The Price for Matt Garza

With Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, and John Danks now off the board, the trade focus has shifted to Jair Jurrjens and Matt Garza. The former is a no-no in my eyes, but the latter’s a pretty damn good fit for the Yankees. David Kaplan reported yesterday that talks involving Garza are heating up, with the Yankees and two other clubs involved. The price is “incredibly high” though, and Jon Heyman says the Cubs are prioritizing young pitching in return.

The Yankees have plenty of pitching at the upper levels, enough that they could trade three young arms and still have enough depth in Triple-A to support the big league team this summer. They appear to be a match in that regard, it’s just a question of whether or not the two sides can find a middle ground. I’m guessing no, because the price of pitching is ridiculously high right now and the Cubs hold all the cards. Once upon a time two top prospects and miscellaneous pieces got you Dan Haren or Cliff Lee. Now it gets you Gio Gonzalez.

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The remaining pitching market

If the Yankees don’t make a move for a pitcher this off-season, it won’t be for lack of options. To this point we’ve seen two free agent signings, an NPB posting, and two trades involving pitchers who would represent an upgrade to the Yankees. Perhaps they think that the prices to acquire these pitchers does not match the upgrade they’d receive, but the opportunities are there nonetheless. Brian Cashman figures to have a few more chances to upgrade later this winter, as there are a number of actually or reportedly available pitchers.

Hiroki Kuroda

In terms of pure results, he’s the best available arm. His 3.31 ERA since 2009 ranks 23rd among all qualified starters. Even better, he’s reportedly seeking a one-year contract at a reasonable $12 or $13 million. The Yankees have been frequently connected to Kuroda, and it stands to reason that they’ll remain involved until he does sign somewhere.

While he does have the top results, there are some downsides to Kuroda. For instance, the hitters on the Rays, Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are better than those on the Padres, Rockies, Giants, and Diamondbacks. The AL East also features more hitter-friendly parks than the NL West. Then there’s Kuroda’s age, 37. A one-year deal helps limit some of that risk, but if he shows decline in 2012 he might not present much of an upgrade.

Wandy Rodriguez

Not far behind Kuroda in terms of results is Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros shopped him at last year’s trade deadline, but the Yankees weren’t interested unless Houston paid a significant portion of his remaining salary. He’s owed $36 million for the next three years, because his 2014 option becomes a player option if traded. That makes him much less attractive, meaning Houston will have to kick in some cash if they want to trade him. While they showed reluctance earlier in the off-season, they now appear willing to make that trade-off.

Not only does the NL Central have a number of top-flight hitters, but none of them actually play for the Astros. That is, Rodriguez has the burden of facing all of these elite hitters. The closest they ever had was Hunter Pence, but he wasn’t even a top-five hitter in the division. That does make him look a bit more attractive. He also has fewer pitchers’ parks in the division. Yet the Yankees appear not at all interested. That’s probably because of the commitment length. Were Rodriguez signed only through 2013 they might be more on board. But three years to a pitcher you’re not totally sold on? While Rodriguez might help, it’s understandable why the Yankees are shying away.

Roy Oswalt

In the last three years, despite multiple bouts with lower back injuries, Oswalt has accumulated a 3.46 ERA in 531 innings. All told that’s a pretty solid accomplishment. Since we just discussed Oswalt yesterday there’s no need to elaborate further. He remains a tantalizing yet risky option.

Gio Gonzalez

There has been no shortage of Gio Gonzalez news this winter. The A’s seem pretty intent on trading him, and judging by how slowly they’re moving they’re also trying to extract every last drop of value from another team. This makes complete sense. Gonzalez ranks 39th in ERA among all starters from 2009-2011, despite his horrible 2009 showing. He’s been among the best in terms of results the last two seasons. Even when you look at only his away stats, he still fares pretty well: 3.96 ERA in 238.2 innings since 2009. That takes away some of the concern that he’s the product of a large ballpark.

The Nationals were rumored to be pushing hard for Gonzalez, offering up a four-for-one trade that will involve prospects Brad Peacock and Derek Norris, among others. Still, four-for-one deals can get complicated, since they typically lack top-end quality. Today on ESPN.com, Jim Bowden suggested a few trades for Gonzalez (subscription required). For the Yankees he suggests Dellin Betances, David Phelps, and Austin Romine. Since Gonzalez has four years remaining of team control, this could work out for the Yankees. The only catch: Oakland might find a better package, and one that fits their needs better, elsewhere.

Matt Garza

Garza represents an interesting option, if only because he’s experienced success in the AL East. But the Cubs are apparently asking for a lot. Would the Yankees be willing to trade Banuelos and at least one other top-five prospect (Gary Sanchez or Mason Williams), plus other pieces, to get the last two years of Garza’s pre-free agency years? It seems unlikely. While he’s been good, he might be a bit more expensive than other pitchers. If he costs more than Gonzalez, he certainly isn’t worth it.

