During the winter meetings I quipped to a couple of friends that the Cubs should find someone willing to take Carlos Zambranos contract and use the return and whatever else needed to trade for either James Shields or Matt Garza. The Yankees apparently had interest in Zambrano but nothing ever materialized and even if it did Carlos has a full no-trade clause in a contract more bloated than his waistline. However, this didn’t stop the Cubs from pursuing part two of my idea and dealing for Matt Garza. To the casual fan acquiring a pitcher of Garza’s caliber while not giving up any noteworthy big leaguer seems like a win, but a deeper look into the prospects shows the Cubs may have overpaid. While Garza immediately becomes the number one in Chicago he does not bring “ace” stuff to the mound consistently. A career ERA a shade under 4 to go along with good K and walk rates is nice, but the past two seasons Garza has ran into home run problems, allowing 28 and 25. And on a windy day Wrigley field is well known for making pitchers cry like little girls, though that could be the combination of Old Style and listening to Ronnie Woo Woo.
The Cubs dealt away some very big chips in the minor league system one of which was their #1 prospect, 22-year old right-hander Chris Archer. The starting pitcher posted a 2.34 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9, limiting opponents to 6.4 H/9. Some reports have Archer a year away from the majors and could emerge as a closer. Also headed to Tampa is the Cubs #4 prospect, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee. Trading Lee was even more curious to me as I heard rumors all winter about Starlin Castro potentially moving to second both because of his erratic defense and because of the highly touted Lee. In his first 2 seasons of pro ball Lee has a line of .299/.370/.375 with 57 steals. I personally got to watch him play a bit in Peoria with the Chiefs and was able to see him make some very tough defensive plays. With Jason Bartlett headed to San Diego Lee becomes even more valuable as a top SS in the Rays system.
The package also included 25 year old Brandon Guyer, who posted a .344/.398/.588 line in 410 plate appearances at Double-A last year and Robinson Chirinos. Chirinos, who turns 27 this month, has infield experience, but has primarily been a catcher in 2009-10. He hit .326/.416/.583 with 18 home runs in the upper minors last year. At 27 he has surpassed “top prospect” status, but the Rays aren’t exactly catcher-heavy in their system. The essentially irrelevant piece going to the Rays is scrappy(have to say it, he’s a small white guy) outfielder Sam Fuld.
Now with a deal like this it’s always going to be impossible early on to tell which side is going to benefit more. In the short term the answer will obviously be the Cubs barring some monumental, dare I say, Cubs-esque collapse of Matt Garza. But in the long run it’s entirely possible that th Rays could see more return on this trade than the Royals will for Zack Greinke. To me, more and more this seems like a deal the Cubs would make if they were a piece or two away from really competing, which they aren’t. The Cubs have a lot of holes, a lot of bad contracts and a lot of uncertainty. This deal brings an anchor to a patchwork rotation(Dempster, Zambrano, Wells, Gorzelanny, Silva?) but is Matt Garza worth the 1, 4 and 6 prospect in the organization if the team is still at the very least 1-2 years away from competing? The Cubs will make it interesting as they have been in the last decade and only time will tell if this move will really pay off. If I have to say one way or another I give a nod to Tampa. The Rays dealt from a position of strength and surplus, re-stocked an already powerful farm system and trimmed payroll. Tampa’s rotation is already strong enough that Jeremy Hellickson shouldn’t feel much added pressure in taking Garza’s empty spot and Garza is set to get a raise heading into another round of arbitration. The only thing for certain is that the NL central has gotten a bit tougher this off-season.