Monday, January 10, 2011

Patiently rebuilding? Jim Hendry changes course

We interrupt this Bears playoff run to bring you some significant Cubs news. Jim Hendry claimed last fall that the Cubs were just 3-4 moves away from becoming a legitimate contender again in 2011. I don't think anyone this side of Ronnie Woo-Woo believed him, but Hendry has put his money (or rather, Ricketts's money) where his mouth is, adding Carlos Pena, Kerry Wood, and now completing a trade for Matt Garza.

Garza, 27, will be under team control for three years, and will be arbitration-eligible in all three of them (he's likely to make about $25-30 million during that time). He was a top prospect for the Twins before they shipped him to Tampa Bay in 2008, and he had his best season in 2010: 15-10, 3.91 ERA. In four full seasons, he's never had an ERA over four. He was also the 2008 ALCS MVP. Clearly the Cubs view him as a #1 or #2 starter.

So that's what the Cubs got, but what did they give up to get it? A lot, frankly:

Chris Archer--The Cubs' #1 prospect, acquired in the DeRosa trade, he was the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 2010 with a 2.34 ERA and 9.4 K/9

Hak-Ju Lee--#4 prospect, though he's a shortstop at low-level Single-A (and the Cubs have some guy named Castro at SS)

Brandon Guyer--#10 prospect, hit a very impressive .344/.398/.588 at Double-A last year to earn the Cubs' minor league player of the year honors

Robinson Chirinos--A 26-year-old catcher, he's stuck behind Soto. Had a .416 OBP and 18 HR last year, mostly at Triple-A

Sam Fuld

To recap, that's three top-10 prospects. As far as trade bait goes, Garza is clearly more of a Lexus than a Kia--he didn't come cheap. (The Cubs also picked up two minor league prospects from the Rays.)

I must say: As a Cubs fan, I was ready for a rebuilding year. The freakin' Reds won 91 games last year, the Cardinals figure to be just as strong this year, and the Brewers added some dude named Zack Greinke. The Cubs could have a lot of money coming off the books after 2011, including the contracts of guys like Ramirez, Silva and Fukudome. I was settled in for a year of low expectations, but apparently Hendry has different ideas.

The question is, does he truly believe they were one good starter away from competing? Or does he feel that, selfishly, he has no choice but to field a quality team this year just to save his own job? Is this about trying to vault the Cubs to the top of the standings, or about his own standing as GM when the dust clears in 2011?

I've said it here before and I'll say it again: it's impossible to analyze a trade involving minor leaguers at the time it happens. Even Bill James can't say for sure whether Chris Archer will one day be a top-flight closer, or if Lee would have eventually filled out a phenomenal middle infield for the Cubs. But Hendry better hope Garza turns into an ace, because a solid Cubs farm system just lost a lot of its luster. And in fairness to Hendry, this trade could turn into a good one even if Garza doesn't become what you'd call an "ace" until 2013. Mark Prior had an ace-like 2003, going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, and Zambrano has approached ace status, but for the most part the Cubs have lacked that anchor in their rotation for years.

Garza has been amazingly consistent with the Rays. His WHIP has "ranged" from 1.24 to 1.26 over the last three seasons, his ERA from 3.70 to 3.95, his games started from 30-33. He's that old CD you've listened to a million times, or that comfy hoodie you love to wear in the winter--you know exactly what you're getting.

EXCEPT that Garza was doing that in the AL East against teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. There is a fair amount of precedent revealing that pitchers can improve their performance by sliding over to the NL: guys like Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee and Javier Vazquez have become "better" simply by switching leagues.

Garza can be overly emotional at times (fitting that he has a "Z" in his name), but perhaps that will fade as he's moving toward the age of 30. Of course, that hasn't been the case with the Cubs' other guy with a "Z" in his name.

Garza's a good pitcher, but it's hard to believe that acquiring him makes the Cubs a World Series contender in '11; does it even make them a playoff team? You should probably only ship off three top-10 prospects when you're getting the real deal in return or making that one final move that puts your team over the top. I don't think that's the case here, which concerns me. It seemed like Ricketts and the Cubs had a long-term plan: stock the farm system, let the huge contracts expire, compete in 2012 or 2013. But all of a sudden Hendry pulled the trigger on a trade that shifts the focus to the present at the potential expense of the future. But again, at least Garza will be around for three years and not just one. If it's a win-now trade, I don't like it. As a win-soon trade? We'll have to wait and see.

Don't be surprised to see a couple Cubs starters show up on the hot stove given that the roster now includes Garza, Dempster, Zambrano, Wells, Gorzelanny and Silva. Perhaps Hendry will try to restock the farm system (at least partially; it's kind of like restocking the bar with one bottle of Jack after a full night of open bar) by trading away extra pieces with Garza now in the fold.

Hat tip: MLB Trade Rumors

No comments:

Post a Comment