It will be different without Matt Garza’s shaving-cream-pie-in-your-face personality around Wrigley Field. The clubhouse will be a quieter place when he’s gone.
The Cubs head into the All-Star break on “Garza Watch.” They’ve created a window between now and July 22 to finalize a deal. That’s when the best pitcher on the trade market is scheduled to make his next start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. No one would be surprised if someone else is screaming into his glove at Chase Field that night.
Reporters approached Garza at his locker after Sunday night’s 10-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals and mentioned a national report saying he’d been informed that he would likely be traded after contract talks gained no momentum.
[MORE: In the midst of trade talk, Garza pitches Cubs past Cardinals]
“I haven’t heard anything like that,” Garza said.
The Cardinals are said to have no interest in trading within the division like this, especially for a rental player, while the Cleveland Indians have reportedly emerged as a potential buyer. Garza could shift the balance of power in the National League West, or become a finishing piece for the Texas Rangers or Boston Red Sox.
Never underestimate the mystery team(s), especially with the 24/7 nature of Twitter, but the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants are viewed as long shots. The Los Angeles Dodgers give off the appearance of unlimited resources, and they showed strong interest in Garza last summer (before he injured his right elbow again).
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While Garza publicly set the odds for a long-term extension at “50/50” last week, privately he’s sounded far more realistic and painted a less optimistic picture. He expects to be traded soon, and the Cubs are hoping to cash in the way the Milwaukee Brewers did by dealing Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels last July.
The Brewers converted a rental pitcher into Jean Segura – a dynamic All-Star shortstop who’s now hitting .325 with 11 homers and 27 stolen bases at the age of 23 – as well as two young arms (Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena).
Garza is 5-0 in his last five starts, and has posted a 1.24 ERA across his last six outings, putting up 38 strikeouts against 10 walks in 43.2 innings. He would immediately provide a lift to any contending team.
[MORE: Garza open to an extension that could mean 'one hell of a party for the Cubs']
“He’s one of the hardest-working pitchers you’re going to be around,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Even the four days he doesn’t pitch, he’s on the bench and he’s rooting his teammates on. You’re always going to hear him.
“He’s just one of those special starting pitchers that’s always going to be involved in the game. (People) appreciate that.”
Garza spent parts of Sunday night’s game in his usual spot, sitting on a stool and leaning over the dugout railing next to his buddy Jeff Samardzija.
“Obviously, he can talk a little bit, but that’s not his main point,” Samardzija said. “He does that for fun, because he enjoys talking. But the way he leads, and the way he goes about his day, and the way he works, and the way he pitches on every fifth day, (he does it by example). He’s just a great dude to have. The more guys like that you have out of your 25, the better chance you have to have a successful season.”
[WATCH: Garza is always competing on the mound]
No one knows if/when Garza will be back to Wrigley Field, but the Cubs are already preparing for life without him.
The Cubs were able to plug Carlos Villanueva into the rotation after trading Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles. In exchange, they acquired a potential starter in Jake Arrieta (six innings, one run, nine strikeouts on Sunday for Triple-A Iowa).
The Cubs are also optimistic about Scott Baker (four runs in three innings on Sunday for Class-A Kane County) and his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
After the fire sale headlined by Garza, the hope is this will help prevent another 100-loss season.
“We’ve put ourselves in a situation to have a little more depth,” Sveum said. “We’re a lot better off than we were a year ago if these things start happening.”