Baseball sources confirmed to me early this morning that, after Matt Garza's start Saturday when he beat the St. Louis Cardinals and looked strong doing it, several teams have decided they are willing to engage Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in serious negotiations during this week's All-Star Break, despite the fact that the price to acquire the talented starter is extremely high.
"Prior to Garza coming back from his injury to his oblique the talk around the industry was that Theo and Jed were asking for far too much in return for him. However, after beating a handful of OK teams the perception started to change," a former general manager told me Sunday evening. "Then, after watching what he did to the White Sox and Cardinals in his last two outings it became crystal clear that he is 100 percent and that he can be the missing piece that a handful of contenders need to make a run at a championship."
The only other high-level starting pitcher that might be available is the Philadelphia Phillies' Cliff Lee, and unlike Garza who is a free agent after this season, Lee has potentially $77.5 million left on his contract -- with a minimum of $62.5 million guaranteed over the next two seasons, including a 2016 buyout of $12.5 million or an option for 2016 at $27.5 million. That financial commitment, coupled with the price in prospects it would take to acquire Lee makes Garza that much more attractive to teams that believe they are one starter away. Add in Garza's success in the American League East and in the postseason with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was ALCS MVP in 2008, and his now-healthy status makes him a huge catch for whoever lands him.
"The Cubs would be wise to move Garza because this is a rare trading chip to have that can net you back a couple of key pieces who should be ready to help when the Cubs other young talent is getting to the big leagues. With four elite-level prospects in Baez, Bryant, Soler and Almora they have a very bright future and I still think that they will move Castro at some point, which will bring back another good haul of young talent," an AL scout told me this morning. "Add in another significant draft pick next June and the Cubs finally have a foundation that they can build on for a lengthy run. However, their lack of pitching depth will force them to have to spend big in free agency to match up enough pitching with all of the positional talent that they are developing in a year or two."
Another significant industry source believes that while Texas, Toronto and Cleveland are all involved, the dark horse to watch is the St. Louis Cardinals.
"The Cardinals saved a ton of money walking away from the Pujols negotiations and now they are having the last laugh as that contract looks awful for the Angels. They have a loaded farm system and if they are able to win another World Series after letting Albert walk away, it would be a huge statement about not overpaying players no matter how important they are to your organization," the source told me. "Giving up a few top prospects for a shot at another championship is a small price to pay. And don't think for one second that Theo or Jed is afraid of dealing Garza to a division rival. If they get the right deal they won't care where they deal him to."
I expect the deal to go down in the next week and while the Cubs are discussing potential deals with a number of teams, I still don't believe that Garza ends up in St. Louis or Pittsburgh. While Epstein and Hoyer might not care where they send him, those general managers do not want to see elite prospects from their systems starring in Chicago for the next decade. That probably puts Garza in a deal with a team outside of the division with the deal probably done before his next start a week from today in Arizona. Should he make that start I don't see any scenario where he makes the start after that in San Francisco July 27.