Even in the darkest days of the 2010 season, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry persistently maintained his team was only three or four moves away from contending again.
• Move 1 was signing first baseman Carlos Pena at the winter meetings.
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• Move 2 was bringing relief pitcher Kerry Wood back to Chicago.
• Move 3 became all but officially done Friday when the Cubs agreed to trade four prospects and outfielder Sam Fuld to the Tampa Bay Rays for right-handed starting pitcher Matt Garza and two other players.
The price in young players was steep. The Cubs gave up pitcher Chris Archer, outfielder Brandon Guyer, infielder Hak-Ju Lee and catcher Robinson Chirinos plus Fuld in exchange for Garza, whom they believe is a No. 1 or 2 starter in their rotation.
Archer, who went 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA between Class A and Class AA ball last year, was the Cubs' 2010 minor-league pitcher of the year. Guyer was their minor-league player of the year. Lee is a highly touted middle infielder from Korea whom some felt could have pushed Starlin Castro from shortstop to second base one day. And Chirinos is a converted infielder who made a smooth transition to catcher.
In addition to the 27-year-old Garza, the Cubs landed outfielder Fernando Perez and another player.
Details of the trade first were reported Friday morning on dailyherald.com.
The Cubs had no official comment on the trade because it won't be finalized until multiple players, including Garza, pass physicals. Officials from the Rays also had no comment for the Tampa Bay media.
Word of the Cubs' interest in Garza first surfaced at the winter meetings in Orlando last month. Talks picked up steam this week only to hit a lull Thursday before picking up momentum again late that day.
It was clear the Rays were looking to unload salary. Garza made $3.35 million last year and is due for a good-sized raise this winter as an arbitration-eligible player.
Last year, Garza went 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA and a tidy WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 1.25.
Originally a first-round pick of the Twins, Garza pitched for the Rays in the postseason in 2008 and 2010. In '08, he lost a decision to the White Sox in the division series before beating Boston twice in the championship series. Garza pitched in one game of the 2008 World Series against the Phillies. He pitched once against the Rangers in the 2010 ALDS.
For his career, Garza is 42-44 with a 3.97 ERA.
The Cubs seem confident Garza can bolster a rotation that includes veterans Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Silva and Randy Wells along with starting candidates Tom Gorzelanny, Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman and Jeff Samardzija. The team also seems to feel Garza will benefit by going from the rugged American League East to the National League Central.
As for three of the players the Cubs gave up, Archer came from the Cleveland organization two off-seasons ago and would have been given a good look in spring training.
He and Lee were considered two jewels of the Cubs' minor-league system. At Class A Peoria, Lee had a hitting line of .282/.354/.351 with 1 homer and 40 RBI.
Guyer was drafted in 2007 and starred last year at Class AA Tennessee, going .344/.398/.588 with 13 homers.
Chirinos was a converted infielder who had made a smooth transition to catcher.
Fuld spent parts of three seasons with the Cubs, including 19 games last season. The Cubs are getting a similar player in Perez, who has 41 games of big-league experience. He last played in the major leagues in 2009. In the minor leagues, Perez has stolen 223 bases since 2004.
• For more on the Cubs, follow our "Chicago's Inside Pitch" blog with Bruce Miles at dailyherald.com.