Mooney: With Garza, Cubs future is now

Mooney: With Garza, Cubs future is now

Friday, Jan. 7,2011
2:17 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Whether a frustrated fan base believed it or not, Jim Hendryplayed to the cameras last summer and insisted that the Cubs were onlythree or four moves away from contention.

With atrade for pitcher MattGarza almost finalized Friday, the general managersoffseason is nearly complete. Suddenly the Cubs -- a team that appearedheaded toward 100 losses last season -- look like players in a verywinnable division.

The Rays do not compete in theNational League Central. They measure themselves against the Yankeesand Red Sox and have decided that now is the time to rebuild.

Sources said acquiring Garza, a 27-year-old impactstarter, will cost the Cubs five players, none of whom would beexpected to make their Opening Day roster: pitcher Chris Archer;shortstop Hak-Ju Lee; outfielder Brandon Guyer; catcher RobinsonChirinos; and outfielder SamFuld.

In exchange, the Cubs would alsoreceive two prospects from the Rays. Garza, who went 15-10 with a 3.91ERA last year, will earn a significant raise from his 3.35 millionsalary through arbitration, but he will not become a free agent untilafter the 2013 season.

Methodically,Hendry has addressed three primary needs, and it began with anotherplayer Tampa Bay couldnt afford.

First Hendrysigned CarlosPena a left-handed first baseman who can hit for power andplay Gold Glove defense to a creative one-year contract. Through asigning bonus and deferred money, only 3 million of Penas 10 millionwill appear on the 2011 books.

Then Hendrycapitalized on his strong personal relationship with KerryWood, agreeing to a 1.5 million deal that stabilized thebullpen, all with the understanding that the veteran reliever wouldhave a place in the organization once his playing careerended.

Now here comes Garza,who can join RyanDempster and CarlosZambrano near the front of what should be a strongerrotation. The Cubs have pursued Garza at least since the wintermeetings, though there was a perception that the Rays might wait untilJulys trade deadline to draw in more bidders.

MattGarza is one of those pitchers that wherever he goes is just goingto be an incredible asset, Pena said last month. Its no secret thathes extremely talented. The skys the limit with a guy like him. Ithink hes got Cy Young potential.

Maybe AndrewCashner can develop into the front-line starter the Cubs havelacked. But until now they have been sorting through too many back-endoptions to fill out their 2011 rotation: TomGorzelanny; RandyWells; CarlosSilva; CaseyColeman; and JeffSamardzija.

The Twinschose Garza out of Fresno State University in the first round of the2005 draft and later traded him to Tampa Bay in the DelmonYoung deal. There Garza went 34-31 with a 3.86 ERA in threeseasons.

Like Zambrano, Garza has had to beseparated from a teammate in the dugout, but hes also been tested infour playoff series, and was named the 2008 ALCSMVP.

Some who have only read about these prospectson the Internet will complain that the Cubs gave up too much. Inparticular they will wonder about Archer, who was acquired in the MarkDeRosa trade. The 22-year-old finished last season at 15-3with a 2.34 ERA in the minors and then excelled while pitching for TeamUSA in international competition.

But when you livein baseballs upper class as the Cubs do, despite their cautiousspending this winter this is the type of trade you make.

Lee, 20, is gifted defensively and has played inthe Futures Game, but not above the Class-A level. Anyway, the Cubshope StarlinCastro can be their shortstop for the next decade.

GeovanySoto is entrenched at catcher, with Welington Castillo on theway and outfielder Brett Jackson on the fast track. So Chirinos (26),Guyer (24) and Fuld (29) were also blocked to varyingdegrees.

To begin restocking the minor-leagueinventory, you could deal Gorzelanny, a relatively affordable28-year-old left-hander who has been rumored to be on the tradingblock.

You can take the money thats beingtransferred from the major-league payroll to international scouting andplayer development and find more prospects. You discover the nextplayers in South Korea and the Dominican Republic, like you did withLee and Castro.

You trust that scouting directorTim Wilken will continue to find assets in the draft. Guyer was afifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2007 and threeyears later became the organizations minor league player of the year.

