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.

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

After helping bring a World Series title back to the North Side, Aroldis Chapman is headed back to New York.

The former Cubs closer signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, according to FOX's Ken Rosenthal.

He was acquired by the Cubs in July in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and prospects Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney and Gleyber Torres.

Chapman notched 36 saves and owned a 1.01 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and recorded 90 strikeouts across 26 2/3 innings with the Cubs during the regular season.

He appeared in 13 postseason contests, where he registered a 3.45 ERA,1.09 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Before making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs checked in with the Kansas City Royals about Wade Davis and found the asking price to be Kyle Schwarber. 

The psychology and the supply-and-demand dynamics are different in July. Schwarber had been damaged goods, still recovering from major knee surgery and months away from his dramatic return in the World Series. Davis also could have impacted two pennants races for his new team instead of one.
 
By the time a $10 billion industry reconvened this week outside Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the small-market Royals could compromise with Jorge Soler, betting on his long-term upside and facing the reality that their World Series closer could have been part of a mass exodus of free agents after the 2017 season.

The Cubs also checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center knowing that Soler is a diminishing asset for a loaded team at a time when his best attribute – right-handed power – could be found on the free-agent market in sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  
     
“I think there’s some great baseball ahead for him,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday night after the Cubs finalized the Soler-for-Davis trade. “I think it’s more likely that he reaches his ceiling now than it was 24 hours ago, because he’s got a chance to play every day.” 

Soler became a top priority within the first weeks of the Epstein administration as Cubs officials scouted the Cuban defector in the Dominican Republic before Thanksgiving 2011, picturing him as a building block for future playoff teams at a renovated Wrigley Field. 

Even chairman Tom Ricketts met with Soler’s camp during a trip to the Dominican Republic before the Cubs won the bidding war and the prospect signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012. 

Years later, manager Joe Maddon would describe Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the kind of talent who would be drafted No. 1 overall if he had been born in South Florida. 

Soler showed flashes of superstar potential. He absolutely crushed the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 playoffs (2.341 OPS) and will get a well-deserved World Series ring. But he didn’t look like a complete player or an athlete the Cubs could count on to stay healthy, profiling more like a designated hitter in the American League.

“When George was playing sporadically, he became a little bit more of an all-or-nothing power threat,” Epstein said, “because it’s hard to get into a good rhythm and you’re not seeing pitches as much. You’re not recognizing spin the same way. 

“When he’s locked in, he can work really good at-bats. And he’s a hitter – not just a power hitter. So I think it’s more likely now that his potential gets unleashed at some point. We’re rooting for him.”

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Maybe Soler – who still hasn’t turned 25 yet – can avoid some of the leg injuries as a part-time DH and put it all together in Kansas City as the Royals try to balance the present, the future and their financial realities. But the Cubs are a win-now team that believes Davis could get them the final out of the 2017 World Series. 

An October legend (Schwarber) and a $184 million Gold Glove defender (Jason Heyward) would keep blocking Soler at the corner spots in Wrigley Field, where a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) can move away from the infield. Javier Baez is another versatile, well-rounded player who would continue to marginalize Soler. 

“It became tough for us,” Epstein said, “with Schwarber looking like he’s destined to play quite a bit of left field. Not ruling catching out as an option to some extent, but he’s going to play a lot of left field. 

“And with Javy’s emergence – and what that means for Zobrist’s possible role in the outfield as well at times – it just became tougher and tougher to see George getting regular at-bats with us. 

“We felt like he needed to play – and it would have been a tough fit.”

It would have been even tougher to trade a spare outfielder during his fourth season in the big leagues. Stashing Soler – who has 27 career homers in less than 700 big-league at-bats – at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t have been the answer. 

The Cubs saw this day coming. Schwarber wrecked his knee in early April and Soler injured his hamstring two months later and wound up missing two months.

“He just couldn’t quite stay healthy enough,” Epstein said, “and kind of slumped at the wrong time and started to get hot right before he got hurt.

“That was kind of how we envisioned it: ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity, this guy can take the job and run with it – and then we have an even more valuable trade chip – or we’ve got an everyday leftfielder/middle-of the-order bat.’ It just didn’t quite come together. 

“But I think this trade – despite that – recouped a lot of his value. It made sense for him, for us and for the Royals.”