Lohse, Bourn and what it could mean for Garza sticking with Cubs

Marmol denies wrongdoing; Garza ready for camp

Lohse, Bourn and what it could mean for Garza sticking with Cubs
February 11, 2013, 7:00 pm
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MESA, Ariz. – Matt Garza isn’t going to make a marketing campaign out of “The Return,” the way adidas did with Derrick Rose.

Garza is viewed as the mercenary, a win-now player, while Rose is the Chicago icon, a Bulls star who should wind up with his own statue outside the United Center.

But Garza still hears all the questions in his head: “How’s he going to come back? How’s he going to rebound?” He calls them legitimate and predicts he’ll silence all the doubts.  

In his walk year, Garza knows that he’ll have to show his right elbow can withstand the most unnatural act of throwing a baseball 96 mph, the velocity he saw on his final pitch last season, July 21 in St. Louis.

There still could be one path back to the North Side – or a potential roadblock to Garza’s megadeal – that the Cubs will look at internally. Several forces would have to come together, but a qualifying offer is one of several options they could use as they build their rotation for 2014 and beyond.

The biggest name still left on the board on Monday night was Kyle Lohse after Michael Bourn reportedly agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Indians that contains an option that can raise the total to $60 million.

Both are represented by Scott Boras, the super-agent who loves to play chicken, even as pitchers and catchers report to Arizona and Florida. But they were also two of the nine players who received and rejected one-year qualifying offers worth $13.3 million last November.

Despite the buzz from the national media, the Cubs weren’t willing to sacrifice their second-round pick and almost $1 million from their signing-bonus pool to sign Bourn, who they expected to go well beyond their price range.

Garza has certainly noticed that the qualifying offer the Cardinals made Lohse has so far killed his free-agent market.

“That’s out of my hands,” Garza said. “I have to pitch. If I pitch well enough, that’s not going to matter. So if I just go out there and do what I’m capable of doing – toeing the rubber every five days and being as consistent as I need to be and as durable as I have my entire career – then that’s not going to matter.

“I’m just going to go out there and pitch. I’m going to make people want me.”         

Garza has “no clue” what caused the stress reaction in his right elbow. He said all he needed was rest before focusing on strengthening his entire body. He’s up to 45-pitch bullpen sessions and expects to begin throwing breaking balls on schedule in early March.

Garza, 29, won’t be in a mirror situation to Lohse, who’s 34 and not the same kind of classic power pitcher. At the beginning of January, Lohse told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he hadn’t received a single offer yet after a season in which he went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 200-plus innings.

Bourn is a classic leadoff hitter, an elite defender and a great clubhouse guy, though he doesn’t offer much power and the Cubs know speed doesn’t age well. They didn’t expect him to fall so far that he’d land in their price range.  

The Mets had been linked to Bourn, reportedly looking into a waiver that might help them keep their first-round pick and sign the 30-year-old outfielder. It never got too far, but their tricky argument would be that their top-10 pick should be protected, because they were bumped to No. 11 after pitcher Mark Appel declined to sign with the Pirates and returned to Stanford University.      

There is a sense that changes could come to the collective bargaining agreement, amending the qualifying-offer concept, though maybe not as soon as next winter.

If healthy, Garza – who has proven himself in the playoffs and the American League East – could wind up being the best free-agent pitcher on the market.  

One reason the Cubs pursued Anibal Sanchez so hard was because he wouldn’t cost a draft pick after being traded from the Marlins to the Tigers. Detroit got Sanchez back at five years, $80 million.

Zack Greinke – who would have gotten a megadeal anyway – also cashed in with the in-season trade exemption and signed a contract with the Dodgers that could be worth close to $160 million.    

Speaking broadly on the Boston radio station WEEI last month, Cubs president Theo Epstein made this observation: “I feel like the single best thing that can happen to a prospective free agent in his platform year is getting traded, because it removes the burden of the draft-pick compensation.”

Garza – who will make $10.25 million this season – very likely would have been traded last summer if he hadn’t gotten hurt. The Cubs know they have to get off to a good start to convince the front office to not sell off pieces at the deadline.

“My name’s popped up every year of my professional career, so like I said before, it’s nothing different,” Garza said. “It’s all the same to me. I’m just happy to be able to be back pitching again. Yeah, it’s a big year, but it doesn’t matter. If we win, we all win. If we get to October, that’s the only thing I play for.”

Garza is known as a good, if quirky, teammate – cover your eyes for the shaving-cream pie during the postgame interview – and a hard worker. His family enjoys living in Chicago. He should be entering his prime. He cares.

But for all his electric stuff and big-game moments, Garza still hasn’t quite put it all together yet for an entire season. If he doesn’t in 2013, there’s a chance you could see his “Return to Wrigley Field.”