January 07, 2011
In another year and in a different situation, there would be good reason for Chicago Cubs fans to be excited over this trade for Matt Garza(notes) that is reportedly pending. The Tampa Bay Rays right-hander solidifies the team's rotation, is under three more years of very affordable team control and has never posted an ERA over 4.00 in a full season of work. He's only 27 years old and a switch to the National League should improve his stats even more.
But there's a context to be read in every trade and that's why the initial reaction from any Cubs fans not named Andy Dolan has seemingly been skeptical at best, overwhelmingly negative at worst.
In exchange for Garza and two other players (Fernando Perez(notes) being one of them), the Cubs are reportedly sending Sam Fuld(notes) plus four prospects — pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, outfielder Brandon Guyer and catcher Robinson Chirinos — to Tampa Bay.
That's a lot to send away — BP's Kevin Goldstein has all four players ranked among the top 12 Cubs' prospects — though I'm personally fine with the concept that Garza wasn't going to come cheap and that part of the reason you build organizational depth is to trade it away for players like Garza. The Cubs were also able to hold onto better young studs like Starlin Castro(notes) (who's blocking Lee's path at Wrigley) and pitcher Andrew Cashner(notes).
My issue is this: Heading into 2011, the Cubs don't seem to be in a good position to compete for the NL Central title. They're a weird mix of overpaid veterans and promising youngsters and the consensus is that they'll likely finish behind the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals and maybe even the Houston Astros. (Sorry, Pittsburgh Pirates. It's hard to imagine things going so badly that they'll supplant you in the cellar.)
That outlook would seem to suggest the Cubs punting the next year or two while those contracts expire (or come mercifully closer to expiration in the case of Alfonso Soriano(notes)) and the farm system — the one the Ricketts family keeps citing as a reason to keep GM Jim Hendry around — starts bearing quality fruit at the corner of Clark and Addison.
This trade, though, makes the frightful suggestion that the Ricketts are looking at their upcoming Cubs Convention not selling out and interpreting that as a harbinger of a half-empty Wrigley Field this summer. Adding a pitcher the quality of Garza will certainly help prop those veterans up in 2011 and maybe they win a few more games than people are currently expecting. Maybe that translates into a few more tickets sold for the Ricketts' precious investment. Maybe that generates some more support for the Wrigley Field renovation plan that seems destined to spin its wheels for the foreseeable future.
But from my viewpoint, I would have rather the Cubs kept on the path of the first long-term plan that's been spotted on the North Side since Mark Grace was chain smoking in the minors. The continuation of that plan should have looked like this: Write off 2011, stock the prospect pool further by trying to move Carlos Zambrano(notes) and Aramis Ramirez(notes) near the trade deadline and sell, sell, sell the idea that these sacrifices will all pay off big dividends in the years ahead. (Yes, the Ricketts would have to rely on the summer tourist season to pay their bills, but there are lumps to take when taking over any business and pointing it in the right direction.)
Instead, they're bringing in a big Band-Aid in Matt Garza and you can be sure he'll be sold as such at next weekend's convention in downtown Chicago.
Thing is, the last 100-plus years should have showed us that the state of the Cubs' organization is way past the quick-fix stage. And while I once thought the Ricketts were committed to being patient while waiting for that much-needed cultural overhaul, my faith has been shaken — at least a little bit — by this trade.