You have confidence in Oneri Fleita, the vicepresident of player personnel with the vision to see what prospects canbecome. CarlosMarmol and Wells began their professional careers as positionplayers before being converted to pitchers. Chirinos has thrived sincebeing moved from the infield to catcher, hitting .326 with 18 homersand 74 RBI in 92 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-AIowa last year.

There is always risk involved, andHendry will be grilled at next weeks Cubs Convention about thedeparted prospects, the .196 hitter (Pena) and a pitcher whos been onthe disabled list 14 times (Wood).

There are no guarantees that this makesthe Cubs better than the Reds, the defending division champions. Itmight not match what the Brewers imported (ZackGreinke, ShaunMarcum) or the Cardinals already have on staff (ChrisCarpenter, AdamWainwright).

But its not like the Cubs could waste three seasons waiting to see if what played in Peoria would work at Wrigley Field (while charging some of the highest ticket prices in baseball). The first week of a new year saw a big-market team acting like one.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

MESA, Ariz. – The pitching section of The Cubs Way manual might not be spelled out this way, but it can be summed up in five words: Have 'em work with Boz.

Or at least that's how it sounds whenever the Cubs add another fading prospect or injury case, rolling the dice on raw stuff, change-of-scenery psychology and the wizardry of pitching coach Chris Bosio.

While the Theo Epstein administration is still waiting on the drafted-and-developed pitchers to put around the Wrigley Field marquee next to the images of sluggers Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs already have the infrastructure in place that helped turn Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and transform Kyle Hendricks into an ERA leader.

One of Bosio's ongoing projects is Brett Anderson, who underwent surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back last March, yet another injury in a career that hasn't lived up to his own expectations.

"It's one of those things where he's not trying to reinvent the wheel," Anderson said. "It's more trying to limit the pressure on my back and mild mechanical adjustments where I don't land on my heel as much and kind land on the ball of my foot or my toes, so it's not such a whiplash effect.

"He's had a good track record with health, especially the last couple years, and hopefully I can fall in line there, too."

Anderson made it through his first Cactus League outing, throwing a scoreless first inning during Monday's 4-4 tie with the White Sox in front of another sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Cubs are taking a calculated risk here with a one-year, $3.5 million that could max out with $6.5 million more in incentives if Anderson makes 29 starts this season.

[MORE CUBS: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic]

The Cubs can put the best defensive unit in the majors behind a lefty groundball pitcher and don't need to make a dramatic overhaul with a guy who grew up around the game. Anderson's father, Frank, is an assistant at the University of Houston and the former head coach at Oklahoma State University.

"I've been going to the field since I could walk and talk and annoy college kids," Anderson said. "I could take that one of two ways: I could get burnt out quick and kind of shy away from baseball. Or I could eat it up. Fortunately for me, I've eaten it up all the way through."

The entire question with Anderson revolves around health. He won 11 games for the Oakland A's in 2009 – finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – and hasn't topped that number since. There's been a Tommy John surgery and disabled-list time for a stress fracture in his right foot, a broken left index finger and a separate surgery on his lower back.

"If you dwell on the negative, you're going to worry yourself sick," Anderson said. "Pitching's fun – good, bad or indifferent – (so) you have to have a positive outlook, because otherwise you just walk around with a black cloud over your head."

The only other time Anderson hit the 30-start mark would be 2015, when he threw a career-high 180.1 innings, put up a 3.69 ERA and led the majors with a 66.7 groundball percentage. He couldn't repeat that performance with the Los Angeles Dodgers, accounting for 11.1 innings last year and not making the roster in either playoff round.

The "hybrid" fifth/sixth starter idea manager Joe Maddon floated sounds good in theory and we'll see how it works with Anderson and Mike Montgomery and a veteran rotation with strong opinions and clear ideas about routines. But the Dodgers needed 15 different starting pitchers to survive the 162-game marathon last year and seemed to run out of gas by the time the National League Championship Series returned to Wrigley Field.

"You can't have too much depth coming from where I was last year in L.A.," Anderson said. "We used so many starters. Obviously, that wasn't really the case here, which you can't really bank on year in and year out. But if I'm healthy, everything else will work itself out and I'll take my chances.”

