The game stopped for Matt Garza. The Cubs rent-a-pitcher walked out of the bullpen and down the right-field line with two coaches toward the dugout.
The White Sox had to wait a few moments as this bizarre scene unfolded during the first inning on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field. This was after a 29-minute rain delay, and before the thunder and lightning, but it summed up everything about this team: It is all Garza, all the time, until he’s finally traded.
Maybe Garza went out a winner in his final start in a Cubs uniform with this dominant 8-2 victory. Maybe he’ll squeeze one more in before the All-Star break. Maybe Theo Epstein’s front office will push the bidding war closer to the July 31 deadline to maximize the return.
There’s a strong sense inside the organization that Garza will be gone, with sources quickly downplaying and dismissing reports that the Cubs had checked in to see what it would take to do a long-term extension. But the big-game pitcher is willing to listen and hasn’t ruled it out yet.
“It’s in both our courts,” Garza said. “Obviously, they have a little more cards to hold. But at the end of the day, it comes down to my decision on an extension and a trade is obviously their decision. I like being a Cub. I want to win. I want to get this team to October and win it here. Like I said before, it would be one hell of a party.”
Though the Cubs had seen the possibility of a qualifying offer for Garza back in spring training – if everything broke a certain way – there’s been little momentum in those talks since the Epstein administration took over at Clark and Addison.
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As for the possibility of shopping himself as a free agent this winter, Garza said: “It would be cool, but if I’m happy where I’m at, then no need to. (My) kids love it here, so the possibility of staying would be awesome. It’s kind of up in the air, 50/50. So we’ll see.”
The Cubs (39-48) wound up sweeping their four games against the White Sox (34-52) this season, but all the crosstown buzz revolved around the trade deadline. Garza has now allowed only four earned runs in his last five starts (0.97 ERA), a 37-inning stretch in which he’s put up 34 strikeouts against eight walks.
Garza said he thinks the organization is close enough to winning to where he’d be willing make a commitment.
“We have guys on the mound who can go out there and give you 200-plus (innings) a year,” Garza said. “We have some young guys in the bullpen with some amazing arms. They’re going to figure it out and it’s going to be nasty when they do. Our offense is young. (For) young hitters, it takes a little while to learn the league and learn how guys are going to attack you and the ability to adjust from at-bat to at-bat and just flush it.”
The Cubs have blown 18 saves and lost 26 games after leading this season.
“We win half of those, we’re right in the mix and nobody’s talking about a fire sale,” Garza said. “Everybody’s talking about: ‘Wow, these guys are in contention.’ Yeah, I think we’re really close.”
One insider put it this way: Even if the Cubs wanted to sign Garza to a long-term deal, wouldn’t it make sense to trade him first and get the prospects? But even that comes with the acknowledgment that it almost never works out that way.
The Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox have been among the teams tracking Garza. The San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals have sent mixed signals and are not believed to be frontrunners. This is shaping up to be a summer of tight division races and down-to-the-wire fights for the wild cards, which means it will be a seller’s market.
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Someone’s clubhouse should be getting an attitude adjustment, the bounce that comes from a go-for-it trade. Just listen to Garza explain his first-inning entrance.
“They gave me 20 minutes to get loose, so if anything, that’s their fault,” Garza said. “They ran in at 7:15 to tell us we’re starting at 7:30 and we had to argue and say: ‘No, we don’t even have time to get loose.’ That’s just them trying to rush. I’m not going to mess up my system just because they want to rush me to the mound. It’s a makeup game. It’s not like it was Game 7 and we were delayed three or four times.”