Moving Garza makes sense for Cubs

Rosenthal notes: If Chicago Cubs are trading Matt Garza, now is the time

The Cubs’ position on right-hander Matt Garza is the same as the White Sox’s position was on lefty John Danks.

We don’t need to trade him. We can wait until the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Or, we can sign him to an extension.

Well, OK. But if the Cubs are going to trade Garza, the time to do it is now — before he risks injury, and before the trade rumors he surely will hear in 2012 drive him nuts.

Garza, 28, is an excitable sort. The Yankees, sources say, have had past concerns about him handling New York. And friends say that he has been bothered by the recent trade speculation, given his desire to stay with the Cubs.

So, why don’t the Cubs just sign Garza to an extension? Because new club president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are alarmed by the team’s lack of minor-league talent, and trading Garza would bring more young players into the system.

The new collective-bargaining agreement will restrict teams from spending heavily in the draft or on international free agents. The Cubs already have traded right-hander Carlos Zambrano for righty Chris Volstad and lefty reliever Sean Marshall for lefty Travis Wood, outfielder Dave Sappelt and infielder Ronald Torreyes.

Garza, presumably, would bring the best return yet.

Then again, many teams already have made big moves for starting pitching. The free-agent and trade markets still offer numerous possibilities. Garza, who could earn $22 million to $25 million in his final two years of arbitration, might not command the kind of package that the Cubs envision.

Similar circumstances prompted the White Sox to shift course and sign Danks to a five-year, $65 million extension. Danks and Garza actually are quite comparable — their statistical profiles are so close, they are each other’s “most similar” pitcher according to baseball-reference.com. But there are differences between them, too.

Danks, 26, is left-handed, making him a rarer commodity. He also is about 1 1/2 years younger than Garza. And his extension arose in part due from two factors that the White Sox did not necessarily foresee at the start of the offseason:

• The changes in draft-pick compensation in the new CBA.

Starting next offseason, clubs will qualify for picks only if they make a one-year offer to their free agents at a number expected to be in the $12 million range.

The new stipulation diminished the trade value of Danks, who was eligible for free agency after next season. Danks’ new team, if he was injured or coming off a poor season, might not have wanted to offer him $12 million.

• Left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle did not receive landmark free-agent contracts.

Wilson’s deal (five years, $77.5 million) and Buehrle’s (four years, $58 million) likely lowered Danks’ expectations for what he might have gotten on the open market a year from now.

The White Sox are trying to assemble a new wave of young starting pitchers. They’ve got lefty Chris Sale and righty Zach Stewart. They traded for righties Nestor Molina and Simon Castro. They’re developing prospects such as Jacob Petricka, Erik Johnson and Hector Santiago.

The Cubs clearly have the same idea, and if Garza can bring them the right piece — someone like prized Tigers righty Jacob Turner, who sources say is available in the right deal — then Epstein and Hoyer shouldn’t hesitate to move.

Waiting entails risk. Waiting makes less sense.

 

THE MADSON MARKET: WHERE IS IT?

 

A year ago, agent Scott Boras appeared to have no market for free-agent right-hander Rafael Soriano when — voila! — the Yankees signed the reliever to a three-year, $35 million deal on Jan. 18.

Boras now looks just as boxed in with another free-agent reliever, right-hander Ryan Madson. The question is whether the agent can pull off one of his patented escapes.

The Angels seemingly have little interest in Madson; general manager Jerry Dipoto told several news outlets Thursday that it was unlikely the two sides would reach a deal. The Reds almost certainly would prefer a less expensive closer, someone like righty Francisco Cordero.

Perhaps a contender such as the Cardinals will see an opening and make a play for Madson. Perhaps Boras will visit his friendly neighborhood ATM in Washington, though there is no indication that the Nationals are interested.

In theory, a return to the Phillies as a setup man might be Madson’s best option. But such a move would require A) Madson to accept a demotion from his old team and B) Boras to negotiate with the club that put him in this position by signing closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Not likely.

Barring an unforeseen development, Boras’ best choice now might be wait until spring training to find the right deal, just as he did with Kenny Rogers in 2003 and Kyle Lohse in ’08.

By mid-March, one or more closers surely will be injured. Madson would not land the lucrative four-year contract that he discussed with the Phillies. But if he finds an attractive one-year deal — either now or in the spring — he could re-enter the market next offseason.

Madson likely would be the best closer available in 2012-13, as opposed to this offseason when he had competition from Papelbon, Heath Bell and others. The Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels and Dodgers are among the teams that could be looking for closers next offseason.

 

WHO’S ON FIRST? TEAMS WANT TO KNOW

 

First baseman Prince Fielder is the top remaining free agent, and the market still includes several lesser options at the position, including Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and Casey Kotchman.

Still, the demand for first basemen is significant enough that Lee, according to one executive, expects to land a full-time job. And Pena, coming off 28 homers, 80 RBI and an .819 OPS with the Cubs, also should be in good position.

The Rays, Indians, Pirates and Mariners are among the teams with varying needs at first. The Indians, who made a late bid for free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, could be an intriguing option for Pena.

Carlos Santana likely will play first for the Indians against left-handers; Santana’s backup at catcher, Lou Marson, hits right-handers well. Pena would be ideal against righties — he batted .255/.388/.504 against righties last season, but only .130/.260/.333 against lefties.

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