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Chicago Cubs Acquire Matt Garza, Sparking Figurative Fan Riot

The Chicago Cubs are finalizing a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire right-handed starting pitcher Matt Garza. The North Siders are sending right-handed pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld, and catcher Robinson Chirinos to the Rays for Garza, 27-year-old outfielder Fernando Perez  and another, as of yet unnamed minor leaguer presumed by many to be a pitcher.

As a result of this deal, two large mobs of fans have converged and clashed on the streets outside Wrigley Field. (Not the real one. The figurative one. Bear with me.) One one side are those who herald the deal as the team's ticket to contending in the suddenly noteworthy NL Central. To them, Garza is the kind of hard-nosed battler that the Cubs lost when they traded southpaw Ted Lilly to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past season. And, coming from the elite AL East and having won 15 games just last season, the now-about-to-be-former-Rays hurler is a blockbuster addition to the embattled Cubs. (He'll also be a mere 27 years old on Opening Day and is under team control, though arbitration eligible, for three more seasons.)

On the other side are the prospect mavens and sabermagicians, who point out that, well, Garza isn't that good of a pitcher. Over the last three seasons, his ERA has been under 4.0 (which his fine), but:

  • His FIP and xFIP (stats that read like ERA but set aside defense and focus only on what a pitcher can control) have been over 4.0;
  • He doesn't have a strong career strikeout rate (7.10 K/9); and
  • He generally doesn't keep the ball on the ground (career 39.7% groundball rate), which could be a problem at Wrigley Field.

What the Cubs needed was a No. 1, top-of-the-rotation ace. What they got was another solid but not likely dominating middle-of-the-rotation starter to stand alongside Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano, not above them.

Plus, Cubs GM Jim Hendry gave up one of its top pitching prospects in the 22-year-old Archer along with the 20-year-old Lee, who could develop into a speedy lead-off-man-type with very strong defensive skills (though he's at least a couple of years from his MLB debut). Meanwhile, Chirinos profiles as a solid, young backup catcher and Guyer was the organization's minor league player of the year (though still probably a bench guy in the majors). "Hasn't the team's ownership been preaching developing from within? What happened to that?" these incensed fans cry. "Do we really think Garza is an equal counter-move to the acquisition of Cy Young Award-winner Zack Greinke by the Milwaukee Brewers?"

And so the battle rages. Quick-witted (or not so much) barbs are exchanged. Cars are overturned and set alight. Dogs and cats amble by, paw in paw.

As with all baseball trades, time will tell. If nothing else, assuming Garza stays healthy (something he's been very good at thus far), he should add a few wins to the Cubs' 2011 total. Will it be enough to get by the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and aforementioned Brew Crew? That seems doubtful. But it's early January, the Cubs convention is a few days away and we haven't even gotten to spring training yet. So let's be optimistic and say that things just got a little more interesting on the corner of Clark and Addison.