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.

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.