It’s the last full week before the Christmas holiday and the Cubs appear to be checking their list twice. It was a trying week for the Chicago Cubs. On a positive note, the Cubs named the managers and coaching staffs for the minor league system and added an arm to the bullpen but on a not-so-good note, they lost out on Anibal Sanchez after putting on a full court press and opening the pocket book.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer appear to be looking at ways to add pitching to the mix. The Cubs are rumored to be interested in starters Edwin Jackson, Francisco Liriano and Rick Porcello while looking for ways to upgrade the bullpen.
There should be at least one more roster move this week. The Cubs have not announced the signing of Nate Schierholtz and before Schierholtz’s deal can be made official, the Cubs will have to open a spot on the 40-man roster. The Cubs designated Jeff Beliveau for assignment last Thursday to make room for Ian Stewart. The 40-man roster currently stands at 40 players.
Todd Hollandsworth played an interview he conducted with Matt Garza the day before during the last hour of First Pitch (MLB Network Radio/XM Radio) last Thursday. As always, Matt Garza called it the way he sees it.
Todd Hollandsworth – Thanks for coming on the program this morning Matt, how’s everything going for you this winter?
Matt Garza – Great, thanks for having me. Everything is going good according to plan. Just kinda taking it nice and easy.
TH – What’s the story now? I mean, were you surprised with the stress reaction in your elbow? Here in Chicago we understood you were going to miss a little bit of time but obviously you ended up missing the rest of the season. Clearly it is carrying into the winter. Where are you at right now and how are you feeling?
MG – When it first happened I was just kinda hoping it was something like a muscular thing. It just kinda surprised me and the rest of the season kinda wore on me. But now I feel great and everything is coming back full circle and I’m getting to full strength. I just started throwing on Monday.
TH – So how do you feel about this Cubs’ team? This is going to be your walk year. Is this a bigger winter for you now as opposed to other ones? We know where you are at and we know what we want to see at the top of that rotation is certainly what you are capable of doing. In your preparation for this year are you putting a little more emphasis on this winter?
MG – Um, I haven’t even thought about my walk year or anything like that. I’m just thinking about showing up to Spring Training able to pitch and there’s nothing wrong with me. No injuries, no holdover, no setbacks. I just want to get out there and pitch. That’s all I’m concerned about right now. Everything else besides that you know is on the back burner. I need to get out there and pitch because if I can’t pitch then there’s nothing next year. If I can come back strong and healthy then that gives us, the Cubs, another guy that can go another 200-plus innings. We recently signed Scott Baker, who I know pretty well playing with in Minnesota for two or three years and then playing against Scott Feldman. I know we have guys that can throw 200-plus next year with me Samardzija, Feldman, Baker and Woody. And then whoever else we throw in there. I think we are going to have a nice competition in spring too.
TH – You’ve got to be excited about these acquisitions, correct?
MG – I am excited. It’s not like we are tying in people that do not have experience. Feldman’s got five or six years. Baker’s got five, six years. These guys have been in the playoff hunt before and they know what it takes to get there. So, I pretty pumped with this type of veteran stuff we’ve got. It’s not older veterans, it’s veterans that are right around our age that will match along and kinda help guys out, just like we all have.
TH – Matt, looking at this Cubs’ team and again I mentioned the walk year, are you hoping that this develops into a contract extension with the Cubs? Or are you more open minded to free agency and just putting your best out there to see where it goes?
MG – Kinda just put my best out there. I’m always open to staying in Chicago. Me and my family love it there but at the same time I’ve still to go out there and show everybody that I still have it, I still can pitch because being shut down for two months put a lot of skepticism in everybody’s minds. Is he alright? Is he going to be alright? Is this something we need to worry about? I wanna going out there this year and set the tone and show there is nothing to worry about. I’m right back where I was, don’t worry about me.
TH – I’m with Cubs’ starter Matt Garza. Matt, I want to ask you about another acquisition the Cubs have made this winter, a friend or yours, a close friend of yours Dioner Navarro. What are the Cubs going to get from him? I look at it as maybe more of an opportunity than people might give credit to. They say well he’s coming in second fiddle to say Welington Castillo. This guy has put up some pretty good numbers. This guy is a former All-Star.
MG – That’s just fine you know. If we are going to get anything out of Dioner Navarro it’s going to be his mentorship of young Welington Castillo. Because they are both great defenders. Throwing to Navi for three seasons and knowing what Navi can do behind the plate … he’s one helluva defensive catcher. He still has one of the best throw out ratios in baseball. So you bring him in with a young guy like Welington, who has an arm like a cannon, only good can come from it. So I was pretty pumped up about that. Knowing a good guy like Navi and how hard he works and how good he wants to be it’s going to be a push for Welington because if he takes a day off Navi is going to be right there willing and ready to go and he’s going to do one heckuva job. Like you said, he’s a former All-Star. All it takes is one good month to make this guy an All-Star, not just a former one.
TH – Matt, we talk about this Cubs’ organization, development through the system and where they are going to be and expectations at the Major League level. The fan base, listen they are getting riled a little bit, they want to see some winning. Is this team got it? What’s the message in the clubhouse right now as far as how this team going to improve on last year?
