It is no secret that the Chicago Cubs have some valuable trade chips for the fast-approaching mid-season trading frenzy. As the Cubs once again become sellers at -- or even well before -- the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, they will have a number of veterans who could help push a contending team over the top for a division title or wild card berth. MLB Injury News's Blaine Blontz has recently highlighted several Cubs who could suddenly find themselves in contention with a new team.
Garza's recent injury history
One name on this list stands out. Starting pitcher Matt Garza gets the first consideration whenever this discussion arises. Garza likely would not have remained a Cub if he did not suffer a season-ending arm injury just before last-year's deadline. Garza had elbow problems that ended his 2012 season and possibility of landing on a contender. Many trade rumors had Garza following the likes of fellow starters and now former teammates Ryan Dempster (Texas Rangers) and Paul Maholm (Atlanta Braves), who both reached the post season with new teams.
Then, fully recovered from his arm trouble, Garza had another long-term injury in Spring Training 2013. Garza strained a lat muscle during workouts; that injury kept him on the disabled list until May 21, ten full months to the day since his last regular-season start. The trade rumors continued, but they changed from "when" to "if" Garza pitches as well as usual.
Garza returns to form
Matt Garza is back. He made an immediate impact when he threw five shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his season debut on May 21. He roller-coasted for a few starts while he built his endurance and arm strength. His last two outings (June 16 and 21) lasted seven and eight innings respectively, and he allowed one run total. Set aside the fact that he pitched to the Mets and Astros; he threw great and has no issues with either recent injury. Rumors have returned from "if" status to "when" status.
Why the Cubs should keep Garza
This Cub fan understands team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer's rebuilding plans and the need to build a strong Minor League system. I also understand that it will take a few years for the Cubs to field a winning team again. However, Epstein should reconsider his plans for Garza and sign him for another year or two.
Starting pitching is not the Cubs' problem. The rotation of Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, and Scott Feldman is quite good. The Cubs' starters are 7th in the National League in ERA at 3.76 as of June 22. That includes Jackson's very rough start before his recent success. Samardzija (4-7, 3.35) and Wood (5-6, 2.85) are mainstays, and Jackson (3-9, 5.49) signed a four-year deal, so they are going nowhere. Feldman (6-6, 3.39) is also a big trade rumor and will likely go right around the deadline.
The problems lie in the offense and bullpen. The Cubs' offense averages 3.9 runs per game, but they are hitting .239. That drops to .223 with runners in scoring position. Among batting title qualifiers, the top average is Anthony Rizzo's .245.
The Cubs have answered some of the offensive questions in the Minor Leagues with the recent additions of Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant, the 2013 top college hitting prospect in the country. These players join highly-touted Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters as the future offense in Wrigley Field along with Rizzo and Starlin Castro.
What Garza can bring
Undoubtedly, Matt Garza could bring top prospects back to the Cubs. However, he currently gives the Cubs something else that they desperately need: veteran presence and postseason experience. Garza has pitched in the World Series (2008) and other pennant races with the Tampa Bay Rays. He has the experience and the leadership that the Cubs need, especially on the mound. He typically goes deep into games, which saves the bullpen. The Cubs' bullpen often needs saving. Now that he is fully recovered, he should resume eating up innings.
True, rebuilding involves trading veterans for prospects, and the Cubs have done a great job in retooling the farm system. Still, they will need that experienced veteran leadership that Matt Garza can offer. Most likely, Epstein and Hoyer will trade Garza, but they really should reconsider. The Chicago Cubs should keep Matt Garza.
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