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Cubs take lead in Garza derby

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The Cubs appear to have moved past the Texas Rangers and into the driver’s seat in efforts to acquire Tampa Bay Rays 15-game winner Matt Garza — a potential move that could put the Cubs back into the ­National League Central title conversation for 2011.

A major-league source said Tuesday the Cubs were close to trading for the power-pitching right-hander, just as the Rangers were committing a big multiyear deal to third baseman Adrian Beltre and appeared to be pursuing free-agent closer Rafael Soriano. Those efforts come after the Rangers fell short in their efforts to use the money to keep big-ticket free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee.

Landing Garza — who has as many postseason wins as the returning Cubs roster combined — would be a significant response to upstart Cincinnati’s pitching-driven division title last season and division-rival Milwaukee’s trade for Cy Young winner Zack Greinke last month.

It would give the Cubs a Ryan Dempster-Garza-Carlos Zambrano top three to their starting rotation and make the back end look stronger with only two spots between Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Samardzija. That would open the door for one or more of them to be traded in a next-step deal, depending on who might be included in a Garza move.

Such a trade might become necessary, considering Garza ($3.35 million in 2010) could command nearly double last season’s salary through arbitration and considering the Cubs are near their payroll cap already.

Gorzelanny has been rumored to be on the block for the last month.

Garza, 27, went 15-10, 3.91, for the Rays’ AL East champs in ’10.

His 2-1, 3.48 performance in five postseason starts would double the returning staff’s postseason wins total (recently reacquired Kerry Wood also has two). He would be the only Cub with a World Series start.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry talked with the Rays about Garza four weeks ago at the winter meetings, but early indications for landing the arbitration-eligible pitcher didn’t look promising.

The Cubs have the farm-system depth for the first time in years, including several near-ready prospects, to make a deal happen.

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