter that features him as a valuable role player and potential spark for the Cubs in a hotly contested playoff race? 

What might've seemed impossible just a few months ago just may become a reality on Chicago's North Side this summer.

 

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Cubs free agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

Cubs free agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

With Cole Hamels off to Atlanta, the Cubs officially have an opening in their 2020 starting rotation.

Hamels signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves on Wednesday, similar to the $17.8 million qualifying offer the Cubs elected not to tender him a month ago. That salary would’ve put the budget-conscious Cubs in a tight position, similar to when they picked up Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019 last offseason.

The Cubs could address their rotation vacancy with internal candidates Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood or Alec Mills. But if they look to the open market, Braves’ free agent sinkerballer Dallas Keuchel is an intriguing possibility.

Keuchel boasts an impressive résumé featuring two All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Gloves, a Cy Young and a championship — all coming from 2014-18 with the Astros. He’s reliable and durable, holding a 3.33 ERA, 3.58 FIP and 1.198 WHIP since 2014 while making at least 26 starts in four of those seasons. The lone exceptions are 2017 (23 starts) and 2019 (19).

Keuchel missed time in 2017 with a pinched neck nerve, the only time he’s hit the injured list as a big leaguer. He remained a free agent into June last season, like Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel. Both signed deals after the draft pick compensation attached to them — due to being tendered a qualifying offer last offseason — was lifted.

After his extended free agency last offseason, Keuchel is more likely to accept a multi-year deal this time around. He made $13 million with Atlanta in 2019, though the deal was prorated, so it was worth about $21 million for a full season.

$13 million annually seems reasonable for Keuchel’s next contract and it'd also be more affordable for the Cubs than what Hamels earned from Atlanta. Keuchel has been good since his 2015 Cy Young season (3.77 ERA, 102 starts), but he’s not an annual candidate to win the award like fellow free agents Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He also isn’t a strikeout pitcher (career 7.2 K/9), something the Cubs lack among their starters outside of Yu Darvish.

Starting pitchers are always in demand on the open market. Good-not-great Zack Wheeler got five years and $118 million from the Phillies on Wednesday, so someone could be willing to pay Keuchel closer to $15-20 million a season. This would likely put him out of the Cubs’ price range, if they were interested in him.

As is the case with every free agent this winter, it’ll come down to whether or not the Cubs can afford Keuchel. But if they're able to add him, they'd be rounding out their rotation with a solid, experienced arm.

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Cole Hamels signs one-year deal with Braves

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USA TODAY

Cole Hamels signs one-year deal with Braves

It didn’t seem like Cole Hamels was likely to return to the Cubs considering they didn’t tender him a qualifying offer, but it is now reality that Hamels is leaving the North Side.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Hamels has agreed to a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves. The deal has since become official.


The qualifying offer he would have received from the Cubs would have been $17.8 million, just under what he ended up getting from the Braves.


This now leaves the Cubs with a question as to who will be the team’s fifth starter next season. Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and José Quintana are under contract and figure to lock in the top four rotation spots. Tyler Chatwood, Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills all figure to be candidates for that spot.

Hamels turns 36 two days after Christmas and an oblique injury limited him in the second half of last season. He had a 2.98 ERA before the All-Star break and a 5.79 ERA in 42 innings after it.

Hamels was a big part of the Cubs’ push in 2018 when he had a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts after arriving from Texas just before the trade deadline.

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