Matt Garza is a 28 year old pitcher who put up some of the top defense independent statistics in baseball last season, by some measurements better than the likes of Cole Hamels, Tim Lincecum, and yes, even Justin Verlander.
That is not to say Garza is better than that elite group, but when it came to elements he could control, it's safe to say that Garza was as good as any pitcher in baseball last season. He ranked in the top 10 in FIP (8) and DIPS (7). He also ranked in the top 15 in WAR and xFIP. The same cannot be said of any of the pitchers traded for big packages this season and most (cough, Gio Gonzalez, cough) aren't really even close. They may have friendlier contracts, but they are not better pitchers.
Yet teams like Toronto and Boston keep trying to re-frame Garza as a mid-rotation pitcher and have offered packages more in line with that kind of starter. Alex Anthropolous and Ben Cherington are savvy GMs, they know with the proper defense and run support, Garza would likely have put up ace-type numbers. The good thing for Cubs fans is that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are pretty savvy too.
If Garza is a mid-rotation pitcher, why are teams so hesitant to sign FA mid-rotation pitchers like Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt? They wouldn't have to give up any prospects in return and would pay similar money, maybe even less. Why show any interest in Garza at all when these guys are available?
The reason is that Garza is not a mid-rotation pitcher. Theo knows it. Jed knows it. And every team interested in dealing for him knows it. When it comes to pure stuff, command, and defense independent numbers, Garza is a top of the rotation starter. He's in his prime, he's relatively cheap, he's healthy, and he's willing to sign an extension.
With that being the case, the Cubs should keep him rather than take a sub-standard package that does not include a team's top prospects. If guys like Jacob Turner and Mike Montgomery are off the table, then Garza should be off the table as well.
Of course, things could change down the road. Perhaps Detroit realizes that their pitching is good enough to survive the weak AL Central, but not a playoff series against the Yankees or Rangers. Perhaps the Royals turn out to be better than they think and it's time to make a move and add a top starting pitcher. Maybe the Blue Jays will realize they can't bargain shop their way into contention the way the Rays have -- especially with the changes in the CBA.
If that none of that happens, then what have the Cubs lost? A chance to add Andy Oliver, John Lamb or Kyle Drabek? Should Cubs fans be at all concerned about missing that opportunity?
As we've said many times here, barring a catastrophe, Garza will be a good pitcher in 3,4,5 years -- and probably beyond that. He may not be cheap or represent top dollar value anymore, but he'll be very good and the Cubs will have no trouble paying him. And guess what? Top veteran SPs cost money. It's how things work in baseball. Give me a true WS contender that isn't paying top dollar for a front line starter right now.
The goal for the Cubs in the next 1-2 years is to go with value, cost-controlled players, rebuild the team and become competitive. The goal in the next 3-5 years is to win the World Series. A front line starter like Matt Garza could help the Cubs achieve that longer term goal, but it's very likely that Andy Oliver and a group of mid-level prospects will not.
So teams either pony up or the Cubs extend Garza and start building for 2014. By then, the Cubs lineup will feature potential stars Starlin Castro, Brett Jackson, Anthony Rizzo -- and perhaps even Yoenis Cespedes. There will also be players not yet known who will become available via free agency or trade that can supplement this young core.
I don't know about you, but 'm not worried if the Cubs don't trade Garza, nor should anyone in the Cubs front office -- but if I'm a team with World Series aspirations in the next couple of years, I'd be worried about trying to do that with second rate pitching.