Newest Cub Garza excited for Wrigley debut

Newest Cub Garza excited for Wrigley debut

Newest Cub Garza excited for Wrigley debut
CHICAGO -- When the offseason began, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry had three issues to address: Find a first baseman, an experienced right-handed reliever and an innings-eating starter.

On Saturday, he took care of No. 3, and in the process, may have found a new No. 1.

The Cubs bolstered their rotation by acquiring right-hander Matt Garza in an eight-player deal which sends the organization's 2010 Pitcher of the Year Chris Archer and highly touted shortstop Hak-Ju Lee to the Rays.

Besides Archer and Lee, Tampa Bay gets outfielder Brandon Guyer, who was the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year in 2010, catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfielder Sam Fuld.

"It's just a good, old-fashioned baseball trade that doesn't often get made with the volume of people involved and for the right reasons for both organizations," Hendry said.

Garza, 27, was the American League Championship Series MVP in 2008 and is coming off a career-high 15-win season. He joins a rotation of Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva.

Zambrano has made six straight Opening Day starts for the Cubs, but there's no guarantee he'll be on the mound April 1 despite finishing 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 games. He's got some competition now as Garza could bump Big Z as the ace of the staff.

"You have a guy who we feel is in the prime of his career," Hendry said. "He's pitched in arguably the toughest division in baseball. ... He's pitched at the highest level and on the biggest stage and seems to have liked that part of the action. From our work done with other people who have played with him, coached him in the past, this is a guy who wanted to pitch against the Yankees and the Red Sox. He wanted the challenge.

"I want him to just keep improving and keep doing what he's been doing. Let's hope he's got another LCS MVP in him down the road."

Garza also isn't afraid to show his emotions, just like Zambrano, but he says it's just his passion for the game.

"To wake up every morning and go to the ballyard, and that's my job -- that's awesome," Garza said. "My 8-year-old son plays this game, and if I can do the same thing he does and get paid for it, why not be happy every day and be excited and be in love with it?"

The newest Cubs pitcher has topped 200 innings each of the past two seasons, and he was 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA last year. On July 26, he threw the first no-hitter in Rays history. He held opponents to a .197 average with runners in scoring position, fourth lowest in the AL. He also gave up 28 homers, fourth most in the league. Garza may want to check the flags at Wrigley Field, where he has never pitched. He got his first peek in Friday.

"I had the pleasure of seeing it yesterday in its snow-covered glory," Garza said. "It was outstanding and I love it. As long as the dimensions are the same, I'll be all right."

The only matter still to be resolved is Garza's salary. He is arbitration-eligible for the second time and will get a raise from his $3.35 million pay in 2010. The other plus to acquiring Garza is that he will not be a free agent until after the 2013 season, which is why the price was so high.

Hendry said it's difficult to get a quality starting pitcher via trade and most teams have to shop among the free agents available.

"It isn't often that you can acquire a 27-year-old, topof-the-rotation type of guy who has three years left before he's a free agent in any kind of a trade," Hendry said. "Obviously, with that comes trading some significant young talent back."

Earlier this week, there were reports that the Cubs and Rays were close to a deal involving Garza, but both sides denied anything was imminent. That changed when the Rays told the Cubs that another team made an attractive offer. Hendry said he talked to Rays general manager Andrew Friedman every day except Christmas and New Year's for the past 30 days, and well before the Brewers added Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. The holdup was that the Cubs were reluctant to include Archer in the package.

Archer was attending the Rookie Career Development Program in Leesburg, Va., when he got the news and was told to report to Tampa for a physical.

"It's a little bittersweet, but at the end of the day, I know it's all a business and as a Minor Leaguer that's part of the business," Archer said Friday. "I understand that, and I'm just happy to be a part of the Rays now and I'll do my best to help that team be successful."

It's not his first trade. The Cubs acquired Archer from the Indians in December 2008 in the Mark DeRosa deal. The right-hander combined to go 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 28 games between Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee in 2010. On Oct. 12, he struck out 10 over six scoreless innings to help Team USA beat Cuba, 4-1, in the Pan American Qualifying Tournament in Puerto Rico.

"He's the type of kid who I'm sure aspires to be someone like Garza in a few years, and we hope it happens," Hendry said. "You're certainly not going to be able to acquire this kind of pitcher without putting in a few of your top guys. ... Chris certainly moved up the ladder to be one of our better people. The Rays had every right to expect someone like him coming back in the deal."

The Cubs feel they have pitching depth in the Minor League system with youngsters like Casey Coleman, Chris Carpenter and Trey McNutt. Archer, though, was considered the organization's No. 1 prospect.

Garza's transition should be smoother than most. He'll have former Rays teammate Carlos Pena at first base. In December, the Cubs signed the free agent to a one-year, $10 million deal, which addressed their biggest need in the infield. Hendry took care of the second item on his wish list when Kerry Wood said he'd come back at a hometown discount of $1.5 million. The last piece to add was a workhorse starter.

"Knowing that [Pena] is manning first base with that golden glove of his, and knowing he's going to give me the offense he usually provides, it'll be a lot of fun to watch and be a part of," Garza said.

The Cubs also would like to add more speed and may have taken care of that with the addition of outfielder Fernando Perez, 27, one of two Minor Leaguers from the Rays. He has batted .234 in 107 big league appearances. Perez hit .223 in 116 games last season at Triple-A, coming back from a wrist injury suffered in Spring Training 2009. Perez is a right-handed hitter, and also has options left. Fuld does not.

"I'm totally looking ahead," Perez told the St. Petersburg Times on Friday. "Who wouldn't want to play for the Cubs?"

Garza is excited about the opportunity, even though he's coming from a team that won the tough AL East with 96 wins. He's not bothered by the fact the Cubs, coming off a fifth-place finish in the National League Central, haven't won a World Series since 1908.

"Before the Rays won 96 games, they were in the cellar of the AL East," Garza said. "We just went in there with all positives. We went in there [and said], 'We're in for a dogfight, so let's go get them.' That's the same attitude I take year in and year out. It's going to be a dogfight no matter who you face. Our opponents are Major League ballplayers, so nothing is going to be handed to us.

"Right now, it's going to be a tough race, and let's see how we get ready and get it done. Why not?"

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.