Chicago Cubs

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.

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”