Garza unplugged: Beating Theo and the chase for a ring

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Garza unplugged: Beating Theo and the chase for a ring

MESA, Ariz. This was Matt Garza unplugged, predicting that Carlos Zambrano would contend for the Cy Young and bragging about how he used to own Theo Epsteins teams.

Garza doesnt like to sit still, and he doesnt particularly enjoy talking to the media. But when he does, well, forget it, hes rolling.

At this time last year, no one was quite sure what the Cubs got from Tampa Bay in a blockbuster eight-player trade. Garza doesnt think his comfort level has changed: It was more everybody else getting comfortable with me.

Garza didnt disappoint the crowd around his locker on Sunday. A Boston reporter working on an Epstein feature asked the 2008 ALCS MVP what he knew about his new boss.

That I was able to kick the crap out of him every year, Garza said. Thats what I learned. But the ballclubs he built were always good. He brought up (Dustin) Pedroia (and Jacoby) Ellsbury (and Kevin) Youkilis through the farm. Thats how you keep a championship-caliber ballclub.

The Yankees learned it late, (but) now theyre doing the same thing, running everything through the farm. And if you look at the sleeper teams over there in Tampa, theyve been doing it for the last 10 seasons. They might have sucked for eight, but they cant be stopped now.

Thats what baseballs turned into. (The) route were going is awesome.It was time for it.

Rebuilding the right way could mean trading the 28-year-old Garza, or extending him with a long-term contract, two options the Cubs considered over the winter. Either way, he wont take it personally.

Garza certainly wasnt bothered by the Red Sox using his name as a starting point in the Epstein compensation negotiations.

Why not? Hes a great GM (who) won two World Series, Garza said. Why not go after a starter (for an area) they lacked depth in? Go after (Starlin) Castro, a guy whos 21 and already an All-Star, (or) a premier prospect in (Brett) Jackson, why not? Why not see what you can get. I would. I would ask for the farm.

Whats Garza going to ask for in his next contract? Hes vowed to keep those demands out of the media. But a good reference point would be the five-year, 65 million the White Sox recently gave John Danks.

Garza who will make 9.5 million this year and is under club control through the 2013 season enjoys living in Chicago. It doesnt sound like hed cut off negotiations once the season starts, or consider these talks (or the constant trade rumors) a distraction.

I dont focus on anything like that, unless something came across like, Whoa! Garza said. Then I would definitely sit down and think about it. But right now, my agent knows where Im at and where I want to be at and thats all there is to it.

Youre not going to hear a peep from me. My job is to get ready for April 5 (and) try to get this team to the postseason.

How far are the Cubs from the playoffs? What they do with Garza could be telling.

First-year manager Dale Sveum watched Garza push the Rays into the World Series, and noticed the wound-up personality that leads him to yell from the top of the dugout on the days he doesnt pitch. It reminded Sveum of David Cone, another big-game pitcher who liked to irritate opponents.

You knew there was something special (in Garza) with the stuff and that inner-cockiness, Sveum said. When you got an arm and a competitor like that, a guy (with character who) works that hardthats the kind of guy a manager wants to see somebody give a long-term contract to not trade.

Garzas 2008 ALCS ring, which was covered in diamonds and valued at 30,000, was stolen from his Fresno County (Calif.) home last month. He found out Saturday that the police have no new leads and plan to suspend the case.

Its a tough break, Garza said, but I got better news because today camp starts, so (were) ready to go try to earn another onea bigger one.

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

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Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."

Cubs remember Dallas Green's impact on Wrigley Field

Cubs remember Dallas Green's impact on Wrigley Field

MESA, Ariz. — Dallas Green pictured what the Cubs have now become, striking gold in the draft, swinging big deals and pushing to modernize Wrigley Field. The Plan, The Foundation for Sustained Success, all those buzzwords had parallels to the 1980s franchise built in Green's image.

Green — a larger-than-life presence in some of baseball's most intense markets — died Wednesday at the age of 82 after a colorful career and a battle with kidney disease.

Green spent 46 years with the Philadelphia Phillies, guiding them to the 1980 World Series title and working at virtually every level of the organization. Green also pitched eight seasons in the big leagues and managed both the New York Mets and Yankees. But Green clearly raised expectations in Chicago, where he drew up the rough blueprint the Theo Epstein regime would follow 30 years later.

"Absolutely, there's no question," bench coach Dave Martinez said. "He had a vision. He was trying to build an organization from within."

Green took over baseball operations on the North Side and made a franchise-altering trade in 1982, using his Philadelphia connections to steal future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa for Ivan de Jesus.

Green's scouting department would draft Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston. Trading for Rick Sutcliffe in the middle of the 1984 season led to the club's first playoff appearance since the 1945 World Series. Signing Andre Dawson to the blank-check contract helped fuel a 93-win season in 1989.

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Green had already been fired after repeated clashes with Tribune Co. bosses and a last-place finish in 1987. The force of Green's personality also helped the Cubs finally install lights at Wrigley Field in 1988.

"What a good baseball man," said Martinez, who got drafted by the Cubs in 1983 and lasted 16 seasons in the big leagues. "He could be hard, at times, but you respected that from him. He gave me and a bunch of other players I came up with the chance to play. And I can honestly say he really loved all of us kids. He thought at one point that we were going to be something special — if we would have stayed together.

"We thought we would be there together for a long time. It didn't work out that way, but he knew talent."

Even before this generation of Cubs executives traded for Jake Arrieta and Addison Russell — and drafted Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber — general manager Jed Hoyer understood the challenge Green undertook.

"When we first got to Chicago," Hoyer said, "you look back and think about what other times in the history of the Cubs did people try to do something similar to what we were doing. Really, him taking over in the 80s and building the '84 team is probably the most similar when you look at it. Some of those great trades that he made — those gutsy trades that he made — are pretty similar in a lot of ways.

"Were it not for a couple big breaks, they might have been able to end the curse a lot earlier."