Why keeping Garza might be the right move for the Cubs

Why keeping Garza might be the right move for the Cubs

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?

Absolutely not.

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.


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    A Detroit writer says Boras called owner Mike Illich directly after GM Dombrowski said he wasn't interested. Deja Vu of John McDonough.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Exactly. Very similar strategies there by the two agents. Worked both times and Tigers will eventually regret this as much as Cubs regret Soriano deal now.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    The Detroit writer says the Fielder contract could cause major problems if Cabrera can't play 3b. He didn't even touch on the issue of if Cabrera/Fielder have to share 1b/DH what happens when Victor Martinez is back next year? Obviously Martinez or Cabrera gets traded if Cabrera can't play at least a mediocre 3b. He had 2 years, if I recall, with the Marlins, wasn't very good, signed with Detroit and was quickly moved to 1b.

    This is the kind of stuff that is fun for the fans, debating major trades and signings and the effects they'll have, but if I were the Detroit GM, Dombrowski, I wouldn't be happy the owner was supposedly negotiating the 3rd largest contract of all time behind my back after I said no. I understand Illich wants to win, and he's 82, so good for him to agree to spend that kind of money, although he would be 91 when the deal ends, so someone else might be paying off that contract.

    My reaction to it all though is that Washington, from many reports, offered 6 years and wouldn't budge. Then Detroit comes up with this 9 year offer. What happened to 7? Or even 6? Detroit offered Prince a better chance to win, there wasn't even a need to go longer than what Washington offered.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Great post, JustWin. Have to say I agree with everything you said here. Interesting point about Ilich's age being a factor in all this. I hadn't considered that at all.

  • I agree, either give the Cubs what they want or no deal. My big
    concern is that if he is still with the Cubs after Aug. 1, he will
    leave for very big bucks.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Yes, I think the plan is see what happens with arb (or settlement) first, then see what works best as far as trading him or making the move to extend him now.

  • Correction, what I meant to say is that if the Cubs don't sign him
    to a multi-year contract by opening day he is gone.

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    Im sorry but Im glad garza is still a cub i think he is a front line starter and will help us long term because he is proven and not a hope. i think we need him to build around and i trust theo and jed know what they are doing and will build a contender for us

  • In reply to Bryan Bell:

    No need to apologize for that. I think the Cubs think the same way you do, but if a team is going to give them surplus value for Garza, they'll make a deal. I don't think we have to worry about them settling the way the Mariners did with the Yankees. If it comes to that, they know what they have in Garza and they'll extend him rather than make a trade that is not an overall gain for them down the road.

  • I agree with the point of your post. If the Cubs can't get the offer they want, keep him. If they do get what they want, trade him.
    The odds that Garza is as good in 2013, 2014, and 2015 as he was last year is very slim.

  • In reply to Norm:

    Maybe, maybe not. I think Garza could be one of those guys who matures late. His approach is better now and his stuff has always been first rate. At the very least, he'll probably still be very good and that's more useful to me than second tier prospects.

    Became a big Garza fan when I was sitting behind home plate (my favorite seats). Watched Garza keep Tulo (and the whole Rockies lineup) completely off balance. Tulo just couldn't dig in (think he managed a bloop single on one AB, though.) It was a clinic on pitching out there -- and combined with his stuff, he was almost unhittable.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I remember you writing about that day, and not so coincidentally, that's when I became a huge Garza fan as well.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    I was very impressed. I know it's one game and I happened to be in prime seating for an excellent outing by Garza...but still. If that's the kind of stuff he's capable of offering on a consistent basis, then he's a front line guy to me.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "Maybe, maybe not."
    But probably, right? I'm talking odds/chances of what happens. If you look at every single 28 year old starting pitcher, it's more likely that the numbers decline from there on out.
    Some will improve, some will remain steady, but most will fall.
    When we're able to pinpoint who does what, free agency won't be a crapshoot.

  • In reply to Norm:

    Statistical trends suggest a drop off, and if you were to make an objective bet based on that alone you'd certainly have to go in that direction. I think if I were to bet on a pitcher to buck those odds, though, Garza would be one I'd consider putting my money on.

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    I really like Garza. He is a team player, good guy to have in the club house, and a great pitcher to build a winning team around. I don't think extending his contract is such a bad idea. His win-loss record last year is a bit misleading because he started a little slow and didn't get as much run support in some of those games. He is a great pitcher you can use in the front of the rotation for several years. That said, if a team like Detroit now realizes they have a chance to win it all and offer Turner and Castellanos and a few other peices, I wouldnt say no. I trust Theo and Jed to do whats right in making a winning team. They're doing a nice job not giving up Garza for low level prospects. They realize they can keep him and benefit the team, so unless they get an offer that will be more beneficial to the team than Garza will be, I don't see them making a move. Again, nice article John.

