One thing that’s been curious to me lately is the sudden silence on any possible Matt Garza trade rumors. Heading into the winter meetings, it was a huge topic…and now, nothing.
All along I've believed it would take a monster deal to pry Garza loose and that teams wouldn’t be willing to give up the package of prospects required to obtain him. For the Cubs, there was only one reason to even consider trading him – and that would be to kick start a farm system with multiple top prospects and/or young team controlled players. The Cubs don’t need to deal Garza from a financial standpoint. They can afford to pay him now and they can afford to extend him later. This is a big market team.
Moreover, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have talked over and over again how they’d like to build around pitching. Epstein went so far as to call Garza, “exactly the kind of player we want to build around”
Now that part is interesting. If the Cubs are going to keep Garza and build around him, wouldn’t that mean going after pitchers his age or younger so that they can start that building process? They certainly aren’t going to build around him with aging veterans like Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano, both of whom have at most one year remaining with the team.
Andrew Cashner would certainly qualify as that kind of building block pitcher. Trey McNutt may as well. It could also mean potentially switching a young, hard throwing pitcher like Jeff Samardzija to a starter. He never had the command to succeed in that role before, but perhaps his breakthrough last season warrants him getting a second chance. Or maybe the Cubs will give a pitcher like Chris Rusin an extended look this spring.
It could also mean trying to acquire young pitchers from outside the organization, though trading for someone like Gio Gonzalez may prove difficult considering the lack of depth the Cubs possess at the upper levels of their farm system.
But might it mean a more aggressive bid to land Yu Darvish? Or perhaps they’ll look into the much-improved 28 year old RHP Edwin Jackson. Do they take a chance and wait until next year when it’s possible Matt Cain or Cole Hamels will be available? Maybe, but that will get expensive. But considering how much money is coming off the books next year, particulary in the rotation, that may not be that big an issue. We’ll get back to that in a bit.
If they want to save money in the short term, the Cubs could take a flyer on a pitcher like Chris Volstad, who has the talent of a #3 starter but was nearly non-tendered last night. A source of mine claims the Cubs do indeed have some interest in the tall right-hander. Volstad may be an option you don’t have to spend a fortune on your staff. And he's only 25, so he hasn't yet entered his peak performance years. Predictive statistics like xFIP indicate that Volstad was on the verge of breaking out last season had it not been for some bad luck.
But to reiterate, the Cubs do have money. So rather than commit the money to Prince Fielder, perhaps the Cubs should use that money to extend Garza and then sign a big free agent next year. Maybe Cole Hamels if he’s out there.
Then you open up 2013 with a rotation of Garza, Hamels, Volstad, Cashner, and Rusin. Or perhaps someone like Trey McNutt or Jeff Samardzija steps up and fits in there instead. Everybody is 28 or younger and under team control.
Or if you really want to dream big, how about signing Darvish (or Jackson as a fallback) with the money potentially earmarked for Fielder this year, and then sign Hamels with the money freed up when Zambrano and Dempster’s contracts expire next season. The Cubs would have Garza, Hamels, Darvish (or Jackson) as their top 3. They could then fill the last two spots with some combination of Cashner, McNutt, Volstad, and Rusin.
It’s hard to believe that a pitching staff like that, backed by a vastly improved defense, couldn’t contend in 2013 -- even with a mediocre offense.
I wouldn't say a Garza deal is dead yet, but any deal would have to push the Cubs closer to their goal of building a stronger, younger, deeper team. And if you can't get the kind of return that would do that, then it may just be better to keep Garza and extend him for a few more seasons. If that's their ultimate decision, then they'll have to take advantage of that opportunity and build around him quickly with good, young pitchers while he’s still in his prime.