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Article updated: 7/22/2013 9:03 PM

Cubs' Epstein scores again with Garza deal

By Barry Rozner

Somewhere, Jim Hendry must be shaking his head.

Maybe he's even laughing, maybe right here in Chicago where he often scouts games for the Yankees.

It was Hendry who traded for Matt Garza out of desperation, inexplicably charged with trying to win or face firing when Tom Ricketts refused to start over in the front office and wipe the slate clean when he bought the club.

Hendry was in a difficult spot. The Cubs were bad, he knew it, and yet he needed Garza in Chicago in order to save his job that was -- for all intents and purposes -- already lost.

Thus, the trade with Tampa for Garza on Jan. 8, 2011, which cost the Cubs four prospects, including two of Hendry's very best at the time -- pitcher Chris Archer and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee.

Less than four months into that baseball season, Ricketts informed Hendry he was finished, and a few months later the owner fell hat-backwards into Theo Epstein.

As for what the Cubs gave up to get Garza, Lee is out for the year with a knee injury but is still a big prospect for Tampa, and Archer is living up to his billing.

Since the 24-year-old was promoted to the big leagues on June 1, he is 5-3 in 10 starts and 5823 innings with a 2.76 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, while the Rays have caught fire in the AL East.

See the irony here? Rather than just start over when he bought the team and begin the process of rebuilding, Ricketts wasted a couple of years, and instead of having a young, dominant starter in the big leagues already, Epstein has now -- 2 years later -- traded Garza for three prospects and a couple more to be named, prospects who appear to be on a level with those the Cubs dealt to Tampa.

Though you can never be certain with prospects -- who often get hurt or simply flame out -- there's a chance it will turn out even better for the Cubs in the long run.

The excitement of deals like these always clouds judgment. The Rays at the time thought they had made the deal of the year, just as the Cubs believe today.

One certainty is that by threatening to start Garza on Monday and bringing other teams into the trade discussion rather than buckle to the Texas demands, Epstein got the Rangers to sweeten the deal and acquired the No. 2, 5 and 14 Texas prospects, as ranked by Baseball America.

For a two-month rental, Epstein got the absolute most he could out of a guy who leaves the Cubs having accomplished nothing in Chicago beyond cementing the notion that he is both annoying and injury prone, if not altogether selfish.

In the meantime, the Cubs get a top 20 MLB prospect in third baseman Mike Olt, who had no place to play in Texas and vision problems earlier this year. Olt has a chance to be a power guy at third base with excellent defense.

Justin Grimm (24) is a potential No. 3 starter, and C.J. Edwards (21) is a couple of years away but has allowed precisely zero home runs in 160 minor-league innings over two seasons with 207 strikeouts and is probably soon headed for Double-A.

Not all will live up to their potential, just as not every Cubs minor-league superstar of the moment will become a regular at Wrigley Field. The object of the exercise right now is to stockpile prospects who might someday get here, or be used to acquire the parts the Cubs will need.

But every time the Cubs get another chip like Olt, they increase their options and provide the team with insurance.

As it stands, they have a potential outfield filled with the likes of Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Junior Lake and Eloy Jimenez, to name just a few.

In the infield are Olt, Javy Baez, Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Anthony Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara and Gleyber Torres.

And maybe Bryant stays in the infield and Castro goes to the outfield, or maybe one of those outfielders or third basemen winds up at first if Rizzo doesn't become the guy the Cubs thought they signed.

Who knows? Certainly not Epstein. Certainly not yet.

But the bigger the supply, the more they can demand in return when they begin to settle on who stays and who goes.

The future is bright, and Monday's deal only shines more light on the cause.

You just can't help but wonder why Tom Ricketts wasted all that time getting started.

brozner@dailyherald.com

Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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