  • In reply to Bill Newton:

    Thanks Bill. That's exactly where the Cubs are at. It's a simple matter of adding value now and especially long term. If the Cubs don't feel it's a net gain in the long run, then a trade won't happen.

  • John, this is exactly the type of meaningful opinion piece on the Cubs that is enjoyable to read at the end of January, as opposed to the frequent endless discussion of rumors found elsewhere. I agree with your opinion about Garza as well.

  • In reply to johnbres2:

    Thank you John. I appreciate that. I much prefer to write these kinds of pieces as well.

  • I was never in favor of trading Garza and hope he isn't traded. He is a known commodity and prospects are hit and miss, even top prospects. Hindsight is 20/20 and knowing now that the Cubs are in complete rebuild mode, if you had the chance to undo the Garza trade and keep Archer, Guyer, Chineros, Lee and Fuld would you? Lee and Archer are ranked 2nd and 3rd best prospects for the Rays, not sure where Guyer is listed. Lee is also rated the best defensive infielder. Seems like Hendry gave up alot to get Garza and a guy they later released. Even though I said prospects are hit and miss, I'd undo that trade to keep Lee and Archer...

  • In reply to Larry H:

    That's a good question. I think, given where the Cubs are now, I'd undo that trade. If the Cubs were closer to contention, I would not. Hendry miscalculated how good the Cubs would be in 2011, or maybe it was one last ditch effort to have a good season and save his job.

    Lee is the one that torments me. If he pans out, he's going to be an above average legit everyday player at a premium position. Guyer is basically Dave Sappelt, Castillo is better than that part is okay with me. Garza will almost certainly be better than Archer (though Archer is cheaper with more cost control years), and Fuld can be somewhat replaced by Tony Campana. Lee is the one that really makes me worry.

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    I was leaning towards trading Garza, but I've since come to lean towards extending him. I think something along the lines of 5 years and $75M as a base would be fair, and they could throw some performance incentives in there to get the dollar value even higher.

    I may get accused of smoking something illegal for what I am about to say, but I'm going to throw it out there anyways. I honestly think the 2012 Cubs are going to be better than anyone thinks, especially in the second half of this season and especially if Matt Garza sticks around.

    I think the Reds will win the division, and if they can figure shortstop out and keep their pitching healthy, they could run away and hide. I don't need to go into the Cardinals and Brewers losses because you already know, but I think the Cardinals will finish second and the Brewers third. In fourth place will be the Cubs. I really think the Pirates will slide backwards and finish fifth, and the Astros will pull up the rear.

    The Cubs are going to be a young team in the field and at the plate, but they're also going to be more athletic and a better fielding team. I also believe this Cubs team will play consistently hard.

    The better fielding and greater overall athleticism should help the pitching staff, and there in lies my reason for optimism. Matt Garza isn't a bad beginning to any rotation, and I think Ryan Dempster will be better with better fielders behind him. Those two right there are a better 1-2 combo than most teams. The rest of the rotation is murky, but there is reason for optimism, and regardless of Marmol, this team should have a good bullpen as long as it doesn't get overused early and often.

    I think this Cubs team is going to struggle to score runs early in the year, but I think that will start to trend for the better in the second half as the youngsters get more experience.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I don't think that's crazy at all. Seems like a realistic expectation to me. We'll see the Cubs compete based on just playing good hard baseball and not killing themselves on defense and baserunning.

    The interesting thing to me is that if the Cubs keep Garza, I'd imagine they'd speed their rebuilding timetable up a bit.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree. I think 2013 could be a huge year for the Cubs, assuming the world doesn't end in 2012. The 2013 free agent market won't have much in the way of hitters, but with all the money coming off the books, the Cubs could afford to go after a Matt Cain and/or Anibal Sanchez in free agency. Adding a starter or two via free agency would also give Team Theo the flexibility to go out and trade for a bat or two.

    You also have to believe that Jackson, Rizzo, possibly Cespedes and even LaHair and Stewart are going to be better in 2013 for having the experience of 2012.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think Sanchez is more likely and you hope maybe McNutt has that breakout year. That would likely give them 5 solid starters assuming 2 of Wood, Volstad, Maholm are going to work out.

  • Based on how bad the Cubs starting pitching was last year other than Garza, it is not out of line to think we can have a much improved record this season. You can already tell the players have a different outlook on things from their comments.
    I love how Garza cheers for his team when not pitching.
    John, I heard Lee was a great fielder, but a punch and judy type of hitter. Archer was lousy last year, couldn't throw strikes.

  • He was more of a Punch and Judy guy as a younger player but he's added a bit of strength. He's not going to hit the ball like Castro, but he'll field better and he's a little faster. Hitting will determine his fate, though. He's not a HR guy, but maybe doubles power.

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