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

MESA, Ariz. – During an escalating prank war, Ryan Dempster once arranged for a camera crew to shadow Will Ohman in spring training and sell the journeyman reliever on being the star in a TV special.

But Dempster isn't trying to punk anyone by playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic – even though he's almost 40 years old and hasn't pitched in a competitive environment since Game 1 of the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park.

Don't let the Harry Caray/Will Ferrell impersonations fool you. Dempster always had a different side to his personality, an edge that allowed him to recover from Tommy John surgery, transition from 30-save closer back to All-Star starter and throw nearly 2,400 innings in The Show.

Still, it sort of felt like a reality show or a time machine or a spin-off from a Kris Bryant Red Bull ad on Monday at Field 1, the most secluded spot to throw live batting practice at the Sloan Park complex. On a cool, gray day, Dempster looked the same with his reddish beard, glove waggle, white pinstriped pants and blue Nike cleats.

Before stepping into the batter's box, Cubs president Theo Epstein tried to talk a little trash with Dempster: "I know I can't hit big-league pitching, but I'll see if I can hit you."

Besides Epstein, the eclectic group of hitters included Tommy La Stella and minor-leaguer Todd Glaesmann. Dempster threw roughly 50 pitches to Lance Rymel, a former farm-system catcher who will manage a Dominican summer league team this year. The audience included one reporter, six fans, a group of curious Cubs staffers and reliever Jim Henderson, who is in camp on a minor-league deal and will also pitch for Team Canada.

"I'm not going to be disrespectful to the whole process," Dempster said. "I'm not just like playing in a beer league and then decide: 'Eh, I'll throw against the Dominican team. The U.S. looks like they're pretty stacked, but I'll be all right.' I know what it entails going into this.

"At the end of the day, I'm not so worried about velocity. I'm worried about command and my ability to change speeds. It has been pretty funny to see the reactions, and I can understand why people would see it as far-fetched. But I always liked a good challenge."

Dempster first hatched this idea during a Fourth of July vacation, somewhere around Sequoia National Park in California. The group included Ted Lilly – another pitcher who got by with guts and became a special assistant in Epstein's front office – and former bullpen catcher Corey Miller.

"I just said: 'For old times' sake, why don't I throw a side?'" Dempster recalled. "I thought for sure when I woke up the next day I wouldn't be able to lift my arm up. And it felt really good."

Dempster continued with a throwing program – even through a trip to Hawaii after the World Series – and contacted Greg Hamilton, the head coach and director of Baseball Canada. As a Cub, Dempster had been the one leading runs up Camelback Mountain and showing younger pitchers like Jeff Samardzija how to train for 200 innings.

"I wasn't sure if he was serious or not," said Epstein, who did make contact against Dempster. "And then when I figured out he meant it and had a plan, I knew he'd be fine, because he's such a hard worker and he's really smart. If he's going to put the time in to get ready, I knew he'd be fine. He'll be competitive, for sure."

Dempster understood how to put together his own program with a focus on his legs, strengthening his core and shoulder exercises. To be clear, this isn't setting the stage for a comeback, the way game-over closer Eric Gagne is hoping to use Team Canada as a launching pad (after not pitching in the big leagues since 2008).

"This is just a chance to represent my country," said Dempster, who grew up in British Columbia and played on junior national teams in the 1990s. "Sometimes – I'm not bored – but a challenge in life or an opportunity presents itself. (And) it's a good lesson to teach my kids: If you work hard at something, you can do (it) and hopefully it pays off."

Dempster went out on top as a World Series champion, walking away from $13.25 million rather than pitch for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. He signed on with MLB Network and rejoined the Cubs as a special assistant in baseball operations. If he had to pick a lane, it would probably be entertainment and building off his Cubs Convention late-night format and sketches like "The Newlywed Game" with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

But Dempster still needs a fix. The star-studded cast from the Dominican Republic – Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz – will be waiting on March 9 at Marlins Park.

"Major League Baseball, professional sports aren't a normal job," Dempster said. "How do you go from that extreme high, the adrenaline rush of going out there and pitching in front of 40-grand every day to…now what do you do that satisfies you? I'm trying to find that, make my way towards that. I feel like I will eventually get there."