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New compensation rule may keep Matt Garza on Cubs longer than expected

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals

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MESA, Ariz. — Anybody who still is wondering whether right-hander Matt Garza has a prayer of being a Cub after this season should take a look at Kyle Lohse.

Garza and the Cubs have.

In fact, if the manipulated market forces keeping Lohse unemployed wind up keeping Garza in a Cubs uniform into 2014, it might nudge the Cubs’ rebuilding timeline up from the 2015 projections.

The best pitcher from the St. Louis Cardinals’ playoff team in 2012 remains jobless because of an ill-conceived change in draft-
compensation rules for free agents that went into effect this winter.

The same issue kept All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn unemployed until Monday, when he reportedly agreed to terms with the Cleveland Indians on a four-year, $48 million contract.

Garza? In his final season before free agency, he knows he might face the same kind of limbo as Lohse, a guy he once replaced in the Minnesota Twins’ rotation as a rookie in 2006.

‘‘If it does, it does,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s out of my hands.’’

Given their pitching styles and five-year age difference, that’s not as likely to happen as this: If Garza doesn’t have a breakout season and his value is somehow not high enough in July to justify a deadline trade, the Cubs could make a ‘‘qualifying offer’’ to Garza that could keep him with the team for another season.

It’s one of several possible outcomes with Garza the Cubs have looked at as they project the makeup of their future rosters.

Lohse and Bourn were two of nine free agents who turned down qualifying offers — set at $13.3 million this time around — from their 2012 teams, assuring that any team that signs either one would forfeit a high draft pick to the player’s 2012 team. Three of the nine eventually returned to their 2012 teams.

Cubs officials won’t comment on personnel plans involving specific players, but they shopped Garza in July before an elbow injury shelved him for the rest of the season and are expected to do it again this season if they are out of contention.

Potentially complicating the perception of Garza’s value going forward is that the cause of the ‘‘bone contusion’’ in his pitching elbow still never has been fully
explained, even to him.

‘‘No clue,’’ he said. ‘‘Doctors were just like, ‘We need to rest, need to rest.’ But it was kind of baffling what caused it, even led to it.’’

Consequently, he said, he put himself through every conceivable test this winter to get to a ‘‘great’’ place physically and mentally, with no thought about what his free-agent value might be.

‘‘I’m just going to pitch; I have to pitch,’’ said Garza, who already is throwing 45-pitch bullpen sessions at full speed as camp opens.

Garza, who says he wants to prove his health and value to the Cubs, will make $10.25 million this season, which might put his 2014 value at roughly the next qualifying-offer level.

‘‘If I pitch well, that’s not going to matter,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m just going to go out and pitch, and I’m going to make people want me.’’



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