Cubs still have to settle the Garza case

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Cubs still have to settle the Garza case

Shrugging off trade rumors is Matt Garzas default setting. The Cubs are at a point in their rebuilding process where almost no player is untouchable. The speculation will probably never go away until hes wearing another uniform.

Garza whos eligible for arbitration the next two seasons didnt settle with the Cubs by Tuesdays deadline to exchange salary figures. CBSSports.com reported that Garzas camp filed at 10.225 million, while the Cubs countered at 7.95 million.

After a blockbuster trade with Tampa Bay last year, Garza made 5.95 million during his first season on the North Side and went 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 198 innings.

The Cubs did agree to terms with their six other arbitration-eligible players: catcher Geovany Soto (4.3 million); pitchers Randy Wells (2.705 million) and Chris Volstad (2.655 million); and infielders Ian Stewart (2.2375 million), Jeff Baker (1.375 million) and Blake DeWitt (1.1 million).

At the age of 28, Garzas career profile has often been compared to that of John Danks, who agreed to a five-year, 65 million extension with the White Sox last month. Danks will get 8 million this season, then 14.25 million annually through 2016.

The circumstances arent exactly the same: Danks is left-handed, had only one season of arbitration eligibility remaining and will turn 27 in April. Hes also spent the past five years in the White Sox clubhouse.

But otherwise the career numbers for Garza (52-54, 3.83 ERA, 1.303 WHIP) and Danks (54-56, 4.03 ERA, 1.304 WHIP) are remarkably similar. Each has already logged around 920 innings in the majors.

Arbitration hearings are scheduled to take place sometime between Feb. 1 and Feb. 21, though it usually doesnt get to that point. Theo Epstein has repeatedly mentioned the possibility of a contract extension as a way to turn a short-term asset into a long-term one.

But the Cubs president of baseball operations is also willing to listen if a team built to win now wants a proven big-game pitcher to put them over the top. Garza isnt bothered by all the chatter.

Its fine with me, Garza said last week. Its been a business. Its always going to be a business and if things happen, they happen. But Im happy where Im at. And right now Im a Chicago Cub and Ill be pitching in Wrigley come April.

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

WASHINGTON – Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the Washington Nationals run wild on his iPad on Tuesday while visiting the Class-A Myrtle Beach affiliate. As Epstein did some work in his hotel room later that night, he got a text message from general manager Jed Hoyer alerting him to Miguel Montero’s explosive comments.  

Epstein’s management style is to not overreact or worry about the next day’s headlines. He generally believes in second chances, tries to keep an open mind and looks at the problem from every angle, occasionally to the point of paralysis by analysis.

But Epstein said it took “probably 10 seconds” before he realized the Cubs needed to designate Montero for assignment after the veteran catcher pointed the finger at Jake Arrieta – a Cy Young Award-winning, All-Star pitcher – for Washington’s seven stolen bases.    

“It screamed out as something that we should do,” Epstein said.     

As Montero’s rant caught fire on Twitter, Epstein called Hoyer and spoke to Montero on the phone, but he wanted to sleep on it and consult with some players before making Wednesday’s final decision, which could cost approximately $7 million. Epstein could not envision this as a team-building moment after Montero’s mea culpa and clearing the air with Arrieta.

“That was not my read on it, knowing the dynamics, present and past,” Epstein said. “This was not something that we would benefit from – trying to pursue a path of putting it all back together again.”

The Cubs pursued Aroldis Chapman after the New York Yankees closer began last season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. The Cubs cautiously didn’t judge or unconditionally support Addison Russell after a third-party abuse accusation on social media triggered an MLB investigation this month. The Cubs tolerated Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer, allowing him to chill out at home in New Jersey.

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But Montero doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball. Montero isn’t an All-Star shortstop. Montero isn’t being preserved for one hypothetical pinch-hit at-bat in the playoffs. The Cubs are hovering around .500 now – no longer the World Series favorite – and all those variables become part of the calculus.   

“I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we really need to be a team,” Epstein said. “This was an example of someone being a bad teammate publicly, and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that.

“In our role as the front office, we can’t always be in the clubhouse and push the right buttons to help everyone come together as a team. But we certainly are in a position – when we see something that could fracture the group – to try to fix the situation and remove that issue.

“Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues that we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This was just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and weren’t supportive and weren’t in furtherance of the team concept. And we felt we had to act on it.”

There is a chicken-or-the-egg mystery to clubhouse cohesion. But Montero probably would have had a longer fuse – and the bosses would have had a longer leash – if the Cubs were 24 games above .500 the way they were at this time last year. Montero could also get away with a lot more when he was a two-time All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in a sleepy market. 

“Had we been in a spot where this group had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders,” Epstein said, “and had already overcome adversity together and come together completely as a team and we’re rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently by the group without sort of action from above.

“But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization.”

The Cubs Way isn’t exactly making it up as they go along. But there are always double standards and rationalizations in a bottom-line business. It sounds like Epstein did his due diligence without giving it a second thought: Montero wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. 

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people out of uniform to positively impact the group or nudge it in the right direction,” Epstein said, “or underscore the importance of team or emphasize the values that we try to embody as a group.

“This was one that made sense, given the history, the group dynamics, all the factors involved.”

More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

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More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

WASHINGTON – On a surreal day that already saw the Cubs dump veteran catcher Miguel Montero and visit Donald Trump’s White House, Kris Bryant hobbled off the field with his arms wrapped around the shoulders of two athletic trainers.

At a time when the season already felt like it could be teetering on the brink of a collapse, the Cubs watched the National League’s reigning MVP twist his right ankle on Wednesday night at Nationals Park, exiting the game in the fifth inning. Bryant tracked a Matt Wieters pop-up and awkwardly stepped on third base as he caught the ball.

Bryant is an All-Star third baseman with 16 home runs this year but he fills so many holes – all over the outfield and as a backup first baseman and an excellent baserunner – for a team that already has World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks on the disabled list.