Instead of going into a hearing room in St. Petersburg on Friday, the Cubs and Matt Garza avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $9.5 million contract. Garza's representatives at CAA Sports announced the deal on Twitter and said he could also earn performance bonuses. The 28-year-old right-hander was the Cubs' only remaining arbitration-eligible player, and had the sides not settled on Friday morning, they would have gone before a three-member panel of arbitrators to decide Garza's salary. He filed for $12.5 million on Jan. 17 -- the date arbitration-eligible players and their teams exchanged figures -- while the Cubs countered at $7.95 million. The sides wound up settling below the midpoint of $10.225 million.
Garza made $5.95 million last season -- his first with the Cubs -- and went 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 31 starts. He was arbitration-eligible this winter for the third time, but he will have an extra year of eligibility because he entered the system as a Super Two player. That means Garza will not be a free agent until after the 2013 season. The deal extended Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein's streak of never going to an arbitration hearing with a player, including his time as the Red Sox's general manager. Garza has been in the news a lot this winter. On Thursday, the Fresno Bee reported that Garza's California home had been burglarized and his 2008 American League championship ring was stolen. Garza was the MVP of that ALCS for the Tampa Bay Rays. Before that, Garza found his way into print as part of trade rumors linking the rebuilding Cubs to a number of different teams. Because he is under contract for two more seasons and is an established, durable starting pitcher, Garza is potentially the Cubs' most valuable trade chip. Epstein addressed those rumors back in December. "I think Matt Garza is exactly the type of pitcher that you want to build around," Epstein said. "He's a proven performer in the playoffs. I think last year he had his best season, all things being equal. It's hard to find a top-of-the-rotation guy, and if you can keep them around, I think that's always compelling for the club. "That said, I've been honest with you guys that we're in a mode where we have to listen on everybody. If there's a way to improve the long-term outlook for this club in a significant manner, then we can't look past opportunities like that. We're not in a situation where we have to do anything with Garza, but generally we're in the business right now of taking our short-term assets and turning them into long-term assets." Cubs Spring Training officially begins on Saturday, Feb. 18, when pitchers and catchers are invited to report to Mesa, Ariz. Their first workout will take place the following day, and Chicago's first full-squad workout is set for Friday, Feb. 24.