It won’t be easy for Cubs to replace Matt Garza’s swagger

It won’t be easy for Cubs to replace Matt Garza’s swagger
July 9, 2013, 11:00 pm
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Life after Matt Garza is going to be boring. Who else would walk through a Cubs-White Sox game as if it was spring training?

That’s how Garza rolled on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field, taking his time on his way from the bullpen to the dugout, forcing everyone to stop in the first inning because he felt White Sox management didn’t give him enough time to properly warm up after a rain delay.

Publicly, Garza gave “50/50” odds that he could sign a long-term extension and stay in Chicago. That played well with Cubs fans, because he’s entertaining and emotional and there’s no doubt he cares. The media always looks forward to his must-see sessions in the interview room, especially after beating the White Sox.

Privately, Garza is bracing for a trade and expects to be in a new city soon, perhaps well in advance of the July 31 non-waiver deadline. As another character inside this rivalry – Hawk Harrelson – might say: “He gone!”

[RELATED: Garza willing to sign a long-term extension?]

Barring an unforeseen development, it certainly looks like the Cubs will sell high on Garza, who has posted a 0.97 ERA in his last five starts, a 37-inning showcase in which he’s notched 34 strikeouts against eight walks. His energy and swagger won’t be easy to replace inside a clubhouse full of players still trying to find their identities in the big leagues.

“It’s hard to find pitchers like Garza, because he’s always there for us,” said Alfonso Soriano, another potential trade target. “I hope that he’ll stay healthy and pitch like he’s pitching now, here or somewhere else.”

The players understand Garza can be quirky, but they see how he works and know he almost always gives them a chance to win that night.

“He’s really loud every day,” said personal catcher Dioner Navarro, who saw Garza at his best with the Tampa Bay Rays and thinks of him as a brother. “He’s a little bit quiet when he pitches. I think he gets in the zone the day he pitches. Other than that, we try to keep him away, but it’s hard. He’s going to be Garza. He’s been like that forever. We just got to deal with him.”

[MORE: Albert Almora gets a feel for Wrigley

For now.

The coaching staff loves Garza’s competitiveness, how he showed up for spring training in great shape and attacked a swimming/conditioning program designed to increase his flexibility and endurance.

But team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer must weigh Garza’s health history, the strength of his right elbow and walk-year demands. Garza went on the disabled list with a bone contusion in 2011, got shut down with a stress reaction last season and then strained a lat muscle this spring.

“It’s always nice to have a guy like that around,” manager Dale Sveum said. “But unless I’m asked my opinion on it, that’s Theo and Jed’s territory. So I just leave that up to them and ownership.”

The Cubs usually ask Sveum to analyze video of potential targets and work his contacts to get background information on players, but he said no one from the front office has asked for his Garza opinion yet.

[RELATED: Schierholtz hopes to be a keeper

The Cubs might not sink to 100-loss depths again after another fire sale, believing they’ll have enough rotation depth with Carlos Villanueva and Scott Baker, who on Tuesday threw four innings in a simulated game. Baker needs about five rehab starts as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and is projected to be a month away from the big leagues.

So it might not be a Triple-A Iowa product by September. Also remember the Cubs will want pitching back in essentially every trade they make this summer. But an increasingly corporate place will be far less interesting without Garza, who can’t block out all the rumors.

“It’s still in the back of the mind,” Garza said. “The first year it wasn’t cool because I was just drafted, but now it’s nothing new. At least you’re wanted. It could be the other way, where they’re like: ‘Oh, this guy? I don’t want him.’ It’s a compliment. If it happens, my phone will ring and that will be it. It hasn’t rang and I’m happy to be a Cub.”