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Team signs Garza, avoids arbitration

Matt Garza

Matt Garza

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The Cubs avoided their biggest potential arbitration case Thursday by agreeing to a one-year, $10.25 million deal with starting pitcher Matt Garza.

Garza, who nearly was traded last July before an elbow injury sidelined him for the rest of the season, is eligible for free agency after this season. He made $9.5 million in 2012, when he went 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 18 starts.

Tweeted Garza: ‘‘Business side over! Hooray! Time to focus on what really matters … 2013.”

Garza has said repeatedly this offseason that he’s fully recovered and on track to open the season on time, a sentiment team president Theo Epstein echoed this week:

‘‘We expect [him] to be full-go in spring training and ready to start the year,’’ he said.

Epstein said he anticipated no contentiousness with any of his remaining arbitration cases, which now include only starter Jeff Samardzija and reliever James Russell.

Rookie messages

The Cubs call it their Rookie Development Program. But the weeklong, advanced seminar on big-league life might as well have included a handbook with Manti Te’o’s picture on the front.

At the very least, the team probably couldn’t have picked a better news week to drive home some of the messages intended for the dozen hand-picked, near-ready prospects involved in the first-year program the Cubs staged at Northwestern over the last week.

‘‘We spent a lot of time talking about that this week,’’ Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ top player-development executive, said of off-the-field scrutiny and pressures that come with making the jump from minor-leaguer to big-leaguer.

‘‘We have our mental skills coach here,’’ he added, referring to team psychologist Marc Strickland. ‘‘We have a lot of help, so to speak, available to these guys. Like talking to them about how to deal with [news media] or dealing with social media, watching what they put on Twitter, everything. Everyone’s under a microscope. So we spend a lot of time trying to help and letting them know what to watch for.’’

The Cubs even monitor their players’ Twitter accounts.

‘‘To a degree,’’ McLeod said. ‘‘I’ve placed phone calls to players about certain things.’’

Prior knowledge

Turns out the new ‘‘Cubs Way’’ involves a surprising part of the team’s recent past, specifically Kerry Wood and Mark Prior offering advice to the prospects.

Wood, who remains in the organization after retiring as a pitcher last year, isn’t as much of a surprise headliner as Prior. He accepted an invitation last week from McLeod, who knew him from a brief comeback attempt with the San Diego Padres.

‘‘I don’t know what the deal was when he left. I don’t know if there were bad feelings,’’ McLeod said. ‘‘All I know is I reached out to him. Honestly, I thought he was going to say he didn’t want to, but he was fired up about it.’’


Among the prospects at this year’s seminar were shortstop Javy Baez, the organization’s top-rated prospect and, at 20, the youngest player in the group.

◆ McLeod said the defensively polished Baez still is considered a shortstop despite Castro’s presence at the position and the fact Baez played third base in the Arizona Fall League. Depending how fast he rises, Baez could break in at third, then create a tough decision for the team.

◆ In addition to first baseman Anthony Rizzo (Italy), two Cubs minor-leaguers plan to play in the World Baseball Classic this spring: pitchers Ryan Searle (­Australia) and Yao-Lin Wang (Chinese Taipei).

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