By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Guys who can pitch like Matt Garza don’t grow on trees.
Neither do guys who can pitch like Jeff Samardzija.
So, why is it then that one guy is widely considered to be part of the Chicago Cubs’ so-called “core,” while the other is widely considered to be nothing more than trade bait?
On Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field, the streaking Garza handcuffed the struggling White Sox, allowing two runs, only one earned, over seven innings, while picking up the victory in the Cubs 8-2 win.
With that performance, Garza pushed his record to 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA over his past five starts and 5-1 overall with a 3.22 ERA since missing the first seven weeks while recovering from a strained lat muscle. Those impressive numbers have made Garza the most desirable starting pitcher on the supposed trading block, but hadn’t seemed to make him any more desirable to his own team – until Monday afternoon, perhaps.
That was when Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com broke the news that the Cubs are now considering a contract extension with Garza rather than trading him for prospects. Considering Garza’s age (29), his pitching ability (see those numbers above), and the dearth of top-line starting pitching both in the Cubs’ farm system and on the projected free-agent market, extending Garza is a move that I wholeheartedly endorse.
After all, as I’ve argued with friends on Facebook and Twitter over the past week, isn’t the best that the Cubs could honestly hope to get in return for Matt Garza another “Matt Garza”?
And that’s if they’re lucky.
We all understand, of course, what Theo Epstein & Co. are doing on the North Side of Chicago, where Wrigley Field isn’t the only reconstruction project on the franchise agenda. But at some point, the Cubs really do need to start building an actual team rather than just staging an annual halfway house. And from my vantage point, Garza is a proven guy who you should be using as a building block instead of just dangling out there as yet another trading chip.
That goes double if you consider Samardzija to be a building block, which most Cubs fans seem to do. After all, consider this: Matt Garza is just 29 years old, and won’t turn 30 until Nov. 26. In his eight-year career, he’s 62-62 with a 3.80 ERA and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings compared to 3.0 walks.
Samardzija, on the other hand, is 28 years old (his Jan. 23 birthday makes him only 14 months younger than Garza). In his six-year career, he’s 26-30 with a 3.96 ERA – including 5-8 and 3.54 this season – to go along with 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings compared to 3.8 walks.
Those numbers are pretty similar with the biggest difference, of course, being durability as Samardzija hasn’t battled injuries like Garza, who has spent time on the disabled list during each of the past three seasons with the Cubs. None of Garza’s maladies have been considered serious, however, and right now he’s throwing free and easy, not to mention about as well as any pitcher in the game.
Samardzija is currently signed through 2016 and I’d like to see the Cubs do the same with Garza, who told the Chicago Tribune on Monday, “I like being a Cub. I want to win. I want to get this team back to October and win it here. Like I said before, it’d be one hell of a party.”
After fellow starting pitcher Scott Feldman was traded last week, Samardzija said about the Garza trade rumors, “Well, I definitely don’t want to see all my boys traded, that’s for sure. That wouldn’t be the coolest thing in the world, especially when we feel we’re not too far away from being a pretty darn good team. We’ll see how this all turns out by July 31 and then go from there.”
I’d like to see where the Cubs could go with 28-year-old Samardzija, 29-year-old Garza and 26-year-old Travis Wood (5-6, 2.69 ERA) forming the core of the Cubs’ starting staff for 2014 and beyond. That would start to create some kind of stability for a team that’s shown fans nothing but instability for the past three seasons.
Often as the Cubs undergo their massive and painful overhaul, I hear the refrain from fans that the “the pitching will be there” when “the Cubs are ready to compete.” I honestly don’t even know what that phrase means, though, considering how the Cubs will never “be ready to compete” without good pitching. And that pitching absolutely won’t just “be there” unless the Cubs find ways to acquire it.
Or keep it.
As we saw last winter with the Cubs’ failed free-agent pursuit of Anibel Sanchez and the botched trade of Carlos Marmol for Dan Haren, getting good pitching isn’t nearly as easy as some people want to pretend it to be. The Cubs have a very good pitcher right now with Matt Garza, and it sounds like he’s a guy who would like to stick around as he enters his prime.
I say make it happen, Cubs. Because it’s time to start actually building a pitching staff and not just constantly rebuilding one.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.