Why the Garza deal is no good

I wanted to wait until the third player coming to Chicago was named, but I’m gonna go ahead and break down the big trade that landed the Cubs Matt Garza yesterday.  I’m just gonna work under the assumption that the unnamed player won’t be of great consequence to the verdict of this deal.  All I’ve read anywhere so far is that the guy is a minor-league pitcher.  We’ll see, but I’m not getting worked up over who it might be.

UPDATE: The minor league pitcher is Zachary Rosscup, a 22-year old lefty who’s about as far away from the major leagues as possible.  I honestly don’t know very much about this guy, but I’m assuming it’s still up in the air whether he’s seen as a starter or reliever long term.  He figures to spend most of 2011 in A-ball.

Why the Garza deal is no good

Also, the two teams swapped 5th outfielders in Sam Fuld and Fernando Perez.  I don’t think anyone’s really concerned with this part of the deal, but Perez is a 27-year old, switch-hitting center fielder who has racked up big time stolen base numbers in his 7 years in the minors.  He hasn’t hit very much at all the past couple of years though, so he’s nothing more than possibly the 25th guy on the roster this year.

Why the Garza deal is no good

I said the exact same thing in the weeks leading up to this trade, and my thoughts haven’t really changed at all– I just don’t think this acquisition will have much of an impact at all on the Cubs’ long playoff odds, and I think everyone agrees that had to be the case to justify the price they paid yesterday. This is a simple matter of thinking on the margin– to understand the real impact Garza will have on this team, you have to consider who he is replacing in the rotation.  So who’s the odd man out?  Tom Gorzelany?  Sure, but I actually just wrote like 1,000 words all about how underrated he is, and how he’s probably every bit of a 3-win pitcher right now (he was roughly a two-win pitcher in just 23 starts last year).  Randy Wells?  The ugly W-L record aside, he was just as good last year as he was his rookie year when he was worth three wins.  Carlos Silva? On a per-inning basis, he might have been the team’s most effective starter last year.  That said, the addition of Garza appears to spell the exit for one of these guys.

I’ve been like a broken record this offseason going on and on about how the Cubs’ rotation makes up for its lack of a true #1 with quality up and down the rotation.  Go look at these guys’ numbers– in the NL Central, there’s every reason to believe all of them can be solid, three-win pitchers, which isn’t something a lot of teams in baseball have one through five.  So unless you think Garza is something like a 5 or 6-win pitcher (he isn’t) then really, this might be as little as a one or two-win addition to a team that’ll need a truckload of good fortune for those wins to matter at all.  It’s really that simple– for the Cubs, the marginal impact of this sort of deal just isn’t very big at all, which is exactly why so much of the blogosphere has been, by and large, against the pursuit another starter. What happened yesterday was just about the worst case scenario playing out; like so many feared would happen, the Cubs appear to have badly miscalculated both Garza’s current talent level, and how his addition affects their playoff odds.

Now, I’m not sitting here trying to convince anyone that Garza isn’t any good, or that he won’t have any success in Chicago, because the truth is, evaluating pitchers using WAR can be tricky business, and he stands to benefit immensely by escaping the AL East– everyone knows how that worked for Ted Lilly.

 

Garza is a talented guy, and is almost certainly better than every incumbent starter other than perhaps Ryan Dempster, but the fact is he’s gonna have to reach a new level of performance in order to justify the Cubs’ investment.  Up to this point, he owns a relatively modest 7.10 K/9 rate, and there’s no getting around the fact that number will have to go up.  I don’t think there’s any question his transition to the NL will lead to more strikeouts, but he’s really gonna need every last one of them considering the trade off he’s making in the defense he’ll take the field with.  Since 2008, Garza’s first year in Tampa, the Rays defense has been roughly 120 runs above average according to John Dewan’s defensive metric DRS (defensive runs saved).  Over that same span, the Cubs’ defense has been 3 runs above average.  So there’s been almost a 120 run difference between the Cubs’ and Rays’ defense the past three years, and in 2010 the Cubs were about 20 runs below average according to DRS.  Garza has really benefitted from playing for such good defensive clubs, and there’s reason to doubt that’s something we’ll be saying about the Cubs in 2011.read more about US mater betting review by clicking here

The other key issue here is that Garza is leaving one of the most pitcher-friendly environments in the major leagues for a home park that can be challenging for fly ball pitchers.  He likes to work up in the zone, challenging hitters with his big fastball, but it appears to have cost him somewhat, as he’s allowed quite a few home runs the past two years despite pitching his home games in some friendly digs.  Garza’s career numbers at home? 3.69 ERA/3.89 FIP.  On the road?  4.26 ERA/4.64 FIP.

