Cubs: Matt Garza feels like hes been locked in a cage

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Cubs: Matt Garza feels like hes been locked in a cage

Matt Garza would probably be on edge anyway.

Even if his season hadnt ended July 21 last year. Even if he wasnt about 10 days away from getting on the mound and throwing a bullpen session. Even if he wasnt pitching for a big contact in his platform year. Thats just how he rolls.

Ive kind of been locked in a cage for six months, Garza said Friday.

Garza is perhaps The Most Interesting Man at the Cubs Convention, because his health will be a major story line and from the beginning of the Theo Epstein administration what the front office did with him would say a lot about this rebuilding project.

Right now, Garza says he wont have any restrictions in spring training and expects to be part of the Opening Day rotation. In reality, whatever the Cubs decide to do with Garza is on hold as he recovers from the stress reaction in his right elbow.

Garza avoided arbitration on Thursday by agreeing to a 10.25 million deal that should take him into free agency. Hes curious to see what direction the organization takes, and surely understands that the team will have to get off to a good start or else it will be time to sell-off the short-term assets. Hes open to a future in Chicago, but knows he will have to take control of the situation first.

Ive said multiple times I love this city, Garza said. My family loves this city, but at the end of the day its: Do I fit? My ability to pitch, is it there? Its all going to come down to me pitching. Thats kind of it. All of the decision will be based off that.

The Garza question has been asked so many different ways across the past 14 months: Trade? Extend? Play it out? But its pointless now to look anywhere beyond his rehab schedule and wonder if the Cubs would be willing to offer something north of the four-year, 52 million deal Edwin Jackson got this winter.

Its not the right time, general manager Jed Hoyer said. If theres a time in the future where he feels really good, thats a more rational time to have that discussion. I dont think right now is the time to enter those discussions. Were really happy with everything weve heard, both from the doctors and from Matt and were optimistic that hes ready to go.

When healthy, Garza is the ultimate win-now player, a big-game pitcher whos done it before in the playoffs and the American League East. That makes him an awkward fit for a franchise thinking 2015 and beyond.

They werent messing around when they came in last year and said they were going to rebuild from the bottom up, Garza said. Last year when we did rookie dress-up I bought like 27 costumes. I knew there was going to be a lot of new faces. (But) its like a breath of fresh air. These guys want to play, theyre hungry. And I know the front office wants to win.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."