Call it the Chicago Cubs’ domino effect.
When one fellow like Matt Garza arrives, via a good trade that tapped into the increasing depth of the Cubs’ farm system, it ripples through the rest of the staff.
Garza has ace potential, for one. So Carlos Zambrano — and this is still banking on hope more than anything else — doesn’t have to try to overpower almost every hitter, as was his awry style prior to him getting some pitching religion after his anger-management counseling last summer and going 8-0 to finish 2011. Garza, a Big-Z-under-control and Ryan Dempster have the promise of a competitive Top 3 in the Cubs’ rotation.
And now, Andrew Cashner, likely ticketed for the rotation due to Kerry Wood’s return for setup duties, does not have to pitch like a No. 3 starter, which means good enough to win 13 to 15 games. Cashner now slides down to at least No. 4. The pressure is thus taken off the Texas flamethrower. He can grow into his job as a starter without needing to be a savior.
The grab-bag that looked to be the majority of the Cubs rotation prior to the Garza trade now has to fight for the final rotation spot, unless Cashner slips in esteem in spring training. This group consists of Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Casey Coleman.
If Cubs GM Jim Hendry wants to chance a rotation without a left-hander (like those all right-handed mid-1990s rotations led by Jaime Navarro and included the immortal Jim Bullinger and Frank Castillo), he can try to peddle Gorzelanny. A healthy, still-moderately-paid southpaw of his calibre is attractive on the market. My inclination is you always can use a left-hander in the rotation, so give Gorzelanny another shot.
Samardzija is under the gun now. The $10 million Notre Dame product is out of options this season. He has to make the Cubs out of spring training or be made available to other teams. Samardzija craves to start in his hometown. If this last-chance situation doesn’t put a burr underneath him, nothing will. But the former wide receiver must display better control than he showed last season, when progress as a starter in the minors still featured too many walks for comfort.
Wells and 2010 rookie Coleman are cut from the same cloth — right-handers who have to carefully locate to succeed. They’re fifth starters at best.
Under the gun, Hendry made a deal that can scarcely be criticized. The price would be infinitely higher to get Garza near to the July 31 trade deadline.
The Cubs haven’t rid themselves of deadweight contracts that are holding the franchise back over the next few years. But any progress is welcome, and Garza’s arrival is just that.