Matt Garza has been much been known to be on the trading block since the early part of the 2012 season. An injury was pretty much the only thing that prevented the Cubs from dealing their top of the rotation starter that July. Health issues delayed the 2013 debut of the right hander, but all throughout the focus has been on what can the Cubs get in return for Garza. Since the former Ray’s return to the mound, he has gone 6-1 with a very attractive 3.17 ERA over 11 starts. During that span he has also featured a 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings ratio and currently holds a career low 2.5 walks per nine ratio. In short, Garza is on pace to have his best season since he went 15-10 for Tampa Bay in 2010.
The solid return after a lengthy period spent on the shelf has only fueled the trade rumors. Considering the haul the prior regime gave up for the former ace of the Cubs staff, Theo Epstein and Company have been reported by interested teams to have held firm on a high price tag for Garza, in terms of prospect return. According to a Tweet by ESPN’s Buster Olney, the North Siders have circled back with interested teams and instructed them to put in their final and best offers. Rumored teams that have been calling include the Rangers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers, among others. While none of the prospects the Cubs traded away to obtain Garza have really impacted at the Major League level for the Rays yet, it would also be wrong to already conclude that those prospects are a bust and that the Cubs were the winners in the January 2011 deal. The Cubs certainly would not get the deep package of prospects like they gave up, but Epstein and Jed Hoyer are said to be looking for high ceiling pitching prospects.
The problem is that the rumored teams that have interest have been reportedly reluctant to dangle their top pitching prospect, instead offering minor league pitchers ranked slightly lower in their respective systems. In that scenario, the Cubs front office would obviously be looking for the best collective prospect talent being offered. What has been interesting is that there has been no talk of a window being included in the deal in which Garza and his agent could negotiate a contract extension with the new ballclub. Such an approach would afford the Cubs a little more leverage on the quality of prospects being sent to the North Side. As it stands, the only leverage Chicago has is the fact that they can make a qualifying offer to Garza for 2014, which could snag the Cubs a compensatory draft pick of the free agent to be ends up signing elsewhere this off season.
But with a lack of top notch talent being offered to the Cubs and top of the rotation pitching at the Major League level a premium as it is, a question was posed by a Cubbies Crib reader that I myself had been wondering for a few days now. Why not hang onto Garza and sign him to an extension that would make the staff ace candidate a fixture of the rotation for when the team establishes themselves as consistent contenders? As the reader pointed out, the Cubs had signed free agent Edwin Jackson this past offseason with the future in mind and that was supposedly the Plan B after having seriously pursued Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez before the Venezuelan spurned the Cubs to return to Detroit. With the Cubs still working their way up in rebuild mode, the question was posed as to why a veteran like Jackson was needed. The response from the organization highlighted Jackson’s durability and ability to eat up eatings, traits that would come in handy to provide solid depth to the middle of the rotation. The value Epstein and Hoyer put on that was apparently $52 million over four years.
The fallout from that financial commit means that the Cubs will need to best that contract to even start a genuine conversation with Garza’s agent if they wish to retain the righty past 2013. While there were recent reports of both pitcher and the organization discussing an extension in the midst of trade rumors, there is some speculation that the talks were just to keep the trade offers honest. It appears the two sides disagree on the average annual salary and word is that no serious attempts have been made to really try to compromise.
In turn the talk of money has been used as one argument for not keeping Garza in Cubs blue pinstripes past 2013. But going back to the Jackson deal and the fact that the Cubs are a large market team, money should be of lesser concern. The greater worry that the Cubs are using in their defense of trying to part ways to Garza is the recent injury history. Over the last few years around all of baseball, there has not been anything that is more of a gamble than throwing big money over several years to a starting pitcher. The situation hits home when the name Carlos Zambrano is brought up. The current front office feels that they can sell high at this point and add to their hording of farm system talent. However the reverse argument is that there is never a guarantee that all top prospects end up panning out at the Major League level.
The bottom line is that either approach has its pros and cons, like many decisions in life. But what if you could have your cake and eat it too? A true win-win scenario that could play out is the Cubs dealing Garza now for a high level prospect or two, and then see the North Siders bring back Garza as a free agent signing this off season. In other words, think Cliff Lee with one less detour. The ace lefty had been traded by the Phillies in 2009 to Seattle and in off season of 2010, he returned to Philadelphia as a free agent after a stop in Texas for the 2010 season. Garza has express on more than one occasion publicly that he loves it here in Chicago and enjoys his teammates. In turn his fellow Cubs players have had high praise for him their pitcher. The foundation for negotiations has already been laid with the extension talks mentioned above, and a finalized Wrigley renovation agreement with the city of Chicago would confirm the additional revenue just around the corner for the organization where gambling a long term deal on Garza would be that much more of a worth while bet.
Could this be the behind the scenes plan all along? Only time will tell, but in the mean time Garza’s 2013 future as a Cub appears to be coming to a close. That much seems certain.