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Why the hurry to trade ace?

Published: Monday, July 15, 2013 11:23 p.m. CDT

Nothing in sports drags incessantly like the countdown to baseball’s trade deadline, not even the NFL preseason or a Chris Berman home run call.

It seemingly begins shortly after opening day and lasts until July 31, when a brief respite from rumors and updates ends after a night’s sleep in time for recycled speculation to spin until the Aug. 31 waiver-trade deadline.

Headlines say they played the Futures Game on Sunday in New York. That’s what they could label each one of 162 in Chicago, where by May 1 every 2013 game already matters less than the ones on the 2015 schedule, when all this rumored wheeling and dealing supposedly will pay off.

On the North Side, only the value of the approved giant video board at Wrigley Field has been debated more lately than the worth of starting pitcher Matt Garza. (Both warrant a major investment from Tom Ricketts.)

On the South Side, the preoccupation on a player sale has deluded some into thinking the White Sox actually should deal one of the best young left-handers in baseball. (That terrible idea only would forever establish Rick Hahn as the General Manager Who Traded Chris Sale.)

We spend so much time in this city discussing players on their way out and prospects on their way up that we barely acknowledge the guys actually in the lineup – and maybe that’s the point. Slowly, all the chatter builds a numbing consensus of baseball groupthink and nobody questions what is so often repeated.

But, really, wouldn’t the Cubs be better off committing cash from a newly opened revenue stream – thank you, landmarks commission – to sign Garza to a contract extension rather than trade a 29-year-old capable of being an ace?

Why is it so shrewd to exchange a potential No. 1 starter who will be only 31 at the beginning of the ’15 season for several prospects whose futures carry as much risk as Garza’s health?

From newly signed first-round pick Kris Bryant to Kane County outfielder Albert Almora, the Cubs have nicely replenished their system with promising position-player talent, according to minor league analysts.

Recently signed top international prospects continued that upward trend. Everyone agrees the Cubs organization still lacks pitching depth.

In that context, overpaying to keep an elite starting pitcher whose contract expires in October doesn’t seem all that outrageous a gamble.

Reports say the Cubs already have informed Garza he could be traded by week’s end, and, after he is, predictably team officials Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will receive praise based on their reputations.

That they have earned the benefit of the doubt doesn’t make them beyond skepticism on a move this major. Garza accepts his fate, saying after Saturday’s latest dominant outing: “I love it here, but it is what it is.”

So it is.

But is it really necessary for the Cubs to trade Garza simply because he is the most tradable commodity if Ricketts has the means to retain him in a league with no salary cap?

Two smart baseball people who were asked that question answered similarly: Garza’s recent injury history makes any long-term financial commitment unwise given contract demands deemed to be out of the Cubs’ range.

But what defines a reasonable range on a pitching pay scale ridiculously out of whack?

The Cubs signed Edwin Jackson to a 4-year, $52 million contract that likely will look better near the end of the deal than the beginning because of Jackson’s durability.

Jackson finished his first half 6-10 with a 5.11 ERA. If the Cubs are willing to spend $13 million per season for mediocrity to round out their rotation, it hardly seems farfetched to think a major-market team with their resources would dig deeper to pay a pitcher to lead it. They aren’t the Kansas City Cubs.

If the Cubs feel compelled to unload a pitcher whose contract status and career history make him a trade candidate, the line should form behind Jeff Samardzija instead of Garza.

Samardzija, only 14 months younger, possesses electric stuff and terrific intangibles. But is gambling on Samardzija’s consistency any safer than rolling the dice on Garza’s health?

The Cubs and Sox remain on pace to be among the bottom 10 teams, meaning they can protect 2014 first-round draft picks regardless of free agency. Given the dearth of pitching in the system, a power arm would make sense wherever the Cubs eventually select.

Potential aces can be hard to find – and even harder for a team to lose.

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