MG – We sent, well I believe we sent, almost all of the young guys out to play this winter. We shut down the arms we need to shutdown in order to get them ready and healthy for spring and all we can do is going out there and play nine. We’re young but I’ve seen young teams turn things around real quick. With the front office brains we have, I sure they have a real, real strong plan. They’ve been saying it for the last two winters it is going to take time but we are going to rebuild and turn this thing into a contender. They do not want to rely on the free agent market, which is totally acceptable. It’s going to be built the way it needs to be built. There has not been a championship here in a 109 years so I think if we just ride this out, it’s kinda the calm before the storm. One you don’t see real clear right now but when the fog lifts it’s going to be one helluva special thing.
TH – I’m with Cubs’ starter Matt Garza. It leads me to my next question about Dale Sveum. The message in that clubhouse most people understand where this franchise is and how they continue to build internally. How does he keep that motivation and that confidence high with this group in his first year? How do you think he did?
MG – I think he did great. Baseball is kinda a self-motivator, especially in the big leagues because you know where you came from, you came from the minor leagues. You know how many people there are in the minor leagues and all of those people want to be in the big leagues. So that is all you have to tell everybody. Especially with all of the young guys we had. You guys keep doing what you are doing but if we don’t like you, we will find somebody else. It’s all there is to it. It’s the honest truth. That’s the way it should be, there should not be any sugar coating. It should be, well … if you can’t do it we’ll find somebody else. That’s the way it should be. That’s what is going to bring out the best in all of our players. Hey, this guy is hungry too. He wants what you are eating. He doesn’t want that Triple-A spread, he wants the big league spread. That’s all it takes and some people get motivated that way and some people don’t. People that don’t get motivated that way don’t need to be here. You know, that is all it is. I know Theo and I know Jed and I know Dale. They want the best 25 ballplayers out there. The best and the most hungry and not just guys that are just going to show up and just go about their business and not put any hustle or any drive into it. They want the guys that are committed to winning and not just the guys that are committed to themselves. They want team ballplayers and that’s what wins you championships is team ballplayers. We’ve got a great group of guys in there. The last two months were fun to watch. There were a lot of young guys trying to get to know each other and just playing. The fans saw just how young and exciting it was. We played more extra-inning games over the last two months than we did the whole entire season. So it’s going to be exciting.
Todd Hollandsworth’s next question was about James Shields and what Garza thought about him being traded to Kansas City.
TH – Matt, my last question is going to be about Jeff Samardzija. Were you surprised to see what he became here for this Cubs’ team? I think he was probably the biggest surprise to most people here in Chicago. The way I see it, the number two behind you in this rotation. Going from the bullpen to climbing into that number two spot. Wow, what a jump, what a progression.
MG – It wasn’t a surprise to me. I just think he was fed-up with it finally. He was fed-up with obscurity. He did not know and nobody else knew what his job was going to be. He flat out just said I want I shot and if I stink, throw me into the bullpen. I know I can succeed there. He was just tired of the up and down and up and down. You’re doing this this year. He just flat out came out and said this is what I want to do and if I stink I will go back. He knew he had one shot and if you give a guy like that, a competitor, you tell him this is your last life. You are going to fight, claw, scratch, do everything you gotta do to stay where you want to stay. That’s exactly what he did. He busted his tail off last winter. Shoot, he was in mid-season form come spring and he’s just a big strong guy that was able to sustain and that’s what he has got to learn now, that is sustain it, get better and command his pitches. He’s going to be even better this year I feel.
TH – This Cubs’ team is certainly making improvements on the field and Matt Garza, you coming back to this rotation will only make them better.
News, Notes and Rumors
The Phillies stepped up and agreed to terms on deals with two pitchers the Cubs have been connected to this off-season. Mike Adams is on his way to Philly on a two-year, $12 million deal that includes a vesting option for a third year worth $6.5 million. Philadelphia also signed lefty John Lannan to a one-year contract worth $2.5 million that includes another $2.5 million in incentives.
Bob Nightengale joined Bruce Levine and Fred Huebner during Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000) on Saturday morning and took full responsibility for reporting the Anibal Sanchez deal before it was done. Nightengale was told that the Cubs, who had been working on the deal with Sanchez for a couple of weeks, had landed the player. Nightengale explained that as soon as the Tigers got wind of the deal, they stepped up their offer then outbid the Cubs.
The Cubs have not agreed to terms on contract with their four arbitration eligible players or exchanged numbers (deadline to exchange arbitration figures is January 16) yet but could they be working on a long-term extension with Jeff Samardzija? There have been rumblings that the Epstein and Hoyer would like to lock-up Samardzija, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this off-season. The front office views Samardzija as one of the building blocks and he is in line for a nice pay raise after his first full season as a starter. Samardzija had a good year but appeared to be even better in the second half before he was shutdown in order to limit his innings.
According to Bruce Levine, at least one of the pitchers that went from the Phillies to the Twins in the Ben Revere trade was discussed in the talks for Alfonso Soriano. Levine did not clarify which of the two was discussed.
Rick Porcello appears to be on the block according to Bruce Levine and if the Cubs are interested it could cost them a package of young players to land Porcello. Levine did not mention if the Cubs and Tigers are discussing a deal but he did say “a player like Junior Lake” might have to be included if the Cubs try to pry Porcello away from the Tigers.
According to Danny Knobler, the Angels have been in contact with the Tigers about Rick Porcello. A Porcello for Peter Bourjos might make sense but there might not be a match. Knobler reported that the Tigers are not too high on Pirates’ closer Joel Hanrahan but could use Porcello to add some late-inning help to their bullpen. Once the Sanchez signing becomes official on Monday, the Tigers will be able to move Porcello, if they choose.