- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer completed their first organizational meetings on Thursday and now begin spring training with a re- shuffled group of players for the 2012 season.
The major issue is to resolve the Matt Garza contract status debate. The Cubs must try to sign the pitcher to a long-term deal before the season begins . If a four-year or five-year deal that averages around $12 million per year cannot be reached the Cubs must deal the team's most talented starter before August 1. Garza is under contract through October, 2013. At that point he can declare free agent status.
Garza said Friday he and his agent are on top of the situation, but there was nothing to report.
The reasons the team must sign or trade the pitcher are two-fold. With a young team, you must have your lead pitcher under contract control in the years ahead when the club is ready to compete for a championship. If not, then you must move him for three or four top prospects from a contending team. As soon as the Yankees or Angels lose a starter to injury the Cubs will be able to demand top talent in return for Garza.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer was vague about when the team would begin discussing an extension with Garza.
"We’ll keep the long-term stuff internal," Hoyer told media members of a possible Garza deal during a news conference at the team's spring training headquarters on Saturday. "But at some point I think we’ll probably have to have some conversations. We focused really hard on getting the one year number done a few weeks ago. We didn’t have any kind of long-term discussions before that, but certainly there was some dialogue about possibly having some long-term discussions at some point maybe this spring.
"When we do it, we’ll keep it quiet and hopefully their side will too. Because I think contacts are better negotiated that way. But I think we probably will sit down and talk."
Garza is the only power pitcher the team has to offer other then Ryan Dempster, who will be a free agent after 2012. A John Danks-like contract (five years, $65 million) will be what it takes to get the 28-year-old ace under contract control.
Hoyer recently appeared on the "Carmen, Jurko & Harry Show" on ESPN 1000 and said the team needs more guys like Garza.
"It was a long (arbitration) process, but we talked to Matt a number of times since and we're happy we didn't have to go into a hearing room with him," Hoyer said. "He's a great pitcher and a guy we're going to talk to him about being part of our future, for sure. We need more guys like Matt, not less, and if we can work something out we'll certainly have those discussions."