It’s a big question that hasn’t been answered since Theo Epstein took over at Clark and Addison almost 19 months ago: What will the Cubs do with Matt Garza?
Garza has made only 18 starts since then, with an elbow injury killing his trade value at last summer’s deadline and a lat muscle strain in February keeping him on the disabled list.
Without Garza, the Cubs have started 16-23, fueling talk of another summer sell-off, but you can’t blame the starting pitching. The Colorado Rockies hammered Carlos Villanueva in Tuesday’s 9-4 blowout in front of 38,123 at Wrigley Field, but nights like that have so far been the exception.
With Garza hoping his next rehab start will be his last, and the fans and media buzzing about Anthony Rizzo’s new contract, the focus has shifted to who else might be locked up as part of The Core.
“Yeah, it would be awesome, but like I said in January, March, February, April, I need to pitch,” Garza said. “I can’t talk about anything except the next time I get to pitch and that’s Thursday. I can’t do anything (else). There’s no conversation about anything like that. It’s just: ‘How close are you?’ That’s the only thing coming out of my mouth.”
Contract talks are irrelevant when Garza still has to get through Thursday’s outing at Triple-A Iowa and show he can last six innings. At that point, the Cubs will decide whether or not he needs another rehab start in the minors.
Garza – who’s never shy about speaking his mind – expects to have a lot of input.
“It’s kind of my job,” Garza said. “But all in all it comes down to what the organization wants to do and what upstairs wants to do. We’re going to obviously sit down and talk about it after the next outing and go from there. But it’s all based off how I respond and how I feel and how comfortable I am.”
After dismissing the idea of a six-man rotation over the weekend, Dale Sveum allowed for that possibility as a short-term solution, depending on the matchups and the bullpen situation. Without much enthusiasm, the manager said “it could happen” while admitting the staff hasn’t “really looked at it deeply.”
“We’ll be a stronger team when (Garza) comes back,” Villanueva said after giving up seven runs on 12 hits in five innings. “I have my own opinions (and) a move will be made. A night like tonight didn’t really help my cause. I’ll take the ball whenever they need me.
“In the end, it really doesn’t matter that much what I think. Whatever happens will happen and they’ll make their decisions. We’re all professionals here.
“I’m an employee. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do.”
While it appears the Cubs could have a surplus, remember that Scott Feldman has a one-year deal and could be flipped at the trade deadline. Tommy John cases Scott Baker and Arodys Vizcaino are still taking it slow. Baker hasn’t thrown off a mound yet in Arizona, while Vizcaino is said to be weeks away from pitching in the minors.
The organization’s lack of impact arms forced the Cubs to give Edwin Jackson a four-year $52 million contract last December. This was supposed to be a platform year for the 29-year-old Garza, who if healthy would be one of the top pitchers on the free-agent market this winter.
“I’m in the same boat I’ve always been,” Garza said. “I’m just gonna keep pitching and keep playing and see what I can do when I come back and have a good time doing it.”
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As the Cubs opened camp in February 2012, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged the possibility of a long-term extension and delivered this line: “We need more Matt Garzas, not less.”
Garza has complained about the negativity surrounding the team on his Twitter account. But he’s also repeatedly said how much his family enjoys the city, and he loves playing for Sveum, frequently dropping by the manager’s office to chitchat.
Garza’s also watched the front office guarantee at least $101 million to All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro and a 23-year-old first baseman who might reach that elite level.
“It’s huge,” Garza said. “They’re showing that they’re making the right steps of building something here. First Castro, now Rizzo and you’re locking up two premium positions with (young) premium players.
“That’s a huge step and it should be a good, good sign for good things to come here in Chicago. I’m excited (and) happy for (Rizzo). Now, let’s just win.”