The price Cubs paid for Garza: Looking at Rays-Royals deal in new light

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The price Cubs paid for Garza: Looking at Rays-Royals deal in new light

If Dayton Moore sat down next to you on a flight from OHare Airport, would you even recognize the Kansas City Royals general manager?

Forget the minor-league system, could you spot anyone from Kansas Citys major-league roster if they were walking down Michigan Avenue?

That didnt stop all the instant experts from breaking down the big trade late Sunday night into Monday morning. All across Twitter, the Royals got slammed for trying to win now by sending four good prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays, instead of clinging to some hazy vision of the future.

The Royals went all-in dealing for James Shields and Wade Davis (and a player to be named later) to strengthen their rotation. They drew only around 1.7 million fans last season (so much for the bounce from Kauffman Stadium hosting the All-Star Game). Theyre an afterthought for national television (nine consecutive losing seasons). They havent made the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series.

The Rays might be the best-run operation in baseball, if not all North American professional sports. But its also fair to wonder: What did they ever get for Matt Garza? Some 23 months after that blockbuster deal, there are no breakout stars to haunt Cubs fans.

Andrew Friedman played baseball at Tulane University and worked on Wall Street before emerging as perhaps the sharpest executive in baseball. Across the last five seasons, the Rays have won 97, 84, 96, 91 and 90 games, while competing in the brutal American League East, with payrolls a fraction of what the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spend every year.

Joe Maddon balances out his hipster glasses and changing hairstyles with his roots as a baseball lifer who grew up in the blue-collar town of Hazleton, Pa. He could be the perfect modern manager.

The Rays certainly should get the benefit of the doubt here, but there are no sure things. Maddon certainly wasnt gloating on his Twitter account: HATE..HATE to lose James and Wade. But this who we are. This is how we have to operate. Excited about the guys we are getting.

Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that were just rooting for laundry in the age of free agency. But the explosion of information across the Internet, combined with a Moneyball worldview, has created a generation that roots for spreadsheets and years of club control.

In constantly searching for value, actual major-league experience and success has been severely discounted. This mentality has helped team president Theo Epstein sell his rebuilding project on the North Side.

The Rays had to trade Garza, because they knew his price would soar across three arbitration-eligible seasons. Every day for about a month except Christmas and New Years Friedman spoke with Jim Hendry until the eight-player trade was finally announced on January 8, 2011.

To get Garza, the Cubs general manager at the time surrendered pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld.

The critics focus way too much on Hendrys misses in free agency, overlooking his solid track record as a trader. Remember that this is what it took to get Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez: Hee-Seop Choi, Mike Nannini, Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback.

Hendry also sold high on Mark DeRosa, netting Archer in a 2008 New Years Eve trade with the Cleveland Indians. Now as a special assignment scout for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Hendrys job responsibilities include evaluating the teams own system and helping figure out which prospects are keepers at the trade deadline.

Archer is only 24 years old, so he has upside, but its getting harder to see him as a huge game-changer. He made his big-league debut last season after going 8-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 27 career starts on the Triple-A level.

Lee is supposed to be a defensive wizard, but lets see how his bat will play at the next level. He hit .261 with four homers and 37 RBI in 116 games last season with Tampa Bays Double-A affiliate. Remember the Cubs already had Starlin Castro, who would soon become an All-Star shortstop and eventually sign a big contract extension, with Epstein now controlling him through 2020.

The Cubs were also waiting for Junior Lake to harness his freakish athleticism, and five months later they drafted Javier Baez ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Baez has been described as a shortstop with Gary Sheffield bat speed, and the skills to play almost anywhere on the field. The lesson: You can always go find more prospects.

Chirinos will be 29 years old next summer and so far has only 55 at-bats on his major-league resume. Even though Geovany Soto never built off his 2008 Rookie of the Year campaign and turned out to be a placeholder at catcher, the new regime at Clark and Addison thinks Welington Castillo can be a core player.

Guyer turns 27 next month and will have something to prove after shoulder surgery wiped out almost all of his 2012 season. Fuld has all the intangibles that come from his Stanford University education and courageous fight against diabetes, but realistically hes an extra outfielder.

Theres no doubt that Moore made similar calculations while looking up and down Kansas Citys organization, playing out all the what-if scenarios.

What do the Royals know about outfielder Wil Myers, the consensus minor league player of the year by Baseball America and USA TODAY? Will Jake Odorizzi become good enough to make Tampa Bays playoff rotation, or just another guy?

Mike Montgomery took a step backward last season, going 5-12 with a 6.07 ERA combined at the Double- and Triple-A levels. Third baseman Patrick Leonard made his professional debut in 2012.

The Rays havent really missed Garza, who has the stuff to put up bigger numbers than the 15-17 record and 3.52 ERA weve seen in 49 entertaining starts with the Cubs. Hes been a quote machine, an intense competitor, a good teammate and a more serious student of the game than youd imagine at first glance. He certainly hasnt been the Carlos Zambrano Light some once feared.

As Epstein said, theres a method to Garzas madness.

It wasnt a perfect deal for the Cubs, but it also wasnt absurd to think that a big-market team could contend at some point during a three-year window, which closed hard and fast amid ownership changes, a front-office shakeup and severe rollbacks of the major-league payroll.

Garza is the ultimate win-now player. His recovery from the stress reaction in his right elbow is said to be going well, putting him on track to be ready by spring training, and his final season before hitting free agency.

Once he proves hes healthy again, fans and the media will think of Shields and the question will automatically become: What can the Cubs get for Garza?

