It has been a long time coming for both pitcher and Cubs fans, but Matt Garza is ready to come off of the disabled list and make his 2013 debut tomorrow in Pittsburgh. The return was confirmed on Saturday, over a full day after Garza made his final minor league rehab start on Thursday evening. The righty, featuring his Matt Clement like goatee, had tossed six innings of shut out ball while tallying six Ks for AAA Iowa. With no mention of any soreness or further setbacks, it appears the former Tampa Bay Ray will be returning at 100% health wise. Dale Sveum did mention that he hopes Garza will ease into his return at the Major League level after a lengthy stint off, rehab innings be damned. Sveum may also limit the pitch count to 85 or 90.
As for making space in the rotation, the odd man out now has a name and a face: Carlos Villanueva. The veteran swing man started the 2013 campaign almost as well as any other starter on the staff, but his experience as a relief man, along with getting roughed up by the Rockies in his last start made Villanueva rotation sacrifice of choice. To the credit of the righty, Villanueva has accepted the move to a less glorified role professionally. It remains unreported whether he shaved his throwback mustache to switch up the mojo after getting rocked by Colorado or if it is a different look to reflect his new role on the team. 2010 is the only year in which Villanueva spent a full year in the bullpen. In that season he appeared in 50 games while sporting a 4.61 ERA with a 1.329 WHIP and a 3.05 strikeout to walk ratio.
The organization’s desire to build back up Garza’s trade value is no secret by now. However, with just a month and a half left before the start of July, it remains to be seen just how much market value can be developed no matter how amazing Garza pitches. The righty was slowed by injuries last season as well, and he will be eligible to become a free agent this off season. These two facts certainly would tilt the negotiating leverage in favor of interested trade partners. It would be interesting to see if the Cubs do a 180 degree turn and extend Garza to a deal similar to the one that Edwin Jackson received. Even the free agent market value will hinge on whether Garza stays healthy and pitches well from now until the end of the season, but Garza’s sub .500 career record stacks up to that of Jackson’s. Garza has his new teammate beat in categories such as ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts per nine innings, but Jackson’s durability and inning eating ability can account for some of that discrepancy with a larger sample size of 300 plus innings more worked than Garza.
It was reported that Garza did a little recruiting to get his friend Jackson to sign with the Cubs this off season. This was despite the fact that his own future as a Cub was up in the air. Surely the veteran righty would consider staying put if the Cubs made a fair offer. Theo Epstein and Company could help make that decision a mutual win-win by getting creative with the contract. For the sake of example, both sides could look at an opt out clause after year two or a player option after year three, at which point Garza would be 30 or 31 in terms of age and still be in a position to cash in on a big contract. Such a deal would protect the Cubs from being stuck with a Carlos Zambrano like contract that back fires should Garza not produce or get hurt again, while maintaining some flexibility to deal the pitcher should the player’s value on the market increase while the club remains in rebuilding mode.
First things first, as all this talk is moot without a solid return by Garza in 2013. While the pitcher’s return will not be as highly anticipated as that of Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, the outlook on the big picture for Garza and the Cubs long term plans is just as important for the organization and the Friendly Confines faithful.