The Cubs are already in major sell mode as they continue to completely restructure their organization from the ground up. With Scott Feldman already shipped off to Baltimore and Carlos Marmol reworking his mechanics in Albequerque for the Dodgers, the Cubs are in the midst of rebuilding a long-broken franchise. While they have been expanding their farm system by attacking the amateur international market, they are looking to acquire talent that is a bit closer to the majors. With Matt Garza in their sleeve, they have an opportunity to cash in.
Matt Garza is a very interesting case at this trade deadline. On one hand, he has had injury issues in the past calendar year that have forced him to miss significant time. In total, he's thrown just 161 innings since the beginning of the 2012 season. On the other hand, he's currently riding one of the best hot streaks in the majors:
Now, this recent hot streak brings up a legitimate question: is this performance just smoke, or is this what can be expected of Garza? Quite honestly it's tough to tell, but digging into the numbers might help out just a bit.
Firstly, it's important to take Garza's 2011 campaign with a massive grain of salt. It's possible the numbers point to a ceiling for Garza, but 2011 Matt Garza was 27 years old and playing in his first year in the National League. During that season, he got an O-Swing% of 34.3 and a SwStr% of 11.2. Those numbers are both light years ahead of his career norms, and he has fallen back in line with his career norms in the last 160 innings. This means that Garza is more likely to be a low-8 K/9 pitcher rather than fluttering near 9.0.
Using career numbers and recent numbers--so pretty much all the numbers--on Garza can lead one to a vast array of different conclusions on what exactly he can be. While 2011 exists and looks fantastic, it's also true that he took a step back in the first half of 2012 with a 4.17 FIP and 3.59 xFIP--and these numbers looked a lot worse before a ten-inning hot streak right before he got hurt.
So what do you get with Matt Garza? Well, his most stable skill is likely his control. Over the past 563 innings of his career, his walk rate has a range of 2.77 B/9 to 2.86 BB/9 going from year to year. During the last three years, he has attacked the strike zone early--with a F-Strike% of 63.2%--and is generating a SwStr% of 10.5. For some perspective, these numbers are very similar to Anibal Sanchez--who has a 64.7% F-Str% and a 10.7 SwStr% over the same span.
Garza is going to miss a lot of bats, and he's going to get himself ahead in the count. However, it's really important to not forget these injuries. While Garza has been on a nice streak, his fastball velocity isn't anywhere near what it was prior to his injury last year. Through 57.1 innings this season, he's dipped from 93.6 MPH to 92.7. With velocity issues after injuries, it's easy to point to a change or flaw in mechanics as a result of coming back. A quick peek at PitchF/X release point graphs suggests that isn't the case.
It appears that nothing has changed in Garza's mechanics due to his injury. Therefore, it is more likely that his velocity concerns are a product of regaining strength and stamina versus a change in mechanics. This also means, however, that the same potential mechanical issues that led to Garza's last two injuries are prevalent in his current mechanics. Whether the injuries are related to mechanics or general health, the same variables are in play--which in turn means that it has to be a big red flag.
Before getting to the teams, it's important to understand where Garza stands among his fellow trade candidates. As voiced by NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra, Garza enters a second consecutive year as the "belle of the ball"--but that tag might not be quite so true. The primary difference between 2012 and 2013 is a vital year of control. Trading for Garza last year would have meant him being under control for 2013. Trading for him this time around means acquiring a rental player that is due to test free agency for the first time in the off season.
There's also the issue of talent level. Different reports have different pitchers being available, and the names can include Cliff Lee and Yovani Gallardo depending on which sources are paid attention to--Ricky Nolasco was also in the mix until he was traded to Los Angeles. After the remaining three starters, the market for starting pitchers starts to get pretty bare--and with the amount of team control left on Lee and Gallardo, it's going to take a king's ransom to pry them away from Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
So let's compare Garza to Nolasco. Both players are due to hit free agency after the season, which means neither can be approached with a qualifying offer after a trade--so no compensation can be had by the receiving team. Both players have friendly contracts, with Garza agreeing to a $10.25 million figure before the season and Nolasco being signed to a $11.5 million figure. As far as age, Garza is 29 and Nolasco is 30, and both have over 1,000 innings of MLB experience.
Knowing this, the difference comes down to health and projected performance. Faith in Nolasco requires incredible faith in DIPS theory. As Andrew Ball notes, Nolasco is one of the greatest offenders of not matching his ERA to his FIP. Recent events have swung things a bit more in Nolasco's favor, however. Both pitchers have a SwStr% around ten in a small sample this season, and both are getting swings on north of 28.5% of pitches outside of the zone.
