CHICAGO – Cubs right-hander Matt Garza has the tools of a No. 1 pitcher.
He mixes four pitches with a fastball that consistently hits 93 mph and typically displays good command while his on-field demeanor suggests Garza isn’t someone you want to mess with. Garza’s loud personality makes him hard to not notice in the clubhouse, and he loves pitching in important games.
Yet for all the positives, the Cubs need to trade Garza, who turns 30 in November, as soon as possible. Whether that happens today or minutes before the July 31 trade deadline, the Cubs must accept the best offer, which should include at least one legit big league prospect. Multiple reports Monday indicated the Cubs re-engaged in discussions for a contract extension with Garza, a free agent after this season.
But locking up Garza on a long-term deal, potentially in the five-year, $80 million range only makes sense if the Cubs are going to be playoff contenders within the next two years. That doesn’t seem likely based on this season’s performance. Plus, their most recent starting pitching contract – four years, $52 million for Edwin Jackson – hasn’t panned out.
Theo Epstein and Co., do the right thing. Ship Garza out of town for a package of prospects. His value can’t get much higher after holding the White Sox to one earned run on five hits in seven innings. In his past five starts, Garza has posted a 0.97 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 37 innings.
“Needless to say, he’s been a popular name and a guy we’ve gotten a lot of phone calls on,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of Garza. “I think he’s opened a lot of eyes the way he’s thrown the last four, five times out.”
The Cubs need leadership from their veterans, guys who will set a good example for the younger ballplayers coming up through the system.
But a leader doesn’t call out a young teammate, in this case catcher Welington Castillo, after a bad outing in which the starting pitcher, Garza, surrendered nine earned runs.
After that June 11 debacle against the Reds, Garza was questioned about his outing and asked, “Are you still getting your feet wet, getting into a groove from coming off the DL?”
Garza could have responded that he was fine or give any of the go-to clichés athletes have ready for almost any question. Instead, Garza began his answer by saying, “I haven’t thrown to [Castillo].”
“That’s what spring training’s for so [Castillo] kind of gets the feel of me, I get the feel of him,” Garza continued. “I think that’s what we’re trying to do right now just feel each other out. It’s tough. But being in this game for as many seasons as I have, I need to take control and I need to kind of guide him through it. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. It lies on my shoulders and get ready in five days to try and get it right.”
Castillo never had the chance to get it right five days later. In Garza’s five starts since the worst outing in his career, including Monday against the White Sox, Dioner Navarro has been the starting catcher. While Garza and Navarro have a history dating to their three seasons together with the Rays, Castillo has worked with Garza during past spring trainings.
Manager Dale Sveum has refused to label Navarro as Garza’s personal catcher, though Castillo said “we all know that’s the way it is.”
“Honestly, I feel bad,” Castillo told the Northwest Herald on Monday. “ … I want to catch everybody, but at the same time stuff happens. “
Although Castillo said he hasn’t had many conversations with Garza since his June 11 post-game comments beyond normal interaction, he’s pulling for his teammate to throw a no hitter every time he steps on the mound. The Cubs sure could use that same maturity from Garza, which has been lacking over the course of his three seasons on the North Side.
It’s time for Garza to act like an ace, on and off the field – in a different uniform.
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.