CHICAGO – Cubs right-hander Matt Garza has the tools of a No. 1 pitcher.
He mixes four pitches with a fastball that consistently hits 93 mph and typically displays good command while his on-field demeanor suggests Garza isn’t someone you want to mess with, always unafraid to pitch inside. Garza’s loud personality makes him hard to go unnoticed in the clubhouse, and he loves pitching in important games.
Yet for all the positives, the Cubs need to trade Garza, who turns 30 in November, as soon as possible. Whether that happens today or minutes before the July 31 trade deadline passes, the Cubs must accept the best offer, which should include at least one legit big league prospect. Multiple reports Monday indicated the Cubs re-engaged in discussions for a contract extension with Garza, a free agent after this season.
But locking up Garza on a long-term deal, potentially five years, $80 million, which is what Detroit gave Anibal Sanchez in the offseason, only makes sense if the Cubs are going to be legit playoff contender within the next two years. That doesn’t seem likely based on this season’s performance. Plus, the most recent contract the Cubs gave out – four years, $52 million for Edwin Jackson – hasn’t panned out so far.
Theo Epstein and Co., do the right thing. Ship Garza out of town for a package of prospects. His value can’t get much higher after holding the White Sox to one earned run on five hits in seven innings. In his past five starts, Garza has posted a 0.97 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 37 innings.
“Needless to say he’s been a popular name and a guy we’ve gotten a lot of phone calls on,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of Garza. “I think he’s opened a lot of eyes the way he’s thrown the last four, five times out.”
The Cubs need leadership from their veterans, guys who will set a good example for the younger ballplayers coming up through the system.
But a leader doesn’t call out a young teammate, in this case catcher Welington Castillo, after a bad outing in which the starting pitcher, Garza, surrendered nine earned runs. Following that June 11 debacle against the Reds, Garza was questioned about his outing and asked, “Are you still getting your feet wet, getting into a groove from coming off the DL?”
Garza could have responded that he was fine or give any of the go-to clichés athletes have ready for almost any question. But instead, Garza, unprompted, began his answer by saying, “I haven’t thrown to [Castillo].”
“That’s what spring training’s for so [Castillo] kind of gets the feel of me, I get the feel of him,” Garza continued. “I think that’s what we’re trying to do right now just feel each other out. It’s tough. But being in this game for as many seasons as I have, I need to take control and I need to kind of guide him through it. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. It lies on my shoulders and get ready in five days to try and get it right.”
However, Castillo never had the chance to get it right five days later. In Garza’s five starts, including Monday against the White Sox, since the worst outing of his career Dioner Navarro has been the starting catcher. While Garza and Navarro have a history dating to their three seasons together with the Rays, Castillo has worked with Garza during past spring trainings. Manager Dale Sveum has refused to label Navarro as Garza’s personal catcher, though Castillo said “we all know that’s the way it is.”
“Honestly, I feel bad,” Castillo told the Northwest Herald on Monday. “ … I want to catch everybody, but at the same time stuff happens. “
Although Castillo said he hasn’t had many conversations with Garza since his June 11 post-game comments beyond normal interaction, he’s pulling for his teammate to throw a no hitter every time he steps on the mound. The Cubs sure could use that same maturity from Garza, which has been lacking over the course of his three seasons on the North Side.
It’s time for Garza to act like a No. 1 ace, on and off the field – in a different uniform.
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.
CUBS 8, WHITE SOX 2
Tipping point: Tied in the eighth inning, the Cubs scored five runs and sent 10 batters to the plate to break the game open. Luis Valbuena's two-run double off White Sox reliever Matt Thornton gave the Cubs the lead for good.
On the mound: Cubs starter Matt Garza increased his trade value with another stellar start, holding the Sox to two runs (one earned) on five hits in seven innings. Garza didn't allow a walk and struck out six on 102 pitches. Sox starter Hector Santiago did his part in keeping them in the game, giving up two runs in 5 1/3 innings.
At the plate: Alfonso Soriano was an on-base machine against the Sox. He went 2 for 3 with an RBI, three runs, one walk and reached on a wild pitch. Soriano also stole two bases. Dave Sappelt recorded a career-high four hits. Sox catcher Josh Phegley homered with one out in the third for the first hit off Garza.
Under the radar: According to STATS, since 1921, Phegley is the quickest Sox rookie to hit home runs in consecutive games since Magglio Ordonez in 1997. Soriano's two stolen bases give him 10 this year which are the most he's had in a single season since he stole 19 in 2008.