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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Cubs camp report: Garza proving to be a perfect fit in Chicago


MESA, Ariz. -- Matt Garza is bouncing around the clubhouse. Matt Garza is bouncing around the practice fields.

"He's almost more wired than I am," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "Which to me is a great thing."

Chicago Cubs
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Matt Garza is sitting in front of his locker, locked in on a Simpsons episode on his iPad, getting ready for his first appearance in a Cubs uniform.

"Look at him," teammate Fernando Perez said. "He's loose. He's fun."

He's wired, but he's also loose.

And right now, whatever Matt Garza is, it looks awfully good to the Cubs.

The way they see it, there weren't many big-time starting pitchers who changed teams last winter.

There was Cliff Lee, sure, but he was way too expensive for their budget. There was Zack Greinke, yes, but they didn't see him as a fit and never even made a phone call.

Then there was Garza, the only guy the Cubs really wanted. There was Garza, who Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was so desperate to acquire that he said he phoned Tampa Bay counterpart Andrew Friedman just about every day for a month.

"I've never worked on a trade longer," Hendry said. "I didn't have a Plan B that was even close."

The way Hendry sees it, he got a pitcher who is going to be a 15-game winner (as Garza was for the Rays in 2010) just about every year, one who is going to win 20 one of these years.

The way he sees it, by adding Garza to Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano, he now has a top of the rotation the Cubs can win with.

Fantasy Writer

Sleeper ... Randy Wells: Even though Wells didn't pitch quite a full season in his rookie year in 2009, he finished a surprisingly robust 55th among all starting pitchers in Fantasy points. Last season, despite getting 32 starts, Wells fell to 80th in the rankings. The righty may have overperformed in '09, but his value was hurt last season by an 8-14 record. Only 10 qualifying starting pitchers received less run support than Wells in that disappointing campaign. Look for him to lower his ERA and WHIP slightly and to get his record back to around .500, making him a relevant hurler in standard mixed leagues again.

Bust ... Blake DeWitt: As a minor leaguer, DeWitt showed good contact skills a decent amount of pop for a middle infielder, but as a major leaguer, neither of those skills has been in evidence. The 25-year-old DeWitt could still grow into being a better contact hitter, but there are reasons to suspect his power. His Triple-A stats were compiled in good hitting environments in the Pacific Coast League. He did hit 13 doubles and six home runs in only 178 at-bats at Double-A Jacksonville back in 2007, but he was repeating that level, not to mention that we're looking at a small sample. After a much larger sample of 857 major league at-bats, it's getting harder to expect DeWitt to become even a 15-homer threat. Even if he can get his batting average out of the .260s, DeWitt's bat is not one to roster outside of NL-only leagues.

Bounce-back player ... Carlos Pena: With a batting average that has dropped steadily from .282 to .196 over the last three seasons, it's hard not to be skeptical about Pena's chances for a comeback season in 2011. However, his power is still as evident as ever, as his home run per flyball rate of 20 percent was just one percentage point lower than his 2009 rate. His homer output dropped from 39 to 28, however, because of a growing tendency to hit grounders. Not only did this rob Pena of precious long balls, but it was an unfortunate trend for someone who has hit below .200 on ground balls in three of the last four seasons. Expecting a return to his .282-46-121 line from 2007 is not advisable, but he could pay off as a late-round grab in mixed league formats.

-- Al Melchior
Cubs outlook | Depth Chart | 2011 Draft Prep

And if you tell him that he also has a couple of interesting personalities in Garza and Big Z, two guys who might be a lot to handle for a pitching coach, he'll tell you that you're worrying about the wrong thing.

"I'll take a guy you have to calm down a little over a guy you've got to jump-start," Hendry said.

And Zambrano, who had enough trouble last year that the Cubs forced him to undergo anger management counseling ("I'm cured," Zambrano declared this spring)?

"Ninety percent of the time, he's not only a good pitcher, but a good citizen," Hendry said. "Deep down, he's a good guy."

For all Zambrano's issues, he's also a three-time All-Star who received Cy Young Award votes in three different seasons. Add in Dempster, a steady pitcher who is 43-27 over the last three seasons, and Garza, and maybe the Cubs do have the makings of a rotation we should pay attention to.

"Everyone's been talking about the Brewers rotation," Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd said. "But ours, 1-2-3, that's going to be tough to beat."

It's funny with the Cubs, how we tend to go so far one way or the other. When they won 97 games in 2008, this was the team that was going to break the jinx. When they lost 87 games last year, this was a team with no chance of winning.

Now, we look at the Cubs and see bad contracts -- they still owe Alfonso Soriano another $72 million! -- and we forget that there's enough talent that maybe this team could win.

And if they do win, it could well be that landing Garza was the key move.

"I was thrilled, dude," said Carlos Pena, another ex-Ray who signed with the Cubs as a free agent a month before the Garza deal. "I know what he brings. And the thing is, we haven't seen the best of Matt. We haven't even seen the best of Matt Garza.

"There's still more to see."

What we've seen is a guy who already dominated an American League Championship Series, including that brilliant Game 7 against the Red Sox. We've seen a guy who just turned 27 but has already thrown a no-hitter.

We've also seen a guy who has already been traded twice.

There's no doubt that money played a big part in this last deal, because Garza's salary jumped to $5.95 million this year and the Rays had a cheap replacement ready in Jeremy Hellickson.

"I knew it was going to happen," Garza said, with no complaints.

The Cubs will tell you that they gave up a lot to get him, and that the Rays scouted their farm system well and asked for the right guys. They'll tell you that they had to give up what they did, because they were sure other teams were prepared to pay as much.

But they'll also tell you that this was the guy they needed, because they'll have him under control for at least three years, and because of what they think he can do.

"We think he's the right guy," Hendry said. "He likes the action."

He does like the action. And before he pitches, he likes to watch The Simpsons.

"He's not going to watch Braveheart before a baseball game," Perez said. "He doesn't need it."

Whatever he watches, it's fine with the Cubs.

Right now, Matt Garza looks awfully good to them.


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