CHICAGO – Matt Garza helped Tampa Bay go from the cellar of the AL East to the World Series two years ago and then led the Rays to another division title last season.
Now he's the lastest Rays' star moving out, and he's joining a team that hasn't been in the World Series since 1945 or won one since 1908.
Garza, a 15-game winner last season, was traded Saturday to the Chicago Cubs in an eight-player deal that brings him from the sunshine and a roofed stadium to the chills and winds of Wrigley Field.
"I was kinda of caught off guard. Your name was out there, a numerous amount of teams," Garza said. "I let it take care of myself because I knew my job was to get ready for the season, whether it be Tampa or wherever."
Garza will be joining a rotation that includes Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. He's going from a team that captured the tough AL East last season to one that finished fifth in the NL Central.
Garza is the biggest addition for the Cubs in the offseason after they earlier signed his former Rays' teammate, first baseman Carlos Pena, and brought back reliever Kerry Wood.
"It isn't often you can acquire a 27-year-old top-of-the-rotation type of guy who has three years left before he's a free agent in any kind of trade," said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, adding that the trade had been worked on for nearly a month.
"This was a great trade for the present and the future," Hendry added.
The Cubs did have to give up some young prospects.
The Rays get promising right-hander Chris Archer, a 15-game winner in two minor league stops last season, and 20-year-old shortstop Hak-Ju Lee. Also going from Chicago to Tampa Bay are catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer.
"Simply said, we really like the deal a lot. It kind of fits in with our short-term and long-term objectives," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "It's a perfect win-win trade for both sides or we wouldn't have done it."
Garza joins the Cubs along with outfielder Fernando Perez and left-hander Zachary Rosscup.
"It's just a real good old-fashioned baseball trade that often doesn't get made with the volume of people involved and for the right reasons for both organizations," Hendry said.
He added that the trade was not a reaction to division-rival Milwaukee strengthening its rotation by adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.
"We think we if we got the right starting pitcher, the right first baseman and a little more bullpen help that we could contend again and that was the only goal," Hendry said.
Garza pitched a no-hitter against Detroit last season, when he went 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA. He spent his first two major league seasons with the Twins and the last three with the Rays.
Garza was the ALCS MVP in 2008 when he won two games as the Rays advanced to the World Series. He is 42-44 with six complete games and a 3.97 ERA in 121 major league outings, 118 as a starting pitcher, with the Twins and the Rays.
"We have a guy we feel is in the prime of his career. He's pitched in arguably the toughest division in baseball the last few years," Hendry said. "This is a guy who wanted to pitch against the Yankees and the Red Sox. He wanted the challenge."
Perez has spent part of two seasons in the majors with the Rays (2008-09) and is career .234 hitter with good speed and base stealing ability. He spent last season at Triple-A.
The 22-year-old Archer went 15-3 in 28 games between Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last season. He was acquired by the Cubs as part of the Mark DeRosa trade to Cleveland on December 31, 2008.
Lee, who batted .282 at Class A Peoria last season, originally signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent on March 29, 2008. The Cubs already have a young shortstop for their future in Starlin Castro.
Garza made $3.35 million last season. Pena earlier agreed to a $10 million, one-year contract with the Cubs. Others who departed Tampa Bay include outfielder Carl Crawford, who received a $142 million, seven-year contract from Boston, and reliever Joaquin Benoit, who got a $16.5 million, three-year deal with Detroit.
"It's a shame that it's got to be like that, but it's the nature of the beast," Garza said of the exodus from Tampa. "It's the way this game works."