7/17 What’s price tag for Garza?
The Cubs were willing to part with top prospects Chris Archer, Brandon Guyer and Hak-Ju Lee to get Matt Garza in January 2011. Which team will find the right combination by the Trade Deadline to acquire the right-hander?
The Rangers are reportedly the front-runners for Garza as July 31 approaches, but MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reports they will not part with Venezuelan left-handed pitcher Martin Perez, 22, who is 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA in six starts. Right-hander Luke Jackson, 21, has drawn some interest. A first-round pick — 45th overall — in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Jackson is 8-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 16 starts at Class A Myrtle Beach. He has struck out 86 over 82 1/3 innings.
Another player the Cubs may be looking at is Mike Olt, a 24-year-old right-handed hitter who was Texas’ first-round pick in 2010 (49th overall). He was batting .211 in 61 games at Triple-A Round Rock with nine home runs and 14 doubles.
The Cardinals, Pirates, Indians, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Dodgers also have had scouts at Garza’s recent starts. The right-hander has been impressive, posting a 5-0 record and 1.24 ERA in his last six outings.
“He’s handled it great,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Garza. “Obviously, he knows [about the rumors], as well as last year at the same time when his name was all around. He’s pitched in as good a five-game stretch as he has in his whole career.”
In January 2011, Jim Hendry traded five Minor League players, including Archer and Guyer, the Minor League player of the year, to the Rays for Garza. Tampa Bay added two other players in the deal in reliever Zach Rosscup and outfielder Fernando Perez, but Garza was the Cubs’ target.
“It’s a good, old fashioned baseball trade that doesn’t often get made with the volume of people involved and for the right reasons for both organizations,” said Hendry, the Cubs general manager at the time.
Several of the teams interested in Garza consider him to be a No. 3 starter for their rotation — the Pirates, for example, already have an ace in Francisco Liriano. But could Garza be the piece needed to get Pittsburgh to the postseason? All-Star Jeff Locke (8-2, 2.15 ERA) was not available for Tuesday’s game because of lower back tightness. The Pirates may decide Garza is worth the high price tag the Cubs have set.
“Obviously, he’s throwing extremely well and he’s very healthy and there are teams out there looking for pitching who are going to call and try to acquire him,” Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, said on Friday. “For us, he’s helping us win games now, there’s a chance to possibly retain him beyond this year, so we’ll just balance all that out and do what’s best for the organization.”
There has been talk about a possible contract extension, but the more likely scenario is the Cubs deal Garza by July 31. The right-hander will be a free agent after this season, something bidding teams have to factor in their decision as to which players to part with for what could be a two-month rental. There is another option: If Epstein does not deal Garza, the Cubs could make him a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
The Cubs players like having the right-hander on the mound, or on the top step of the dugout in games he’s not starting.
“He’s a leader in the clubhouse,” Jeff Samardzija said. “He leads by example. He can talk a little bit but that’s not his main point. He does that for fun. He loves talking. He’s just a great dude to have and the more guys you have like that out of your 25, the better chance you have for a successful season.”
Garza was rumored to be traded last season before an elbow injury sidelined him for the final 2 1/2 months. He made his last start July 21. A strained lat in Spring Training delayed his 2013 start until May 21, and he looked sharp in his season debut, holding the Pirates to one hit over five shutout innings.
“He’s one of the hardest working pitchers you’ll ever be around,” Sveum said. “Even the four days he doesn’t pitch, he’s on the bench and rooting his teammates on. You’re always going to hear him on the bench. He’s one of those special starting pitchers who will always be involved in the game, and position players who play every day and other people appreciate that.”
So, any teams interested in Garza, be prepared. He’s loud, he needs Popeye’s chicken on the day he starts, and a quiet place for an hour or so to watch comedy shows on his iPad before he takes the mound. He can be loud, is quick with the post-game pie in the face, and devoted to his family.
On Sunday, the Cubs closed out the first half of the season with a loss to the Cardinals. Garza, who had picked up a win the night before, holding St. Louis to two runs over 6 2/3 innings, left the clubhouse about 11:30 p.m., eager to spend the All-Star break with his kids.
“You get caught up in [the rumors], but I’ve been through it so much that I’m just oblivious to it until something happens,” Garza said Saturday. “It’s stressful but at the same time, I have a great outlook. I get to pitch every five days. I just keep going and keep looking forward to that next five days.”
His next scheduled start is Monday against the Diamondbacks.
– Carrie Muskat