The Cubs’ trade for right-handed starting pitcher Matt Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays is easily their boldest, riskiest move of this offseason, if you don’t count owner Tom Ricketts’ foiled attempt at robbing Illinois taxpayers (Tom, we elected a governor to do that!).
Previous free agent signings, first baseman Carlos Pena (who also played for Tampa Bay last season) and relief pitcher Kerry Wood, came relatively risk-free with both players only signed for one season, Pena at a relatively pricey $10 million and Wood at a hometown discount of under $2 million.
Garza has three more seasons remaining on his current deal and at age 27, is entering the prime of a promising major league career. He should be a solid number 2 or number 3 starter, capable of winning 15 games (which he did in 2010, his best season, so far) and pitching at least 200 innings a year for the next few seasons.
The Cubs did give up several of their most promising minor leaguers in exchange for Garza, including their 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Chris Archer and 2010 Player of the Year, outfielder Brandon Guyer. Add to that, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfielder Sam Fuld are all leaving Chicago and Tampa will apparently send a pair of their own minor league prospects back to the Cubs to complete this very crowded deal.
Did the Cubs give up too much for a dependable, if not spectacular, starting pitcher? That won’t be known for at least a couple more years as none of the minor leaguers involved appear ready to make Tampa’s 25 man roster yet. but one of the few bright spots for the 2010 Cubs were the rookie seasons of Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner. It seemed that the long-held promise of rebuilding the Cubs from within via their farm system could actually turn out to be true.
Now we have a blockbuster trade which guts the farm system and the block received in return is a nice chip, but not a work of baseball art propelling the 2011 Cubs into NL Central Division contention. So, what is actually going on here? Are the Cubs rebuilding or trying to contend this season?
Adding Garza, Pena and Wood makes the Cubs a dark horse divisional contender, more like the Cardinals, but certainly not a favorite like the Reds or Brewers appear to be. It keeps the Cubs safely ahead of the bottom dwelling Astros and Pirates, however, but is this enough to keep Cubs fans happy in 2011, even if it means mortgaging a promising farm system-fed future?
Cubs general manager, Jim Hendry, would like a contract extension of his own and that means making a significant improvement over last year’s sub .500 record. Like his South Side counterpart, White Sox GM Kenny Williams, Hendry is more comfortable getting proven veteran players than assessing potential prospects. But unlike the White Sox, the Cubs have no realistic playoff aspirations for 2011.
The Cubs are simply trying to stay afloat with a decent .500 team in the hopes of bigger, better acquisitions next offseason as some of their bad contracts (Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukodome, Carlos Silva) come off the books after this season if they are not traded before that. The bloated contracts of Alfonso (leftfielder for life) Soriano and Carlos Zambrano will remain past next season and unless either or both of them enjoy a remarkable career comeback, the Cubs’ ship, while afloat, might still be going around in circles for years to come.