John Danks

You can check out our large and growing John Danks archive for various takes on the 27-year-old left-hander. He’s an enticing option for a few reasons. He’s been solid for the last four years, he has AL experience and in a hitters’ park no less, and he is conceivably someone the Yanks could sign long-term after the 2012 season. The issue, as with Garza, is that the White Sox are asking the moon for him. It’s simply not worth a top-five prospect for a player who will reach free agency after this season. At a price more commensurate with his overall value, Danks could be the best target on the board.

Edwin Jackson

A free agent, Jackson requires just one resource to acquire: money. The Yankees have that in abundance, though they’re seemingly not throwing it around this off-season. They might also be reluctant to sign Jackson for four years. As with Oswalt, we covered Edwin Jackson recently, so there’s no need to dive any deeper into his case. He’s there for the taking and could represent an upgrade in the Yanks rotation.

That brings us to a dozen candidates who could have upgraded, or still might upgrade, the Yanks rotation in 2012. All of the candidates, save for Darvish, have sported ERAs under 4.00 since 2009. They’ve all thrown a good number of innings, and everyone on the list, save for Oswalt and maybe Latos, has been relatively healthy. If the Yankees are serious about upgrading their rotation, they’ll connect on one of these 12 options, even though there are just seven remaining.

Yanks not having any “hi-level” trade talks about starters at the moment

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not currently having any “hi-level” trade discussions with any teams about a starting pitcher(s). They do have interest in Matt Garza though, who a) I really like, and b) is totally available. Things figure to pick up next week at the winter meetings, but the Yankees are definitely moving at their own pace this offseason. “We’re not desperate to do anything,” said Brian Cashman to Mark Feinsand, which is consistent with this idea of playing it cool and letting the market come to them. We’ll see, but I doubt the Yankees will have a quiet winter.

Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Garza

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…

The Pros

  • 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.

The Cons

  • 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.

Matt Garza and the travails of intra-division trades

The Yankees were not particularly fazed by Matt Garza or that thing he had growing off of his chin this year. In three starts against the Yanks, Garza threw 16.2 innings of 8.10 ERA ball. Despite 14 strike outs, the Bombers drew seven walks and blasted five home runs in those three starts, and Garza hardly resembled the pitcher who threw a one-walk no-hitter against the Tigers in July.

Still, three starts does not a pitcher make, and over the past few seasons with Tampa Bay, Garza has been a reliable right-hander who has succeeded in the AL East. In his three full years with the Rays, he put up a combined 7.9 fWAR by missing bats and keeping the ball in the park. His numbers slipped a bit in 2010, but his 200 innings of pitching well above replacement level makes him a valuable commodity.

Last week, then, it was only natural for Yankee fans to ask if Garza would be a potential target. After all, he’s far better than Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova, two pitchers still projected to be in the Yanks’ Opening Day rotation, and in fact, in his mailbag on Friday shortly before the Cubs landed Garza, Mike fielded a Garza-related question. Mike wrote an answer one could call prescient today:

He’d be an ideal target, but I can’t see the Rays trading him within the division. Andrew Friedman’s been calling the shots in Tampa Bay since the end of the 2005 season, and he’s made exactly three trades within the AL East: He acquired Chad Bradford and Gregg Zaun from the Orioles in separate deals, and he also dealt Nick Green to the Yankees. Just not gonna happen, not at a reasonable cost anyway.

As Garza went to the Cubs in the NL, the point was a moot one fairly quickly, but as fallout from the trade percolated over the weekend, the ties that bound the Yankees to Garza were perhaps a bit stronger than we first expected. The Yanks and Rays had briefly talked about Garza, but Tampa Bay wanted too much from their intra-division rival.

“We never got off the dime,” Brian Cashman said to reporters, “but strong impressions were that it would be something that would cost us more because we are in the division, kind of like Roy Halladay. We like Matt Garza and I had a conversation early in the winter and it was clear that what it would take would be more significant than I wanted to do. And there was also reluctance from them to trading within the division.”

That’s the business of baseball in a nutshell. The Mariners were so eager to trade Cliff Lee to the Rangers because it netted them one of their key division rival’s top prospects. The Blue Jays wanted Jesus Montero plus more for Halladay because such a move would have left the Doc in the AL East. In a vacuum, the Yanks knew what Garza was worth on the open market, and they knew what his AL East asking price would be. It wasn’t worth the further discussions.

Now, the Yanks and Rays could, as Chad Jennings explored this weekend, fight over some remaining pieces. Both teams have some dollars to spend and both teams need a right-handed bat and some bullpen arms, and for the Yanks, the hunt for a pitcher continues with one less arm on the market.

Mailbag: Madson, Garza, Draft, NJ, Meche

Ah yes, the return of the regular old mailbag. We milked some questions for longer posts over the holidays, but here’s one of the old school, quick hits style mailbags that we’ve all grown to love. This week’s topics include a potential trade for Ryan Madson,  interest in Matt Garza, using Cliff Lee money on prospects, Nick Johnson‘s job prospects, Gil Meche, and book recommendations. If you want to send in a question, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go.

