Commentary

Prospect of a brighter future

Cubs continue to build foundation with no-brainer Garza trade

Updated: July 22, 2013, 7:59 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- If you had Matt Garza getting dealt before the City Council approved the Wrigley Field renovations, treat yourself to a bison dog and an Old Style the next time you visit Wrigley Field.

[+] EnlargeTheo Epstein
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsTheo Epstein's hunches could pay off in a few years.
One deal is done and the other is on deck.

Cubs win! Cubs win!

After the fire sale is over, you might not be hearing those four words too much the rest of this season. But for at least a couple days, bask in the Cubs' reflected glory.

Yes, everyone is talking Cubs baseball as the summer shifts toward Bears training camp. Bring back Eddie Vedder and let's have another party at Wrigley, hold the rain.

Both the prospective Wrigley rehab and the confirmed Garza trade signifies great news for Cubs fans, long-suffering and otherwise.

And both deals didn't actually take that long, but the over-coverage of both, for the Twitter obsessed at least, felt like a lifetime's worth of hand-wringing and second-hand, second-guessing. I'm glad it's over, that's for sure.

The Wrigley deal will likely be formalized at Wednesday's City Hall meeting, while the Cubs finally sent Garza, their most valuable trade chip in a seller's market, to Texas for three prospects, including Triple-A third baseman Mike Olt and Single-A pitcher C.J. Edwards, and two players to be named later.

Garza didn't have the "hammer" like 10-5 guy Ryan Dempster did last season in squashing a deal to Atlanta that would've benefited the Cubs.

While the Cubs mostly flailed at getting a haul of prospects at last year's trade deadline, mostly because of Dempster's rights and Garza's injury, this year has been more successful. And while I hesitate to direct Cubs fans to get all giddy about prospects, the prospect of prospects is worth enjoying.

If you want to see the Cubs become an annually decent baseball team -- let's not get hopes any higher than that modest one -- the veritable ponds need to be restocked.

That's why the Cubs spent so freely in the international market. You gotta start somewhere.

The biggest problem plaguing the Cubs isn't rooftop owners or a dearth of advertising, it's a paucity of prospects, the guys who fill your roster and, remember this, serve as trade bait when you want to add to the big league club.

The big three of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have tackled this problem with great fanfare since taking over for Jim Hendry. They were able to focus more on talent acquisition at the lower levels since they were given a free pass, basically, from ownership at the major league level.

I've been critical of this approach, but I see the good now. Maybe it helps that Epstein and Hoyer put together a mostly watchable roster this season. But I have a hunch their hunches are bound to pay off in two or three years.

The year 2015 is all but assumed as the opening date for the new-look Cubs. Wrigley Field will probably be done around 2019, about the same time as when the team will get ready for a new, three-comma cable deal.

Good times are ahead and they're not a mirage.

Trading Garza, of course, was a no-brainer. Garza is a pitcher for the now, not the Cubs' future. The fiery one could be a difference-maker down the stretch for a competitive team like the Rangers. For the Cubs, he was nothing but bait.

Garza's Cubs career never should have happened in the first place. He wasn't the guy to get them back in contention in 2011. Hendry traded prospects to Tampa Bay for him as a last gasp of his Cubs tenure. I don't blame Hendry for that, though pitcher Chris Archer has developed as expected, because he was a "win now" guy in a "win now" situation. That's life in the big city.

No, Garza never fit. His timing was off. Hendry got fired and a new regime took over and the directives changed.

He should have been traded last year, but it seems like the move was worth the wait, because it added four players, two of whom could start developing with the Cubs in the near future.

The 24-year-old Olt, a top hitting prospect since getting drafted in the first round in 2010 out of UConn, has struggled some this season, partly due to vision problems he suffered from early in the season, which were possibly caused by a concussion sustained after getting beaned in the Dominican winter league.

Olt, who played 16 games with the Rangers last September, was ranked as the team's No. 2 prospect going into the season, just behind Jurickson Profar.

A No. 2 prospect for a possible two-month rental? Olt could be overvalued.

While he only hit .213 in Triple-A Round Rock this season, 26 of his 49 hits were for extra bases. Once he solved his vision problems (a faulty tear duct in his right eye), he also got an assist from Manny Ramirez, who is trying to get back into the majors through the Rangers' system.

Ramirez made Olt watch film with him earlier this month and the young hitter said he sees the results. "He saw that I was late and dropping my hands," Olt told ESPN Dallas. "We went to the cages and I worked with him."

Olt should be up this season, though I assume the Cubs want to see results first at Triple-A Iowa.

[+] EnlargeMatt Garza
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesMatt Garza wasn't the right fit from the start for a Cubs team too focused on the now.
The 21-year-old Edwards is certainly promising. Pitching in the low Single-A South Atlantic League, the 6-2 right-hander has a 1.83 ERA in 93 innings with a nifty 3.58 K/BB ratio (122 to 34). That ratio will come down when he advances to face more selective hitters, but it's a good sign for the former 48th-round pick in the 2011 draft. I also assume someone will eventually hit a home run off Edwards, who has given up zero in 160 1/3 professional innings.

The Cubs also added 24-year-old right-handed pitcher Justin Grimm, who has made 17 starts for pitching-starved Texas this year, albeit with a 6.37 ERA to show for it. Grimm was a fifth-round pick out of the University of Georgia in 2010.

If you're going to err, err with draft picks from good organizations.

One day, maybe soon, the Cubs will be making deals like this again. Only they'll be the ones dealing from their deep pool of prospects for a big name like Garza to make a big run at the World Series.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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