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Trade Retrospective: Matt Garza to the Cubs, five years later

A saying in baseball states that the team who receives the best present player in a trade, wins it. This deal is counter-evidence to that idea.

Matt Garza performed well in his first season with the Cubs, producing a 2.95 FIP and 46.3 percent GB rate in 2011.
Matt Garza performed well in his first season with the Cubs, producing a 2.95 FIP and 46.3 percent GB rate in 2011.
Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Five years ago, the Rays and Cubs completed one of the larger transactions of the 2011 offseason. It involved eight players and centered around Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. Travelling with him to Chicago were outfielder Fernando Perez and reliever Zac Rosscup. Returning to Tampa Bay were five players: outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer, catcher Robinson Chirinos, shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee, and then-prospect Chris Archer.

The Deal

Over his three seasons with the Rays, Garza was a consistent, durable, above-average starter. Per FanGraphs, he featured the 40th-most pitching fWAR (8.0), 28th-most innings pitched (592.1), and 19th-hardest fastball (93.2 mph) among 127 qualified starters over the 2008-2010 period. The Cubs wanted to solidify their 2011 rotation beyond Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Randy Wells, and the ever-evolving Rays made an obvious trade partner.

Perez was a defense-focused reserve outfielder who spent most of the 2010 season hitting a disappointing 56 wRC+ in AAA with the Rays. Rosscup later became a high-strikeout relief prospect but mostly started during his short time with the Rays affiliates, to good results.

The return for Garza and these additional pieces was five players, including Sam Fuld and four minor league prospects. Fuld is a noted defender in the corners with good plate discipline (14.8 percent strikeouts, 10.0 percent walks) and some speed (12.0 career BsR), though he has been used primarily as a fourth outfielder for most of his career.

On the prospect side, the trade was headlined by Chris Archer, then the Cubs' top prospect and potential shutdown closer. He had just finished dominating high-A and double-A to the tune of a 2.34 ERA with a 25.3 percent strikeout rate despite his still-inconsistent control (11.0 percent walks).

Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee was entering only his age-20 season as the Cubs' fourth-ranked prospect at the time of the trade. He was known for his on-base ability, speed, and athletic range in the field, profiling as a classic top of the order hitter.

Despite being 24 in double-A, outfielder Brandon Guyer caught baseball's attention in 2010 with his .344/.398/.588 line, complemented by 13 home runs and 30 stolen bases. At the time of his inclusion in the trade, Baseball America ranked him as the 10th-best prospect in the Cubs' farm system and their best defensive outfielder.

The same Baseball America rankings named Robinson Chirinos the system's best defensive catcher. Additionally, he hit .326/.416/.583 with 18 home runs and more walks than strikeouts (44 to 43) between double-A and triple-A in 2010. However, due to his advanced age (he was entering his age 27 season), his profile was still seen as limited to being a backup.

The Ripples

Cubs Transaction With To/By/With For
Matt Garza Traded - Rangers C.J. Edwards
Mike Olt
Neil Ramirez
Justin Grimm
Fernando Perez Released

Rays Transaction With To/By/With For
Sam Fuld Non-Tendered
Robinson Chirinos Traded - Rangers Cash
Hak-Ju Lee MiLB Free Agency

There have yet to be a lot of resulting transactions involving the players included in this deal, leaving a fairly sparse transactional "family tree". Archer and Guyer have become key pieces on the current Rays team, while Rosscup has been in the Cubs bullpen for parts of the last three seasons. Fernando Perez was released by Chicago, while in Tampa Bay Sam Fuld was non-tendered and Hak-Ju Lee hit Minor League free agency.

Robinson Chirinos was traded for cash to the Rangers in what now looks to be a regrettable move for the Rays. He's since produced 3.6 fWAR in 641 PA for Texas and become the starting catcher.

On the other side of the transaction, Matt Garza was also traded to the Rangers as a rental at the 2013 trade deadline. The Cubs received four Minor League players, including then-top 100 prospects C.J. Edwards and Mike Olt. Olt struggled in the Majors and was claimed on waivers by the White Sox in September 2015, while Edwards was converted to a reliever due to his size.