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

MESA, Ariz. – Inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs posted a blown-up image of the 2015 Sports Illustrated cover where Pedro Strop is high-stepping next to Kris Bryant down the third-base line, the mosh pit awaiting at home plate.

Between his tilted-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and overall joy for the game, Strop sets an example for the younger guys in the bullpen and the Latin players in the clubhouse. Strop has been so valuable that Jake Arrieta could have never thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform and Theo Epstein’s front office still would have considered the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles an absolute success.  

Yet when the long rebuild reached its apex – and manager Joe Maddon searched for World Series answers – Strop had already been marginalized in the bullpen. A freak injury – Strop heard a pop and tore the meniscus in his left knee while trying to slide and field a groundball in August – bumped him from his role as the seventh- or eighth-inning stopper.  

“It was a little difficult,” Strop said. “After I came back from my surgery, it was a different situation. But it’s something that you got to get used to and understand the situation, understand how deep our bullpen is and just go and fight whenever they ask you to.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”  

During Sunday’s media session, Maddon dismissed any issues with Strop (2.85 ERA) or Hector Rondon, the former 30-save closer who strained his right triceps last summer and didn’t quite get his timing down for the playoffs. Down 3-1 in the World Series, Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

“Listen, it’s not a lack of trust,” Maddon said. “(Strop) just got hurt. And when you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it’s hard to play catch-up. When guys get injured in-season and you get to the moment where you’re trying to win a championship, you got to put like personal feelings aside on both sides of it, whether you’re managing it or playing.

“I have nothing but trust. My God, the threat is when you have him, you want to use him too much, always. And the same thing with Ronnie. I talked to Ronnie about that – I don’t want to put him in a position. I think Rondon got hurt last year because part of it was my greediness on using him too much in the early part of the season.

“You really have to battle against that when you get guys that good. You want to use them all the time. (I have) a tremendous amount of trust in both of those guys. It’s just a matter of utilizing them properly and keeping them healthy.”

[MORE: What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez]

Since the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds for the Cubs, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.984 WHIP to go with 254 strikeouts in 211-plus innings. At a time when a $10 billion industry is reassessing the value of high-leverage relievers, Strop will make $5.5 million this year before hitting the open market.

“You never know,” Strop said. “I would love to repeat the championship season and win another one here before I hit free agency. Hopefully, they want to bring me back. I really like the city of Chicago. I love the fans and I love my team and the coaches.

“After this season, it’s going to become business, so hopefully we can put something together.”  

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

MESA, Ariz. – In an alternate universe, Javier Baez might have become the goat after committing two errors in a World Series Game 7. But the young Cubs played without a sense of panic and wanted to write their own history.

Baez shrugged it off in Cleveland and homered off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber that night. Baez will be remembered as a breakout star from those playoffs, a game-changing defensive force with his mixture of lateral range, rocket-arm strength and instincts for tagging.

But there have also been times where manager Joe Maddon would like Baez to be a little more boring. The next stage of Javy Being Javy would be showing more of the consistency that made Addison Russell an All-Star shortstop at the age of 22. It may also partially explain why Maddon for now still sees Ben Zobrist as his primary second baseman, even after Baez started all 17 postseason games at that position.  

“You definitely continually speak about (how) you want guys to make the routine play routinely,” Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “I’ve often talked about lack of chrome. Gary DiSarcina (with the Angels) was the guy that really embedded that thought in my head, because he was so chrome-less and he was so good at the routine play. I used to always yell that at my infielders in instructional league: ‘No chrome!’

“Having said all that, Javy comes from a different background, and he has a flair about his game, so I don’t necessarily want to subtract that. But just have him understand the routine stuff has to be made routinely well.

“He’s very capable of that. I think as his game continues to develop and mature, you’ll see him make less mistakes, whether it’s that or sometimes even on the bases. He’ll make a spectacular play on the bases and then again do something that you don’t like. But I think that’s just part of his nature and his game.” 

Zobrist delivered a World Series MVP performance after signing a four-year, $56 million contract last winter with the idea that focusing on one position – instead of moving around as a super-utility guy – would help him age better.

“Last year, I played 147 games,” said Zobrist, who will turn 36 in May. “I don’t know what that number’s going to look like. You got to stay healthy. There were probably only a few games that I missed because there was physically something that was keeping me from playing.

“We’ll play it by ear. Some of those will have to do with if I’m a little tired and the matchup is right, maybe they’ll choose to give me an off day on certain days. But I know that there’s other times last year where – whether you’re tired or not – you got to be in there because that’s the matchup that works best for the club. So just make adjustments as the weeks and series go on.”

[MORE: After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as late-game force]

Maddon is already thinking of ways to rest Zobrist – who played into early November after helping the 2015 Royals win the World Series – on a team with so many versatile athletes. The Cubs could also try to go back to last year’s model, putting Baez wherever their scouting-and-data projections predicted the ball would be hit most that night.

“We have to balance a lot of different things out,” Maddon said. “(Javy’s) going to play some second, of course, and so will Zo. Zo’s going to be out there primarily, and then we’ll work Javy in there. But Zo can also do what he’s done in the past and play some outfield.

“What happens – and I hate to say it like (this) – but baseball has a very cruel way of determining things. I don’t want it to be any injuries. I’d rather have to figure all of this stuff out on a daily basis. Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season. He’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come.

“It’s all in theory right now. Of course, he’s going to play. Of course, he’s going to play a lot. How it’s going to balance out? We’re not 100 percent sure yet. But he’s pretty darned good.”