Cubs

The method to Matt Garzas madness

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The method to Matt Garzas madness

The silence bothered Matt Garza as he looked out across the Cubs clubhouse. It was mostly empty, except for the reporters three or four deep waiting by Kerry Woods locker.

(Bleep) guys, its Game 1, Garza said, raising his voice. Its like a (bleeping) morgue."

So Garza climbed onto a chair late Thursday afternoon and turned on the stereo. Music is only supposed to be played after wins, but Bob Marleys voice filled the room. This drew smirks from at least two teammates.

It was a bizarre scene after an Opening Day loss to the Washington Nationals, with Carlos Marmol firing the seasons first Next question. But Garza loves the noise and enjoys being the center of attention. Ever notice whos up there standing on the top step of the dugout?

After another winter in which his name was all over the trade rumors, Garza will get the ball on Saturday at Wrigley Field. Near the end of spring training, he was asked if these past few months have changed what the Cubs think of him long-term, or if he had a sense of what the front office is thinking.

Ive never worried about that, Garza said. Im comfortable in my skin. Im going to adapt to what I have to (in order) to be successful and thats just who I am. Im not going to go out there and go out of my way. Its not an insult or anything. Its just that I pride myself on what I do.

This is who I am. This is what youre going to get, every day, day in and day out.

More than once in Arizona, general manager Jed Hoyer said that the Cubs planned to discuss a contract extension with Garzas agent, though its unclear how those talks progressed.

One data point figured to be the five-year, 65 million extension the White Sox gave left-hander John Danks last December. Then this week Matt Cain and the San Francisco Giants agreed to a five-year extension worth a reported 112.5 million.

This is not an exact comparison. Cain is 27 and could have become a free agent after this season. Garza is 28 and remains under club control through 2013. And these statistics can be misleading. But check out the career numbers: 69-73, 3.35 ERA (Cain); and 52-54, 3.83 ERA (Garza).

Thats great for him, Garza said. He deserves it, every penny. Hes been one hell of a pitcher for the last five, six seasons. Thats awesome for young guys like myself. That means a lot, but different people sign for different things.

I dont see myself worrying about that. My job is to get ready for Saturday, and I love my job.

Clubhouse chemistry is an inexact science. Theo Epstein watched Garza eliminate the Boston Red Sox and win the 2008 ALCS MVP award with the Tampa Bay Rays. The new Cubs president sort of laughed when he described the view up close.

Hes a smarter guy than youd think from across the field and I dont mean that the wrong way, Epstein said. You watch him and how energetic and extroverted and fidgety he can be looking at him from across the field. You get a certain impression about him that maybe hes not sort of always thinking things through. But the reality is hes actually got a method to his madness.

He knows himself really well. He understands the game really well. He knows how to prepare and I think theres a lot more going on upstairs than people give him credit for.

Hes a really good teammate and a really loyal member of the organization, someone who respects the game and people in the game. He cares a lot about winning.

Garza corrected a reporter who figured the pitcher wouldnt care what his agent does the next several months (meaning he wouldnt impose a deadline or let negotiations the Cubs havent acknowledged any talks become a distraction).

I care what he does, Garza said. Dont mistake me, but its more my focus isnt on that. Its on helping this team be successful. (So thats) focusing on what I need to focus on, putting my priorities on family, my job and then the rest of my (extended) family and then business. Thats the last (one). Thats the least of my worries. If I do my job, everything will take care of itself.

So Garza will put on his game face. He likes to pull a hooded sweatshirt over his head and block everything out with headphones. His body language screams: Stay away.

Thats part of the equation, Epstein said. He embraces the competitive aspects of the game and he doesnt try to pretend its just another day. He needs his music and his time to himself. He brings a lot to the table. He walks sort of a fine line. It can be in control and out of control, but that really works for him emotionally.

Garza says hes been like this since Little League, bouncing from baseball to football to soccer to basketball: There were no stops. It was always competing, competing, competing.

If the Cubs are going to contend, theyll need Garza to take another leap forward, but manager Dale Sveum is just focusing on the fundamentals.

Garza would launch rockets on routine throws to first base, finishing last season with seven errors or one more than the rest of his big-league career combined. And his attitude toward hitting in his first season in the National League was pretty much: I get paid to get outs.

Hes taken some big steps the guys pitched in the World Series, Sveum said. His numbers last year were pretty good on a not-so-good team (10-10, 3.32 ERA). We gauge a lot on wins and losses. Well, a lot of times thats the team youre on. Unfortunately, last year the defense wasnt good. (His) own defense wasnt very good (it) maybe cost him two to four wins.

These are things that got to improve. (Just) being able to bunt might keep him in the game to get him one more or two more wins, too. So its important for him to completely get his whole game together, and he knows that. Hes worked his butt off to try and be better in everything.

Garza certainly hasnt lost his edge, but he appears to be more relaxed in his second season on the North Side. He considers himself more of a lead-by-example type, not the guy who will tell teammates what to do. Hes integrated with the clubhouse, and not just because he brings in Popeyes fried chicken.

If there are any misperceptions out there, well, Garzas going to let his pitching do the talking.

Thats fine with me, Garza said. Shoot, whatever works for people to cope with how I am. It doesnt bother me. Im fine with how I am and the way I see myself. Thats the only thing I can deal with and actually worry about. Saturdays my day, and I cant wait to get there.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

When general manager Rick Hahn has talked about bringing up key prospects, he says he wants those players to be able to come up to the majors and stay there. That won't be the case with Zack Collins.

The White Sox sent the catcher down to Triple-A Charlotte following Monday's 5-2 loss to the Royals. No corresponding move will be made until Tuesday, but it is expected Welington Castillo will return from his rehab stint and rejoin the White Sox.

Collins was called up on June 18, but only played in nine games with seven starts in his 28 days on the big league roster. Collins drew a pinch-hit walk in his first plate appearance at the Cubs on June 19. He then homered two days later in his first start in Texas.

After that, Collins struggled. He goes back to Charlotte after hitting .077 (2-for-26) with five walks, the one home run and 14 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.

It's unclear if Collins had a chance to stick on the roster or if the plan was for him to go back to Triple-A once Castillo was ready to return. Collins certainly didn't do himself any favors at the plate, but he also didn't see regular playing time.

Collins, a first-round pick in 2016, was seen working out at first base in fielding practice before games, but he stuck to catcher and DH. He could have played some first base or DH when Castillo returned. However, the White Sox claimed A.J. Reed off waivers and he debuted after the all-star break. Reed has taken the at-bats at DH, leaving Collins without regular at-bats.

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