Edwards still projects to be an impact arm in the back-end of the bullpen, if he remains in that role. Ramirez and Grimm are also former starting pitching prospects converted to relief and have become established members of the Chicago bullpen. For half a season of Matt Garza, the Cubs received a significant portion of their present bullpen, which isn't bad - it just might not make up the ground lost on the original cost of acquiring him.

The Results

All data from FanGraphs. Keen observers of the chart below may note that Robinson Chirinos is no longer on the Rays, but four years of team control is still listed. That's because all remaining team-controlled years from the time of the trade are included in the fWAR and value analysis. The remaining control column is the current years of remaining control for the team receiving the player. The goal here is to evaluate only this original decision and not later decisions involving the same players.

Remaining Control fWAR FA Value (M) Salary (M) Surplus Value (M)
Matt Garza 0 7.9 $58.00 $25.70 $32.30
Fernando Perez 0

Zac Rosscup 5 -0.5 $(3.80) $0.50 $(4.30)
Sam Fuld 0 4.6 $34.10 $2.44 $31.67
Robinson Chirinos 4 3.6 $28.20 $1.50 $26.70
Chris Archer* 3 10.3 $79.50 $2.17 $77.33
Brandon Guyer 3 4.5 $35.10 $1.50 $33.60
Hak Ju-Lee 6

Cubs Total 5 7.4 $54.20 $26.20 $28.00
Rays Total 16 23.0 $176.90 $7.60 $169.30

* Chris Archer's extension was signed after the trade and is excluded from remaining service time.

In reflecting on the prospect cost of acquiring Garza at the 2013 Trade Deadline, Rangers' GM Jon Daniels admitted "that one's got a chance to haunt us, and haunt me." However, when looking at this trade for Garza, that deal seems comparatively fair.

Certainly, Garza had the best season of his career (at least, so far), the first season after the trade. He produced 4.9 fWAR with a 2.95 FIP over 198.0 IP. As with most trades involving large prospect returns, there's the obvious temptation to say that the Cubs sacrificed future wins for present wins and were successful in that endeavor.

However, if the idea was to compete, given the composition of the Cubs at the time, it's a little difficult to justify this transaction. The 2010 Cubs were a fifth-place, 75-win team and 16 games behind the division-winning Reds. Garza and first baseman Carlos Pena were the lone major additions, and while each was reasonably expected to be an everyday player, their projections didn't come close to closing that gap.

With that information, any short-term wins added by the team are largely irrelevant if they don't bring them reasonably close to contention. In fact, despite Garza's unexpected performance, the 2011 Cubs were an even worse 71-win team.

Reportedly, there was some ownership pressure to compete in 2011, and without being able to spend, there weren't a lot of great options for the front office. If the goal was to add immediate wins, then Garza added more than they could have expected - the cost was just very high.

It isn't just the emergence of Archer lifting the Rays - Guyer has actually become the second-best bargain of the entire deal. Despite being given only partial playing time, he has produced 4.5 fWAR in 729 plate appearances and has been paid the league minimum rate.

Both Chirinos and Fuld have seen a lot of their success since leaving Tampa Bay. Chirinos has emerged as a surprisingly well-rounded catcher and is currently the Rangers' starter at the position. Fuld has bounced around a couple teams but saw a lot of success (2.9 fWAR) with the A's and Twins in 2014. Lee never lived up to his prospect status but recently signed with the Giants after hitting free agency. He's only 24 and could still make it to the big leagues in some capacity.

Even if it is assumed that Chicago was accepting a long-term hit for immediate success, Tampa Bay's return has so far exceeded the results of the Cubs that no matter what penalty is assigned to "future wins", the Rays are almost certainly the winners. With $141.3 million in surplus value over Chicago with several years of control remaining on key pieces, the perennially cash-conscious Rays have made out like bandits in this deal.

. . .

Spencer Bingol is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.