Monday, July 8, 2013

Keeping Matt Garza

Heading into the 2013 MLB Draft, many felt the Cubs would utilize the second pick in the draft to grab an elite pitcher. The Cubs, an organization who has spent much of the Epstein era stockpiling elite young position talent, were a perfect match for top pitching prospects Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray, whomever fell to them at number 2. Yet, when the Cubs took Kris Bryant, the ultra-talented slugging third baseman from the University of San Diego, the reaction was a pleasant surprise, even for an organization with a lot of positional talent. Why? Because, as the adage has always been and is now, special power hitting right handers don't grow on trees, and they're almost always expensive to acquire.

Power pitching right handers, while admittedly more frequent but also even more expensive, are similar in that you try to grab them when you can. Or here in the Cubs case, keep them while you can. Matt Garza is your prototypical power pitcher, with the two-seam fastball with good movement that sits in between 90-94 and the four seam fastball that explodes from 93-97. He mixes it with very good offspeed stuff. He's pitched consistently well over his career, but this year has been superb for the Cubs with a 3.22 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 5-1 record, and 58 strikeouts against only 18 walks in 64.1 innings pitched. This, off a spring training lat injury and with a relatively cheap salary of $10 million or so.

I understand the rationale behind dealing him. He's almost 30, he's got a somewhat injury-riddled past couple of years, and he's going to demand a contract appropriate to his skill level for a team that is supposed to be in rebuilding mode. But here's the flipside of that: you want to build your rotation for the future around guys like him and Jeff Samardzija. Both are ubercompetitors, guys who rub off on the rest of the team and are perfect for the young guys that the Cubs expect to have up in the majors the next few years. And more than that - you have to think at this point that the Cubs want to have at least something resembling a competitive team next year. Samardzija and Garza at the top of your rotation isn't a bad start.

Hoyer & Epstein have team on right path
I'm sure the Cubs like what they have in the minors, with quality young arms like Arodys Vizcaino (albeit with Tommy John issues), Pierce Johnson, Rob Zastryzny, Paul Blackburn, and Duane Underwood all working their way through the organization, not to mention a flood of middle round pitching selections from the past two drafts. But the focus of the organization, both in top picks and in the international market, seems to be on elite position talents like Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and new international additions Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres. This alone makes me think they'd like to move Garza for several pitching prospects to shore up depth in that area.

Perhaps the bigger concern for the Cubs is cost. The new regime has rid themselves of nearly all the bad contracts of the previous era, one that proved that throwing dollars at talent doesn't always work (and seems to, in fact, fail most of the time). The Cubs themselves seem to be going back and forth on the issue, even if rumors that the team is talking with Garza about a long term extension could just be a ploy to drive the asking price up for inquiring teams. The Cubs know they need to extend Samardzija soon, and they gave the floundering Edwin Jackson over $50 million in the offseason. Looking back at last year, where Zack Greinke signed for an absurd 6 years, $147 million, Anibal Sanchez signed for 5 years, $80 million, Dan Haren got 1 year, $13 million, and Jackson the aforementioned $52 million over 4 years, you have to imagine that Garza is looking for somewhere right around Anibal Sanchez money.

For me, it's worth it. This is a regime that took over with promises to build the right way, by adding upper echelon young talent, developing it, and surrounding it with top players to build a consistent pennant challenger. Doesn't Garza, for somewhere around the 5 years, $80 million or maybe if they're lucky, 4 years, $65 million, fit that bill? Wouldn't the Cubs love to be able to have two top of the rotation starters to build the rest of their staff around? It would help even further if Edwin Jackson climbed out of his stupor, but to be sure, having two, and maybe three, power pitchers in your rotation surely helps take the pressure off the young hurlers working their way up through the various minor league levels and helps create some sort of competitive big league club that will both attract future free agents and keep some of the fans in the park. You'd think that a team that is ready to embark on some ambitious ballpark renovations would love to have that kind of asset around.

Garza and Samardzija are perfect to build around
Of course, we all know that the Cubs, who already shipped out Scott Feldman, Carlos Marmol, Scott Hairston, and seem prepared to continue to deal assets, will likely find a suitor to take Garza and get a treasure trove of pitching talent in return. After all, Garza has been on a tear this season and is showing the type of pitching you get from him when he's healthy. My only argument is that by keeping Garza, you hold on to the type of asset that Major League teams drool over - proven right handed power pitchers. There's a reason that teams are going to be lining up to trade for him to begin with.

My small glimmer of hope notwithstanding, once the Cubs trade him the organization will be left with only one true potential ace, Samardzija. These types of players don't come easy or often. I've been a huge proponent of the way that Theo, Jed Hoyer, & Co. have gone about the business of restocking and building an elite minor league system. They've set the organization up to have a lot of success in the (near) future, especially on a positional basis. But this time, maybe the only one thus far in their tenure, I'd go the other way.

Keep Matt Garza. Build your rotation around him and Jeff Samardzija. Spend money to keep assets like a major market team can (and should). The chances of doing so and reaping the rewards have to be at least as good as dumping one of your best assets for minor leaguers. We'll find out soon enough, but chances are that Garza and his competitive, talented skill set will unfortunately soon be sent packing.