At last check, rumor had it that the Chicago Cubs might be willing to hold onto Matt Garza through the trade deadline, even if they haven’t already signed him to an extension. That doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t trying to extend Garza, however, and those talks – according to Ken Rosenthal – continue to progress “very well”. (Rosenthal adds no more meaningful color than that, though.)
As we discuss the possible near-term outcomes of Matt Garza’s relationship with the Cubs, there is an important, related consideration that tags alongside any designs the Cubs might have on signing Garza to an extension:
Garza might not want to stay with the Cubs if he doesn’t feel like they are going to put a winner on the field when he’s still in his prime.
He’s never said such a thing, mind you, and it’s gone largely undiscussed in the media. But the argument that “money isn’t everything” cuts two ways. It might mean a guy would take a hometown discount and is worth locking up to a long-term deal at a friendly rate; but it also might mean a guy wants to be on a good team, and soon. And, without that good team in sight, no matter how much money is on the table, he might decide to go elsewhere as soon as he’s able.
To that end, Garza made some interesting comments about the emergence of his rotation-mate (and fellow 20-something starter), Jeff Samardzija.
“He pitched his tail off all last year,” Garza said of Samardzija, according to CSN. “He’s always wanted to be a starter. You put a prize like that in front of a guy like that, he’s going to go out and get it.
“Shoot, he was an All-American in football, a potential top-15 [NFL] pick. He ended up picking this sport and I’m pretty sure he’s happy he did. He’s throwing the crap out of the ball. He’s big, strong and can throw hard for nine-plus. That’s a bright future. He just keeps getting better.”
More to the point, when asked about a future rotation headlined by Samardzija and himself, Garza was hopeful and candid.
“Sounds scary to me,” Garza said. “Samardzija’s the type of guy where he craves the spotlight, and that’s what you need in October. You need a guy who’s not afraid to be out there, a guy who, when the lights are on, [isn’t all] deer in the headlights. You stand around him for minutes and it’s just confidence oozing out of him. For a guy like that to be in October, that’s even more fun to watch. That’s why I can’t wait to get there.”
Scary, indeed. And, to me, it sounds like a reason for Garza to stick around. The Cubs just need a few more Samardzija’s in the rotation, the bullpen, and the lineup.
So, what’s the upshot here? What am I driving at?
If the Cubs do wind up extending Matt Garza this year, it seems plausible that the front office will have had to make some promises to Garza to do so. Nothing binding, of course, but something along the lines of, “don’t worry, Matt, we plan to surround you with pieces that could take this team to the playoffs, and soon.” Some of those pieces will come in the form of continued development internally (Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, perhaps). But others will undoubtedly have to come from outside the organization.
The window of competitiveness, like “money isn’t everything,” also cuts two ways. It’s the time period when most of a team’s best players are playing at an age likely to represent their peak (and thus the team is most likely to make the playoffs); but it’s also the time period when a player sees his own best chance to make the playoffs. If the Cubs can’t convince Garza that their window of competitiveness is coming in the next few years, is Garza really going to be willing to devote his age 29, 30, and 31 seasons to rebuilding? No matter how much he might love Chicago, and no matter how much money the Cubs throw at him, I’m not sure he would.
In other words, an extension to Garza might signal the Cubs’ intentions this offseason (or, at the latest, next): they’re going to be adding quality pieces. It might signal that a three-plus year rebuild is not in the plans.