As I write this, the trade is not yet official so it is possible that some of the details could change, particularly if trouble appears in any of the physicals, but as you’ve read on CubbiesCrib earlier today, Matt Garza will be coming to the Cubs. The Cubs had to pay steeply to get him though. How steeply? And what can we expect from Garza as a Cub? Let’s see what we can find out.
Get comfortable folks, this is going to be a bit of a long read. There are a lot of players and angles to cover, so lets get down to it.
First, lets consider how much the Cubs gave up. There have been articles around the internet proclaiming that the Cubs have mortgaged their future, abandoned their rebuilding, emptied their farm system, and are betting everything on Garza in an effort to win now. The truth is that none of these are true. The Cubs haven’t mortgaged anything, they haven’t emptied their farm system, and they have abandoned their rebuilding.
Let’s look at the period from 2012-2014 as we evaluate what the Cubs gave up. This is in the window in which the Cubs will lose the bad contracts and be able sign high quality free agents and the time period in which the current crop of young talent should be ready to compete for a title. In other words, that is the window in which the Cubs should be looking to win a World Series. In this trade the Cubs gave up a pitcher, a short stop, an outfielder, and a catcher. Before the trade, I would expect the 2012-2014 Cubs to look like this in those positions:
C – Soto
SS – Castro, then Hak Ju Lee (with Castro at second)
OF – Soriano, Colvin, Brett Jackson
SP – Zambrano, Dempster, Cashner, Archer, Coleman (or another prospect)
And after the trade?
C – Soto
SS – Castro
OF – Soriano, Colvin, Jackson
SP – Zambrano, Dempster, Garza, Cashner, Coleman (or another prospect)
In short, nothing changed. Soto (and Wellington Castillo) made Robinson Chirinos expendable. Starlin Castro (and Junior Lake, Ryan Flaherty, DJ LaMahieu, etc.) made Hak-Ju Lee expendable… even though he will be missed. Guyer would have been a fourth outfielder for the Cubs behind those other three, and if Matt Szczur chooses the Cubs over the NFL, he would likely have been passed up on the depth chart by 2014 anyway. As for starting pitching, Garza should be at worst dead even with Chris Archer, and has post season experience. Most analysts expect Garza to be a Number 2 level pitcher in the NL, but more on that in a bit.
As for the claims that the Cubs farm system is now depleted? Absolute nonsense. As you have read on CubbiesCrib several times in the past, the Cubs farm system is extremely deep with everyday calibre players, but had few elite prospects. Lee, Guyer, and Chirinos are all three quality prospects who should turn into everyday players, and Archer has the potential to be above average. Only Lee in that group had true star potential. That potential is at least 2-3 seasons away and the jury is out if it will fully develop. I wish he were still in the Cubs system. I think we may see him playing for the Rays for much of the next decade, including a few All-Star appearance. But with Starlin Castro (who projects to have much more power and almost as good defense), the Cubs could easily afford to let him go.
I have commented before that the Cubs had a minor league logjam at outfield, middle infield, and starting pitcher, not to mention the oddity of four catchers on the 40-man roster. Check all those problems as solved. And that isn’t all. They got a few other players back as well.
In addition to Garza, the Cubs get Fernando Perez. Perez is a 27 year old switch hitting outfielder. His major league numbers aren’t great, but they aren’t based on much of anything either. Perez has had some bad luck with injuries in recent seasons, and I think those are still driving down his numbers. To see what he capable of, we have to look to his numbers before the injuries set in. Anyone interested in a switch hitter who batted .308 with an OBP of .423 and 32 SB in the AA Southern League? That was 2007. In 2008 at AAA he stole 43 bases while hitting .288/.361. Not bad. In 2009 the arm injuries set in, and he his numbers haven’t recovered yet. For the Cubs, I expect he will start the season in AAA Iowa while the Cubs’ coaches try to bring his offensive game back to where it was a few years ago.
Best case scenario: he is a high quality fourth outfielder who can play all three positions with good defensive, is a fantastic pinch runner, and can pinch hit from both sides of the plate. Even as a potential lead off guy, I don’t see him taking a starting job. Worst case scenario: he replaces Sam Fuld on the 40 man roster, hangs out in AAA and fills in for the Cubs in the event of an injury. In other words, Perez could be a switch hitting, faster, higher OBP version of what we expected from Guyer. Not a bad pickup.
The Cubs will also receive another minor league pitcher, one who hasn’t been named yet. It is highly likely that this pitcher will be left handed, very talented, very raw, and several seasons away from making the big leagues. The potential upside could be huge, but he may never make it out of Double A. Once we know who he is I’ll break it down further, but I think he will be a welcome addition to the Cubs system and a player to watch for several years to come.
That leaves Matt Garza. How good can he be for the Cubs? 15 wins pitching in the AL East. ERA of 3.91 in over 200 innings with a WHIP of 1.25. In six day time starts he pitched very well, winning four of them. Some analysts project Garza as a sure thing number starter for the Cubs.
But Garza pitched his home games in a dome. When you take him outside his ERA jumps to 4.44 and his HR allowed climbs similarly. Granted, some of those outdoor starts where in places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, and we should allow him credit for that. But how much credit? It turns out, quite a lot. In 14 of Garza’s out door starts against teams not named Yankees or Red Sox, Tampa gave up an average 3.14 runs a game (that is not an ERA for Garza, let me be clear. His ERA would be much higher). Tack on an extra half a run a game on average for pitching in Wrigley, and that is still less than four runs a game. That’s not the most scientific measurement of his outdoor performance, but it does give us an idea of what to expect. Now, if only the Cubs offense could score that much… but that’s a different article.
His HR numbers are too high for me to be in love with this guy pitching for the Cubs, and I’m not real thrilled with his career BB/9 either, but on the current roster I think he would be the number three starter, behind Zambrano and Dempster. From purely a talent standpoint, he is a very good fly ball pitcher… and that is always risky for the Cubs.
But there is a bigger problem, one that worries me more than any of the stats. Garza, in several media reports, is described as “emotional.” Once upon a time, before his big contract and recent melt downs, that is exactly how we described Zambrano. Do we really want Zambrano 2.0? The Cubs have yet to succeed in taming Carlos. What happens when we pair him with another emotional starter? For that matter, why has Garza been traded twice in five years? Is he a victim of circumstance, or are Tampa and Minnesota leery of banking on another Zambrano? Ultimately, no one has these answers and all we can do is watch and hope for the best.
For Garza, the best case scenario is that he continues to improve and becomes the front line ace pitcher the Cubs have been needing. This is actually somewhat likely. The worst case scenario is that he does morph into the second coming of Zambrano and, like Zambrano in 2010, is a large factor in the Cubs tanking a season. Or two.
Regardless, Garza appears to be worth the risk. If he can keep his home run numbers under control and doesn’t start fighting with his catcher, cussing out his infield, or throwing temper tantrums on the mound, the Cubs should have a very good starting pitcher for several years.
All in all, and I say this expecting the player to be named to be a high ceiling, unpolished, low minors left handed starter, I think the Cubs and Rays just about broke even on this deal. No big winner, no big loser. And the best part is that the Cubs still have plenty of pitching depth to deal for other parts or prospects, not to mention the potential for trading Aramis, Fukudome, and Byrd during the upcoming season. The Cubs could manage to compete while they are still rebuilding, and that’s a neat trick if you can pull it off.
I still project the Cubs to not really contend in 2011 (I’m sure Jordan disagrees with me on that), but I am more optimistic about 2012 than I was before. Not a bad trade, Jim Hendry. Not your best, but not bad at all.