The Yankees are slowly continuing their never-ending search for a starting pitcher(s), choosing to let the market come to them this winter rather than jumping in headfirst. Lost in the new CBA madness yesterday was a report from Ken Rosenthal indicating that the Cubs’ new regime is willing to trade Matt Garza, exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees could use in their rotation. Really, the only way he could be more perfect is if he was left-handed, or at least that’s what the perception is. Let’s break down the former Rays’ qualifications…
- Garza, 28 in a few weeks, has legitimate swing-and-miss stuff. His fastballs (both two- and four-seamers) have been living in the 92-96 mph range for years now, and he backs them up with a mid-80’s slider that eats up righties. He also throw a hard, mid-80’s changeup and a mid-70’s curveball he likes to drop in for a called strike rather than bury in the dirt for a swing-and-miss.
- The peripheral stats (2.95 FIP) are as good as it gets. Garza struck out 23.5% of the batters he faced in 2011 (8.85 K/9) while walking just 7.5% (2.86 BB/9), and he got a ground ball 46.3% of the time. That allowed him to keep the ball in the building (0.64 HR/9) despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ park.
- Garza has proven to be durable, making at least 30 starts and throwing at least 180 IP in each of the last four seasons. If you go back to 2006 and include his time in in the minors, it’s six straight seasons of at least 30 starts and 175 IP. Pretty impressive.
- After all that time with the Rays, Garza is obviously familiar with life in the AL East. He’s pitched in the playoffs as well as the World Series, most notably throwing this gem against the Red Sox in Game Seven of the 2008 ALDS.
- Arbitration-eligible as a Super Two for the third time this winter, MLBTR projects Garza to earn $8.7M in 2012. That puts him in line for $13M+ in 2013, his final trip through arbitration before hitting free agency after the season. It’s not a total bargain, but it’s definitely a below-market salary.
- It wasn’t until he moved to the NL that his performance really jumped into that frontline pitcher category. During his three full seasons with the Rays, Garza pitched to a 4.24 FIP with 7.10 K/9 (18.8% of batters faced) and a 3.04 BB/9 (8.1%). Rock solid numbers, but hardly ace-like.
- Up until this year, Garza was a rather extreme fly ball pitcher. He had a measly little 39.0% ground ball rate during his three years in Tampa, allowing one homer for every 8.1 IP (1.10 HR/9). That’s in a pitchers’ park too.
- Garza does have a bit of a reputation as a hothead, getting into a handful of altercations with teammates over the years. This on-field incident with Dioner Navarro is probably the most memorable. I don’t put much stock into it, but it did happen.
- Although he’s been very durable in his career, Garza does have a pair of elbow-related DL stints to his credit. He missed close to three weeks this summer with a bone bruise, and missed more than two weeks back in 2008 due to an inflamed radial nerve in the elbow.
Garza’s a very interesting case. Based on the PitchFX data, he really changed up his pitching style after moving from the Rays to the Cubs. He scaled back the usage of his fastballs, throwing them about 50% of the time rather than 60+% of the time, and mixing in a lot more offspeed stuff. More sliders, more curveballs, more changeups, he threw all three of those pitches at least 10% of the time this past season. That’s a first for him. That begs the question: was his drastic improvement this year the result of changing his plan of attack, or moving to the easier league?
I’m pretty confident in saying that the answer is a little of both. Garza is very unlikely to maintain the sub-3.00 FIP he posted in 2011 after a move to the AL East, but that’s not a knock on him because no one does that. The great Roy Halladay had one sub-3.00 FIP season in all his years with the Blue Jays, and it came almost a decade ago. Even if he regresses to a ~3.50 FIP guy moving back into the tougher league, holy cow is that guy valuable, especially over 30+ starts and 200 or so innings. Garza does play with a lot of confidence and swagger, which like to see, but also the kind of confidence and swagger that’s easily misconstrued when he’s struggling.
As far as comparable trades, there’s obviously the one that sent Garza to the Cubs last offseason. The Rays received five young players in return, including two high-end prospects (Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee), a fourth outfielder (Sam Fuld), and two useful Triple-A pieces (Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer). That was for three years of Garza though, not two. The Shaun Marcum swap also fits to a certain extent; the Blue Jays got one top-25 caliber prospect (Brett Lawrie) for two years of Marcum. Two years of Zack Greinke returned a defense-first shortstop (Alcides Escobar), a potential above-average center fielder (Lorenzo Cain), a hard-throwing reliever (Jeremy Jeffress), and a top pitching prospect in the low minors (Jake Odorizzi). That trade was universally panned though, most felt the Royals looked to fill specific needs rather than focus on getting the best possible return.
Brian Cashman and Epstein* have never made a trade because of the Yankees-Red Sox thing, but that doesn’t mean anything now. The Yankees should absolutely call to see what it would take to acquire Garza, and I think they should pursue a trade as long as the Cubs aren’t being completely out of this world unreasonable. Based on the recent deals involving similar pitchers, it sounds like it’ll take a four-player package of youngsters, with at least one of them being a true stud and the others being useful players, not throw-ins.
* Epstein is technically the President of Baseball Ops and Jed Hoyer is the GM, but I have to imagine Theo will somehow be involved in a trade involving his team’s best pitcher and a guy that could legitimately be part of the next contending Cubs’ team.