Changeup, strike three. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Steve asks: Do you think there’s a chance the Phils will trade Ryan Madson, say for Nunez & one of their young pitchers? This way if they can play Nunez at ss & trade Jimmy Rollins save around 12m.

No way. The Phillies are clearly going all in right now, as they should because the core of the team consists of players on the wrong side of 30 (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, etc.), and they won’t be productive forever. Madson is arguably the best setup man in the game, and they sure as hell won’t trade Jimmy Rollins. He’s massively overrated but still a damn fine player, and who’s taking on that contract? I’d love to see Madson in pinstripes because he’s downright awesome, but it would take a lot more than Eduardo Nunez and a pitching prospect to even get their attention.

Tucker asks: If Matt Garza was in a different division, would the Yanks be all over him?

Yeah, probably. Young enough (27), cheap enough ($3.35M last year and is up for arbitration for the second time this winter), healthy enough (hasn’t missed a start since April of 2008), and effective enough (4.24 FIP last three years, identical to Gavin Floyd and Brett Myers). He’d be an ideal target, but I can’t see the Rays trading him within the division. Andrew Friedman’s been calling the shots in Tampa Bay since the end of the 2005 season, and he’s made exactly one three trades within the AL East: he acquired Chad Bradford and Gregg Zaun from the Orioles in separate deals, and he also dealt Nick Green to the Yankees. Just not gonna happen, not at a reasonable cost anyway.

Late update: Looks like Garza’s headed to the Cubbies.

Sam asks: Does any part of you wish that the Yanks would re-allocate some of the money they almost spent on Cliff Lee to trying to sign more high-end international guys/draft picks than they would have originally? I get that what they already spend is substantial but I would love to see them throw an extra 2-3 million into both budgets.

Of course, but as you said, they do spend a bunch of money as it is. You can always spend more, but eventually you’ll reach a point where you’re just throwing money away because the rate of return is so low. We can complain about a lot of things with the Yankees, but the farm system isn’t one of them. They know what they’re doing in that department these days.

Matt asks: Was looking back at the 2010 roster, and who the Yanks were getting rid of and keeping. One that I know won’t be back in Nick Johnson, but is there any clue where he would go ?

Reportedly, NJ is fully recovered from his latest wrist surgery and is working out twice a day down in Arizona. He was in the mix for Oakland’s designated hitter job at one point, but they’ve since signed Hideki Matsui. The Cubs were also in the mix before they signed Carlos Pena, but that’s pretty much it. We haven’t heard a peep about Johnson all offseason. Just look at how little activity there is in his MLBTR archive.

I don’t know where he could go next year now that most of the major free agent first baseman are off the board and teams in need of a DH will turn to Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guerrero. Maybe the Rays? Twins? Angels? The Marlins are seeking a lefty hitting bat off the bench, and he played there for half-a-season, so maybe that fits. If he was willing to take one of those ever popular minor league “prove yourself in Spring Training” contract with a mid-summer opt out date, I’d be all over the guy. No risk with that type of contract, and it could end up having a high reward.

"I signed here because I want to win." (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Howard asks: It is pitching (of course) which we want to discuss—maybe a deal for Soria would be easier if we took Meche and his contract at the same time? Is Meche still a capable starter? And why do the Yankees insist on keeping Mr. Chamberlain in the bullpen? His performance as a starter was quite good when they let him pitch on regular rest.

Once upon a time, Meche tossed up two consecutive seasons of at least 210 innings pitched and a 3.82 FIP. Of course that was three years ago. He’s since been battling back and most notably shoulder injuries, and his performance has cratered: just a 5.03 FIP in 190.2 IP over the last two seasons. Meche finished the 2010 season as a reliever (and a pretty good one at that), and the decision has already been made by the Kansas City brain trust that he will return to that role next season. They don’t think he’s physically up to starting after missing 150 days with shoulder issues in the last two seasons.

So to answer the first question, no, he’s no longer a capable starter. With a $12M salary, he’s a deal breaker if the Royals want to try to lump him into any potential Soria trade. As for the second question, I don’t think any of us know why they insist on keeping Joba in the bullpen. I’m sure they have a very valid reason (Brian Cashman said something like “his stuff just isn’t the same as a starter,” but … duh), but we outsiders don’t know what it is. I’d love love love to see him given a chance to start again, but I’ve accepted that it just won’t happen. For shame.

Dan asks: After just finishing Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, which was brilliant I might add, can you suggest other books of the same quality? I know that these long, drawn out winter days make everyone a bit nostalgic. What better way to keep the flames burning then with a decent read through Yankee, or Baseball in general, history/insight? I know I’d love to get some suggestions from Yankee writers and fans on titles that are not to be missed.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know anything about it and can’t make any good recommendations. However, I’m sure some of our readers have, and I’m willing to bet they have some recommendations to offer. If you have one (or some), leave it in the comments.