While faith in Nolasco requires faith in DIPS, faith in Garza requires faith in Garza's body to remain healthy and strong. If the numbers are to be trusted, Garza is a slam dunk as the top arm available at the deadline. However, medical reports and a physical might reveal that things are not exactly alright.
Now to the teams that could be involved. After the Nolasco deal, the market becomes a bit more clear. It is nearly a given that Seattle, Houston, Milwaukee, Chicago (AL), Minnesota, New York (NL), and Miami are out of the equation. With recent happenings, it also appears that the San Diego Padres are going to fall out of the mix.
If Cliff Lee and Yovani Gallardo are not made available or are too pricey, then there may be several suitors for a very small number of arms.
With the recent stretch run for Garza and no signs of physical ailments, the Cubs have every motivation to let the deals come to them. As far as they are concerned, they can expect Garza to turn down a qualifying offer--unless he were to get hurt again. This means that they will more than likely be compensated if Garza turns down the offer and elects to become a free agent. Lately, Twitter and the rest of the internet have been all out of sorts with different Matt Garza rumors. Teams listed as being interested include the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, and Cleveland Indians. I'll spend a bit of time on each of these:
Boston Red Sox
This connection makes for an interesting story, but that's about all it comes out to be. The connection between the Cubs' front office and the Red Sox is obvious, but these teams simply don't match up. The Red Sox are stacked with quality arms and have plenty of organizational depth--including Allen Webster. With Clay Buchholz likely to return from injury soon and John Lackey returning to form, it doesn't appear the Sox have much incentive to give up big prospects--especially after last year's mega trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles.
San Diego Padres
On June 24th, the Padres got a game over .500 and were heavily rumored as being interested in making a big splash at the deadline. Since that date they have gone 1-10 and lost six consecutive games to the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox. While they are still technically in the race, it's hard to see a team that has fallen off this much turn itself into a buyer when it is reported that Garza wants to test free agency.
Texas always seems to need more pitching, but it may be hard for them to find reason to buy on starters. With Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis, and Alexi Ogando all working to come back from injury and Martin Perez available as another starter, it's hard to see where Garza would fit.The deal would also likely require the Rangers to part with Mike Olt or Leonys Martin.
Toronto Blue Jays
After the Blue Jays gutted their farm system over the off season, it's hard to take them seriously as buyers. It becomes even harder when reports like this come out:
For those unaware, the players involved would be Jonathan Schoop (2B) and Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP). Both are top 100 prospects, and both create a price that is very hard for the Blue Jays to realistically match.
Of all of the teams reportedly in on Matt Garza, Cleveland is the one that makes the most sense. In terms of need, let's just say they have some. Despite his shaky start in a big spot against Detroit this week, Justin Masterson has been a bright spot. After Masterson, things get a bit dicey due to sample size issues, performance issues, and health concerns--in the case of Zack McAllister. In short, the Indians need a starter.
The issue then becomes that of price. After the team's big spending spree in which they got Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher in the same off season, the Indians appear to be taking a veteran approach and will let the farm system suffer as a result--they lost a pair of draft selections due to their free agent signings.
In terms of prospects, it's nearly impossible to see Francisco Lindor or Clint Frazier being dealt in a trade for a rental starter like Garza. Due to this, there are some names that certainly become interesting--the first of which is Trevor Bauer. Bauer's issues in dealing with his mechanics and horrifying efforts in MLB this year do not have him in every scout's good graces, and he should be treated as a pretty huge gamble at this point. With the lack of pitching depth in the Cubs' organization, it would make sense that the Cubs pursue Bauer or Mitch Brown in a trade with the Indians--along with other pieces.
With the Nolasco deal in the books, it's possible to come up with an idea of what Garza could go for. In Nolasco's case, he was moved in a clear salary dump. The Marlins didn't receive any notable prospects and also gave up 170 thousand dollars in international bonus pool money. In the deal, the Dodgers pick up all $5.5 million of Nolasco's salary.
The Cubs have shown a willingness to eat salary in the deal, and it's clear through reports and recent actions that they are seeking out a prospect-heavy return. So what can the Cubs recently get? Well, the best example to use is last year's trade of Zack Greinke to the Angels. In the deal, the Brewers received rising shortstop Jean Segura and a pair of AA arms.
Garza isn't on Greinke's level as a pitcher, but both were of similar age and contract status. They were also the top arm available on the market alongside another Marlins starter--in Greinke's case, his Marlin was Anibal Sanchez. Without much comparable trade history due to the changes in the CBA and the addition of international bonus slots, it's tough to get an idea of what the Cubs could get. Regardless, it will probably a hefty haul of prospects and he should be moved rather quickly.
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Big thanks to FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors for the data and information that went into the piece.