Just as trade talks surrounding the Chicago Cubs' Matt Garza appeared to be intensifying with each of his last five impressive and injury-free starts, news broke that the two sides had spoken about a contract extension with the 29-year-old right-hander even saying that there was a 50-50 chance of it happening.
As Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports suggests, however, the possibility of a contract extension gives the Cubs leverage in trade talks by indicating that they are not trying to unload him for any health or performance-related reason. So despite a trade being much more likely to happen, any rumors floating around regarding a contract extension work in the Cubs' favor, and they'll gladly allow that potential opportunity to remain floating around.
While many of the reports acknowledged that it was a long shot—Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times says they've made very little progress on a contract extension—it's not out of the question that the Cubs would possibly go this route if a team doesn't meet their asking price, which is assumed to be very high.
The worst thing that can happen by not trading Garza before the July 31 deadline is that he signs with another club in the offseason after turning down the Cubs' qualifying offer for arbitration, which would net them a compensatory draft pick. In trading him now, the goal would be to net something that they believe would be more valuable than the draft pick.
In a best-case scenario, a team in desperate need of an impact starter offers up a top prospect as the Giants did when they sent Zack Wheeler to the Mets for two months of Carlos Beltran in 2011. The best offer is probably not on the table right now, which is why the Cubs might want to wait just a bit longer and hope they can get a Wheeler-like elite prospect in return.
Signing Garza long-term now and getting a head start on the offseason, which will include finding at least one more starting pitcher to go along with Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson, wouldn't be a bad thing. There's no guarantee that Garza returns after ending the season with another team that will have exclusive negotiating rights prior to the opening of free agency in November. And signing a free agent whom they weren't all that familiar with to a long-term deal didn't exactly work out this year. Right, Edwin Jackson?
When Theo Epstein took over as team president prior to the 2011 season, most people understood that it would likely take a couple of years to build the Cubs into perennial pennant contenders. I'm guessing a huge percentage of those folks weren't expecting more than two bad years. Things could get ugly in Chi-Town if the Cubbies are bad again next season.
As a result, maximizing what is likely to be the team's last shot at a rebuilding move has to be the top priority because there will certainly be a "win-now" focus next offseason as they head into the third year of the Epstein regime.
It should be noted that the young talent in the Cubs' farm system is on the rise with four elite prospects waiting in the wings. After agreeing to a $6.7 million contract Wednesday, per of the Chicago Tribune, first-round draft pick Kris Bryant, a power-hitting third baseman/outfielder, joins shortstop Javier Baez and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler as young players who have the potential to be impact players in the big leagues within a few years.
While 2014 won't be that year for their best prospects to arrive, the Cubs certainly appear to have a bright future. Aside from the four aforementioned elite prospects, however, the farm system lacks depth. Trading Garza for more young talent would put the organization in an even better position to build a championship-caliber team from 2015 and beyond.
Now for a best-case prediction that really isn't beyond the realm of possibility.
Garza traded to Arizona for 3B Matt Davidson and RHP Randall Delgado; returns in the offseason on a five-year, $90 million deal.
According to reports at the time, Delgado was nearly acquired last July, but Ryan Dempster may have exercised his no-trade clause to nix a deal with the Braves. Instead, Atlanta traded Delgado to the Diamondbacks this winter in the Justin Upton deal.
The 23-year-old, who has a 3.48 ERA in five starts with four walks and 25 strikeouts in 31 innings this season, would be penciled into the back of the Cubs rotation.
In Davidson, the Cubs would have a potential starting third baseman in 2014. He's no sure thing, however, but he's hitting .288 with 12 homers and 24 doubles in Triple-A. The 22-year-old, who was ranked as Arizona's fourth-best prospect coming into the season by Baseball Prospectus, doesn't have any plus tools, but he has average skills across the board and projects as a solid big league regular.
If he can give them some stability, they could move Luis Valbuena to second base or a utility role and not have to worry much about finding a third baseman in what could be a very weak free-agent market.
Garza's return would then set up the Cubs to have a rotation that looks like this...
- RHP Matt Garza
- RHP Jeff Samardzija
- LHP Travis Wood
- RHP Edwin Jackson
- RHP Randall Delgado