JR: Bruce, I'm thinking about the long-term implications of Garza's return more than the short-term. It's not like the starting staff has been bad and they're in need of a huge boost from him, although the timing is pretty good for his return considering Carlos Villanueva has been trending the wrong way. Incidentally I wonder if Villanueva can be a 30-game starter in this league anyway. The mental toll it could take on him seems more intense than the physical. He knows he's overmatched in terms of pure talent so he relies on film study and mental preparation. I see him relaxing some in the bullpen, then if called upon to start again, he might be refreshed. I could be wrong but I think it's a good break for Villanueva. Anyway, Garza's value to the team will be felt later rather than sooner. I just don't see him being dominant right away, but if he does progress then two things happen: Just when some Cubs' arms might be tiring he should be fresh enough -- and perhaps peaking -- to make a difference and his trade value will skyrocket. But the first question is, will we see the old Garza -- the one who has never had an ERA above 4.00 since breaking in -- and if so how long do you think it will take?
BL: Jesse, there are numerous positives coming out of a Garza return. First and foremost he should take a tremendous amount of pressure off Jeff Samardzjia and Edwin Jackson. Although Garza has true No. 1 starter stuff, he has not pitched deep enough into games to be looked at as a No. 1 on a playoff-contending club. I believe if he stays healthy the Cubs will offer him a short-term extension that could be a plus for both sides. Garza could rebuild his resume and at the same time help the Cubs retain some quality innings-eating starters. Holding onto 200 inning-plus starters without breaking the bank is a key for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer while they build the farm system.
JR: I like the way you're thinking but will Garza accept a short-term deal if he pitches really well? When asked about it he's repeatedly said he just "needs to be pitching again" so to go from that to asking for a huge contract seems like a stretch. Then again the 29-year-old Garza is getting near that age where he has one big deal left in him. It sounds like the Cubs are more open to keeping him around than they were a year ago considering how few quality free-agent pitchers are actually getting to the market. And call me crazy but sometimes you're closer to contending than you might think. A .477 win percentage has the Philadelphia Phillies five games out of the wild card as of Monday. Keeping Garza around for as long as possible makes sense financially and might get the Cubs closer to a taste of some wild-card contention in a year. If he's good that is.
BL: Jesse, starting pitching is everything in the game today. The Giants aren't a sexy team to follow, yet they have won two of the last three World Series. Epstein and Hoyer get it. Why do you think they offered Anibal Sanchez close to $80 million before settling on Jackson? With a healthy Garza (mind and body), Samardzjia, Wood and the No. 2 pick in the draft (Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray), the Cubs can be the next dominant pitching rotation by 2014. Sound crazy? Maybe, but consider how the Giants have won without superstar position players. After that scenario is played out, Tom Ricketts and Crane Kenney must open up the baseball revenue stream to allow the front office to fill in a bullpen of 95 mph-plus arms.
JR: I absolutely agree and that's why I've written and said maybe the success of the starting staff this season has advanced -- and even changed -- their plan. Maybe not to be that 10-year contender but at least to get a little closer to contending for something. How do we know Scott Feldman should be flipped at the deadline and not re-signed? How do we know Kevin Gregg hasn't regained his stuff and might have a few years left? Time will tell I suppose, but the point is I think the first two months of this season have changed their thinking at least a little bit. Or at least it should.
BL: Jesse, let's not start singing "Go Cubs Go" yet. The grunt work has just begun. Feldman and Gregg are just present pieces to the puzzle. A bullpen of big arms -- and I mean really big arms -- will be needed to make a 15-year run of contention like the New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves. This type of model is similar to the Tampa Rays' run with one major difference. Epstein and Hoyer should have the type of payroll Rays GM Andrew Friedman can only dream of. Spending wisely and building a power arm-based rotation and minor league system might take five to seven more years to hammer down. All of that said, a wild-card berth or two could come quickly if the moves such as signing Garza or trading him for a stud or two occur over the next two months.