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Cubs intend to try again to extend Garza before entertaining any trades

The Cubs plan to make another attempt to sign star righthander Matt Garza to a long-term contract before entertaining any trade offers, people involved in the situation say. Lines of communication are said to be open, although the sides aren't currently engaged in extension talks.

People close to Garza still wouldn't be shocked if he wound up being traded at the deadline this summer. But the Cubs' far and away first choice remains to keep him long-term.

The better move is to give a Garza extension a decent shot first. "They should trade (Ryan) Dempster and keep Garza,'' one competing National League executive said. "Going forward, Garza and Jeff Samardzija should be a pretty good 1-2 punch.''

Dempster is the one who makes more sense to trade, as he is 35 and in the last year of his contract. Though, with his $14-million salary, the Cubs couldn't expect in terms of prospects a lot in return, unless they absorbed part of his salary. However, Dempster is helping his trade value with his terrific start, as he has a 0.95 ERA through five starts, despite an undeserved 0-1 record.

Garza, only 28, could easily fit into the Cubs' rebuilding plan. But there may still be a temptation to trade Garza, as many teams should have interest in any top-of-the-rotation starter that becomes available, and the Cubs are unlikely to contend this year or next, before Garza's eligible for free agency after the 2013 season.

It's too early to predict which teams would show interest, but several have inquired since he's become a Cub and it's a guarantee many will try before the trade deadline if he remains unsigned. He is 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in his second season on the North Side after coming in a trade from the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the few teams that could afford to trade such a talented starter.

The N.L. executive said he believes the Cubs are serious about extending Garza judging by the high price tag they've sought in trade talks in the past. That's only a guess, but it's a near-certainty the Cubs will try the extension route first, at least.

The Cubs' greatest weakness in a shallow system is in the pitching department, so a trade of Garza would at least require bona fide pitching prospects in return. There is an immense "gap'' in pitching in their farm system, one competing executive said. Samardzija has been a pleasant surprise as a starter this year, as he's carried his 87-97 mph velocity into the late innings so far, so the decision to move him from the bullpen seems prescient so far.

In terms of a contract, a fair try for Garza would be about $80 million over five years. That was the number I first figured, and my contract expert independently gave that very figure as well.

The number has to be higher than the $65 million the crosstown White Sox gave to John Danks over five years. One comp would seem to be the $77.5 million the Angels gave to C.J. Wilson, a free agent who turned down $99 million from the Marlins.

Matt Cain recently signed for $112.5 million over five years, but he is more consistent than Garza, throws more innings and helped the Giants win a World Series. Garza is close to Cain in some ways, but he has never thrown more than 204 innings and Cain has consistently been in the 217 to 223 range.

The N.L. executive said, "Pitchers who can fit at the top of a rotation aren't easy to get.'' While that reality would justify a high asking price on the trade front, it also means that trading Garza would carry a major risk.


 

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