Chicago Cubs

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?

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”