Thursday, August 9, 2012

Matt Garza: What's He Really Worth?

Analyzing Matt Garza’s value as a pitcher is rather easy, He’s very reliable, probably not an ace but a respectable 2 or 3 in the NL and a solid 3 in most AL clubs. He’s an innings eater who has proved successful in both leagues and in tough divisions. Garza’s trade value has been hit twofold over the past month. His triceps issue, which is now being called a stress reaction in his pitching elbow, that made him nigh untradeable at the deadline impacted value for obvious reasons, but also because of that he will be a 1 year rental if traded in the offseason. If Garza goes unclaimed on waivers and is eligible for a late season trade this year, that’s a different situation all together. I will be forthright and say it, no matter how much they talk about Garza staying in Chicago I can’t imagine it. I can’t see him wanting to sign a 3+ year contract, especially just going into his prime years, with one of the worst teams in baseball. Garza’s true value to the Cubs has to be, without a doubt, in being traded for controllable assets. Resigning Garza would take an overpay that Cubs brass is all too familiar with (Still loving that Carlos Zambrano deal I’m sure).

Garza is a very solid pitcher, and even on a 1 year contract could be the difference for a team with a shaky rotation. Of course being in the last year of arbitration will make it a bit trickier for any pursuing team to negotiate long term with Garza. That said, it can certainly be done, they’d have a whole year to work out a deal assuming Garza wanted to stay there and was content to avoid free agency. The reality that Garza may not play again until next season will certainly put a hitch in any trade talks the Cubs may have between now and then, sure a team may be willing to gamble on Garza, but will they really be willing to pay full price for potentially damaged goods? So there are really only 2 options for Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein.

Their best hope is that Garza is able to return before the end of the season and give him a chance to showcase his talents again before spring training. This would be ideal for Chicago, he would be the entire veteran presence in their rotation, and could help some of their young pitchers  round into form on their currently rather accelerated schedules. The Cubbies would also have the most flexibility in how/when to deal Garza, if they don’t like any of the offseason offers, they will wait until someone’s desperate. This could likely net the Cubs a few legitimately interesting prospects, though obviously with Garza’s salary likely in excess of $10 million after this season, interest in him may be hurt by the free agent market, if teams look at him as a one year rental, they may see equally effective options available on one and 2 year contracts at similar/lower costs. (Hiroki Kuroda would be a great example for this year). His fate will be decided by where pitchers like Ervin Santana, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Dempster, and (to a lesser extent) Erik Bedard land, and how much they’re being paid. Now, most of these pitchers are older than Garza, and at least half of them will be seeking multi year deals but the strongest suitors for Garza will undoubtedly be teams that miss out on the above mentioned free agents and are willing to part with some organizational depth to stay in the playoff hunt. Just about every team in playoff contention right now sans maybe the Washington Nationals, Tampa Bay Rays, and the LA Angels. More likely than not the Cubbies will be able to get a fair haul for their current ace. Obviously the injury will factor in somewhat in any offer that the Cubs receive, but there’s still a respectable number of potential suitors, and if Hoyer and Epstein play their cards right, someone is sure to overpay for a year of Garza.

Of course, the arm could remain a nagging issue throughout the rest of the regular season. This would leave the Cubs with looking at a mid-season trade to get any real return on Garza. There is the possibility that they could make him a qualifying offer, but that doesn’t get them any closer to competing if he leaves and if it gets that far, he may be willing to take the 1 year contract to further build his value at 29 and still reach free agency before he’s 30. Given that he’d be a pure rental, the return would surely be lesser than it could have been this year, regardless of what his health status is at the trade deadline. He will still potentially net the Cubs a single top 5 (within a given organization) prospect but not nearly what he was worth to most clubs at the deadline this year.

Overall the return for Garza is tied to both his health and performance, he will with near certainty be traded by next year’s deadline, whether Theo & Co. are able to get a significant haul however remains to be seen. Many teams are moving to valuing their farms more now than in the recent past which will clearly work against the Cubs, but given the ever present need for good pitching in a pennant race, I think Garza will net the Cubs a pair of prospects, probably one farther along in his development but with a lower ceiling, or whose development has stalled a bit, and a high ceiling player in A ball, maybe ready to be moved to AA.

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