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Matt Garza wants to kick Cubs’ teeth in

Updated: April 15, 2014 6:34AM



MARYVALE, Ariz. — Matt Garza is good at moving on. He’s done it more than most in an eight-year major-league career.

But to say he finds peace, that’s a stretch. As Cubs fans saw for most of the last three seasons, Garza is raw energy, sometimes channeled, sometimes off the leash, and always, it seems, on another mission.

And that’s where the power-pitching right-hander finds himself again this spring as he starts fresh with the Cubs’ division-rival Milwaukee Brewers, who bet $50 million over four years that Garza can be the difference-maker he never became in Chicago.

Despite lengthy stretches on the disabled list, two years of roster-crushing rebuilding and more than a year-and-a-half of being shopped — then eventually traded — Garza said he enjoyed his time with the Cubs and loved playing in Chicago.

“And I wish them the best,” he said. “But I like where I’m at, and I’m going to try to kick their teeth in every time I get a chance.”

Nothing personal. Mostly.

Garza, acquired by the Cubs in 2011 the last time they took a shot at the playoffs, expected to win in Chicago but wound up experiencing the worst three-year run of losses in franchise history.

When Theo Epstein’s front office came in the next year, he was offered a five-year extension to be the rotation’s centerpiece (believed to be in the John Danks’ range of $65 million).

Those talks went nowhere, and he spent the next two summers on the trading block, lasting that long only because of an elbow injury in 2012 that sidelined him while the new regime traded 20 percent of the roster in a 48-hour span.

“We knew already though,” Garza said. “They finally put it like, ‘Hey, we’re rebuilding, don’t get comfortable.’ You just take it with a grain of salt and enjoy the time while you’re there.”

He calls it just another learning experience.

“I dealt with a lot there,” he said, “a lot of positives and some negatives.”

None of it exactly what he expected with the “big market” Cubs.

“I’m just a pawn,” he said. “It’s just playing a chess match. You’ve got your king and your queen you have to protect, and then you put the pawns in. That’s us.”

The king and queen?

“The owners,” he said. “And you move your way down. The president’s like the bishop or the knight. And then the rook.

“But it’s all good. We’re all important pieces.”

Mostly, trading pieces. He came within hours of being traded to Atlanta in ’12 before the elbow injury a week before the deadline.

The Cubs’ only plan with him in ’13 was to get him healthy and build trade value to make him the centerpiece of another July trading binge. And, after opening his season in May, he dominated a 10-start stretch with intentionally favorable matchups — eventually getting the Cubs four players from the Texas Rangers, including the top pitching prospect in their system right now, C.J. Edwards.

‘‘They can say, ‘You’re welcome,’ ” Garza said.

One of his last acts as a Cubs teammate was offering advice to Jeff Samardzija — this year’s centerpiece trading chip.

“I told him to prep for it,” Garza said. “I told him if they couldn’t come to [an extension agreement] to prep for it. ...

“He just said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ I said, ‘Well, heads- up, don’t pay attention to it; just let it bother you at home but not at the field.’ ”

Garza might be a pawn, but he sees the irony in the small-market Brewers spending more money to compete than the high-revenue Cubs — at least $12 million more this year.

“They’re staying really disciplined to what they promised,” Garza said. “I’m not a Cub, but it’s taking quite a while to get to fruition of their plan.

“Maybe it’s patience. Maybe patience will work.”

He likes Javy Baez and some of the other prospects. But he has no idea when it’ll come together.

What’s certain is he plans to spend four years trying to kick teeth to keep it from happening while he’s around.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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