Three big pitchers have changed teams this winter. Two of them have landed in the National League Central.
First Zack Greinke went to the Brewers. Now the Cubs have acquired Matt Garza, in a deal that was widely reported (including here) on Friday and announced late Saturday afternoon.
The price for Garza was high in terms of prospects, and that's why trading him suits the Rays in an offseason where they've already lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and their entire bullpen. The Rays need to build towards the next time they can seriously challenge the Red Sox and Yankees in the American League East, and that time is unlikely to be 2011.
The Cubs, on the other hand, are trying to win now.
Adding Garza to a rotation that includes Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster turns the Cubs into a serious contender in the Central, along with the Greinke-fortified Brewers, the defending division champion Reds and the always-involved Cardinals.
To get Garza, the Cubs sent pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld and catcher Robinson Chirinos to the Rays. The Cubs get Garza, and also outfielder Fernando Perez and pitcher Zachary Rosscup.
The Cubs have been searching all winter for a top starting pitcher, but there just haven't been many available. Cliff Lee left the Rangers to sign with the Phillies, and Greinke was traded from the Royals to the Brewers, but there wasn't much else there.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry said as much in the Cubs' press release announcing the deal.
"It's not every day a premier and proven big-game pitcher entering his prime becomes available," Hendry said. "It is impossible to acquire a pitcher of Matt's caliber and not give up some quality talent."
Baseball America recently ranked Archer, a 22-year-old right-hander, as the top prospect in the Cubs system, comparing him to ex-Rays right-hander Edwin Jackson. The newspaper also ranked Lee fourth and Guyer 10th.
At his best, the 27-year-old Garza can be one of the top pitchers in the game. His Game 7 win over the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series sent the Rays to the World Series and earned him ALCS Most Valuable Player honors. Then, in 2010, Garza pitched the only no-hitter in Rays history.
Garza was a 15-game winner in 2010, and the move out of the AL East and into the NL Central could make him even better as a Cub.
Or maybe the NL Central is on its way to becoming on of baseball's glamor divisions, too.