We know that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have talked about building a foundation of young players who are still in their prime years or younger. They'd like to take on players with good predictive statistics and pay players based on future performance rather than past performance. They'd also like to build around players with good character. And, of course, they want to build a deep pitching staff. All of that would seem to bode well for someone like Matt Garza.
Yet it seemed like Garza was involved in rumors all winter. The thought by many was that the Cubs could and should acquire younger, cost-controlled talent in exchange for a pitcher who's best years might come while the team is still rebuilding. That may not be the case, per this tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden,
Jed Hoyer told us today that they'd like to build around Matt Garza and hopefully sign him to long term deal rather than trading him
Of course it could be a ploy, but I don't think so. Early on one rival GM said that he didn't think the Cubs really wanted to trade Garza. We heard that all inquiries were met with astronomical asking prices. It always seemed to me the Cubs were never as eager to trade Garza as we were sometimes led to believe.
One thing Hoyer said today during the game echoed something many of us have said here before. The Cubs are a big market team. They can re-sign good players and that gives them an advantage over small market clubs like Hoyer's old team, the San Diego Padres. Hoyer said that with the Padres, you knew you were going to eventually lose your best players, but that needn't be the case here in Chicago.
Garza could be one such player the Cubs choose to keep. Garza had an excellent 2011 when you discount things he can't control, like win totals. If you use stats like xFIP, FIP, or DIPS or SIERA...all statistics which attempt to measure a pitcher's performance independent of the team around him, Garza was among the leauge leaders, even the top 10 in some cases. He finished 8th in FIP last year, for example, ahead of such names as Daren Haren, Zach Greinke, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels
So he has the kind of numbers the Cubs like and he's also the right age at 28. He's likely to continue to perform at a high level for 5-7 years if he stays healthy.
And if you do trade him, there's always the danger of not getting enough back. As I stated in an earlier article, the history for trading top starters for minor leaguers hasn't been all that good. Yes you get top prospects, but rarely have they been as good as advertised and rarer still have they turned out better than the pitcher they were traded for. Click this link to see some of those deals to which I'm referring.
The Cubs may have been lucky already not to pull the trigger on a couple of deals with rumored interested teams. Jacob Turner, the main piece rumored to be coming back to the Cubs from the Tigers, has really struggled in spring training, not just with numbers, but with command and dropping velocity. Later it was found he was having arm issues and he was shut down. The same holds true for Anthony Ranaudo, arguably the Red Sox best pitching prospect and a guy the Cubs would have almost certainly have wanted as part of any package for Garza.
One last factor is the Cubs have had a chance to see Matt Garza on a day-to-day basis, not just in terms of stuff but also in terms of what kind of person he is and whether he's someone the Cubs will want to build around. There have been stories that Garza and manager Dale Sveum have become quite friendly and talk all the time, sometimes about baseball but also non-baseball subjects. Garza has been very vocal in support of his teammates, to the point where Sveum once jokingly asked him to leave. Early in his career, there had been some concerns about Garza's character and maturity, but it appears he has grown up and in some ways, is becoming a leader on this transitioning pitching staff.
But ultimately it's his performance on the mound that matters most and after Garza shut down a tough Texas lineup that featured most of their starters with relative ease, Sveum was very impressed. There's no question he's the best pitcher on the team, even if Ryan Dempster is the guy who gets the opening day nod.
Of course, you never quite know what this front office is really thinking but it does seem Garza fits the profile of the kind of player the Cubs would like to build around and, unlike his time in San Diego, Hoyer has the means to re-sign him if he chooses. If the Cubs keep Garza, maybe that speeds up their timetable just a little bit. Not that Garza is going to drop off the face of the Earth anytime soon, but he'll probably be 30 by the time the Cubs are truly ready to compete and that gives them a 3-4 year window for him to continue to put up good numbers until his skills will likely start to decline.
Could the Cubs still trade Garza? Absolutely, particularly if the two sides can't come to terms or a team comes along and blows Jed and Theo away. But top young starters aren't easy to come by and maybe the Cubs have decided they should hang on to the one they already have.