A lot is being made about the benefit of acquiring a pitcher with three years remaining before he hits free agency, which is nice, but Garza is good enough of a pitcher that he figures to be compensated quite fairly in arbitration the next few years, so he’s going to cost a nice chunk of change on top of all those prospects the club parted with.  Sure, he might be an important part of a playoff rotation at some point in the next three years, but you could argue that in two years Chris Archer will be every bit as valuable as Garza.  So to me it doesn’t mean that much that he’s still a few year away from free agency– if he doesn’t make the Cubs a playoff team this year, then I’m not sure I see this as a win for them at all.

I had a chance to see a lot of Chris Archer this past summer while I was interning with the Daytona Cubs, and I can tell you that he generated buzz with just about anyone who saw him.  Not just the scouts he came to the park, but also the people I was working with.  By all accounts, Chris is a really intelligent kid with great makeup, and there’s no denying the upside he possesses.  There’s speculation that he may be best suited as a closer, but I just can’t be sold on the idea that’s where his long term future is.  He’s still so young, and there are just too many things to like about him– he’s got size, a nice delivery, and really nasty stuff.  If he does end up in the bullpen that’ll soften the blow of this trade considerably, but I have a feeling Archer will be the Rays’ number two starter in a couple years.  If I were Hendry, I probably wouldn’t have made this trade without having to include him in the deal, so to me, losing him may be the worst part of all this.  He definitely represents the greatest risk the Cubs took in making this trade.

On the other hand, as much as I like Hak-Ju Lee, Robinson Chirinos, and Brandon Guyer, you can see what the Cubs were thinking making these guys available.  Parting with Lee certainly seems to be a vote of confidence in Starlin Castro’s ability to remain a shortstop long-term, so it makes sense they’d be willing to include a blocked prospect who’s probably three years away from the majors.  I think Chirinos is a hell of a sleeper, and the Rays may well have found their next everyday catcher, but he wasn’t gonna challenge Geovany Soto as the starter in Chicago.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are committed to Brett Jackson and Tyler Colvin, and they’re stuck with Alfonso Soriano for the foreseeable future, so I’m not surprised at all that they didn’t mind including Brandon Guyer.  From their perspective, you can see how the Cubs thought they were dealing from positions of organizational strength.  The disappointing thing is, I’m pretty confident that every one of these guys will turn into pretty good players.  However, giving these guys up isn’t the problem for me– it’s that they’re being given up for something less than a bona fide star.

When you compare what Zack Greinke cost the Brewers, to the price the Cubs paid for Garza, there’s a strong argument that the package on its way to Tampa is much more valuable than what the Royals accepted for Greinke.  This isn’t an apples-apples comparison since the Cubs didn’t really have the payroll flexibility to take on his $12MM salary this year, but the thought that the same group of prospects ought to have been valuable enough to land Greinke is a little frustrating.  He’s the sort of pitcher that would have been worth this price, for the simple fact that he would’ve been a lock to be the best pitcher on the team right away.  I’m not the biggest fan of labeling guys like this, but it’s really this simple– Zack Greinke is a #1 starter, Matt Garza is not.

The Cubs are basically gambling that Garza still has a lot of room for improvement.  For this deal to work out for the Cubs, he’s gonna have to discover a new level of ability, and ideally a year from now he’ll be open to a contract extension that might buy out a year or two of his free agency at a discounted rate.  But my verdict here is that Hendry seriously overpaid for Garza, so if he doesn’t really take to the NL, and if two years from now the four prospects he gave up are contributors on the next championship-caliber Rays team, it may end up that this move costs Jim Hendry his job.  I’m not saying I think that’s how things will play out since there’s a good chance Garza will have enough success to make this look like a solid trade, at least for the next couple of years, but there is the distinct possibility that this move just blows up in Hendry’s face, and that it eventually serves as the nail in his proverbial coffin.