MESA, Ariz. The Cubs have a pitcher whos been tested in October and went to the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays. They have to figure out what to do with him now. His name is not Matt Garza.
Andy Sonnanstine emerged as a key piece on that 2008 miracle team, which captured the American League pennant one year after losing 96 games. The Rays didnt care how much money the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spent. They still found a way.
Theo Epsteins first offseason as Cubs baseball czar resembled the Rays more than any of the big-market splashes he used to make with the Red Sox. There were value signings hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, like this one-year deal.
Sonnanstine even mentioned how he was looking forward to a change of scenery, the buzzwords the front office used in trading for Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies.
Sonnanstine won 10 games before the All-Star break in 2008 and crossed the 200-inning mark during the playoffs. He won nine games combined for the Rays the next three seasons.
There was a combination of the scouting report getting out there, people getting a little more familiar, Sonnanstine said. In 2008, there were a lot of teams that had never seen me before and I was switching arm angles, changing tempos and first go-round it worked great. I won five games quicker than anybody else in that organizations history.
I think the hitters made a great adjustment to me the next year and I didnt make as good of an adjustment to counteract that. I still think Im the same guy. Im confident in my ability and I think coming to the National League should kind of help me. (People here) havent really seen me. I can use that to my advantage and exploit some weaknesses.
But Sonnanstine, who will turn 29 in two weeks, couldnt have been all gimmicks. The right-hander was Tampa Bays minor-league pitcher of the year in 2006. He finished the 2008 regular season with a 124 strikeouts against 37 walks and survived in that brutal division.
The Cubs tried to tap into that Rays magic last winter, when former general manager Jim Hendry signed Carlos Pena to a pillow contract and pulled off a blockbuster deal for Garza. They got what they expected from Pena and Garza, but it wasnt enough to save jobs.
Sonnanstine called Pena who liked to write Conquer the now! inspirational messages on the dry-erase board in the clubhouse and went back to Tampa on a one-year deal one of my favorite characters Ive ever met through baseball. The positivity that guy oozes is awesome.
Sonnanstine wondered if Garza still brings in Popeyes fried chicken on the days he pitches. (Yes.)
That, to me, is a great idea, Sonnanstine said. It gives your position guys, your whole team, something to look forward to the day that you need work. So thats an incredibly intelligent chess move.
Sonnanstine faces long odds to make the rotation here, but in 2010 he went 3-1 with a 4.44 ERA in 81 innings, either as a reliever or a spot starter, and the Cubs could use someone like that. His dry sense of humor also wouldnt hurt inside Wrigley Fields cramped clubhouse.
Surely, Epstein remembers that Sonnanstine won Game 4 of the 2008 ALCS at Fenway Park, which helped set the stage for Garza to collect his MVP award. Here Garza has ignored the expectations, looked at this Cubs team and referenced the Rays, saying Why not?
Youd be amazed how many games you can win just with the positive mindset, Sonnanstine said. It (would be) awesome, man, getting back to that World Series. Of course, right now, Im sitting on a 1.000 batting average in the World Series.
Sonnanstine laughed about his 1-for-1 night against the Philadelphia Phillies: But I would gladly take another at-bat in the World Series.