Continuing the occasional series on starting pitchers the Twins might target on the trade market. Earlier candidates include Jonathan Sanchez, who is off the market after being traded to Kansas City, Wandy Rodriguez, and Ricky Nolasco. Last week I wrote about Johnny Cueto of the Reds. Well, it looks like the Marlins don’t want to deal Nolasco, and my article about Cueto so infuriated a Reds fan that I fear that move would double the suicide rate in Cincinnati. I’m sure Terry Ryan doesn’t want that on his conscience.
Since I’m a helpful guy, I’ll offer a different suggestion: Cubs righthander Matt Garza.
Gee, that name sounds familiar for some reason, doesn’t it? Oh yeah, that’s right. Matt Garza used to be on the Twins! He was actually the team’s best prospect in 2006, and he had a promising stint in the Majors in 2007 before He Who Shall Not Be Named traded him to the Devil Rays for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris (actually, if there’s anyone who shouldn’t be named, it’s probably Harris). Since then, he’s become one of the most reliable and talented starting pitchers in the game, though certainly not the most well-known.
After being traded to Chicago last season, it looks like Mr. Garza might be back on the block. Garza features a good fastball that averaged almost 94 mph last season, an 86 mph slider, a slow curveball, and an 86 mph changeup. The slider is his out pitch; Fangraphs reports that it saved 11.6 runs above average for Garza last year.
Though the pitiful Cubs team kept him to just 10 wins, Garza had a 3.32 ERA in 198 innings pitched and a robust 5.0 WAR, according to Fangraphs’ calculations.
How would he help the Twins?
In every way. Unlike Rodriguez, Sanchez, or Cueto, Garza could be a bona fide ace. He’s still young; his 28th birthday occurs later this month – but he has four full, succesful Major League seasons under his belt. In each of those seasons, Garza has recorded an ERA under 4.00. He has been near or above 200 IP each year as well, so durability is not an issue. And he can strike batters out. Last year he had basically one strikeout per inning, a sizeable jump from the 7.1 K/9 he had in three years with Tampa.
Make a list of everything the Twins could possibly need from a starter: Good “stuff,” decent control, good health, strikeout power, youth, proven track record, playoff experience. Garza has it all.
What are his downsides?
I’m trying to keep these trade target profiles as even-handed as possible, but I honestly cannot think of a single downside to Garza. As I said above, the guy has everything you could possibly want in a starter for the Twins.
What would he cost?
Okay, maybe cost would be the downside. One of those MLB Trade Rumors that I linked to above said the Cubs want to restock their farm system. The Twins have some good prospects at the lower levels, but prospect talent isn’t exactly overflowing in this organization. I think they’d have to part with at least one of their top 5 prospects, and probably another decent one as well. The Cubs traded five players to the Rays for Garza and two minor leaguers last year. A year later, with Garza only two years from free agency, I doubt that they’d expect a similar haul, but they will probably be looking to recoup at least some of what they gave away. Then again, we have Terry Ryan now. Maybe he can re-sign A.J. Pierzynski and trade him to the Cubs.
As for financial cost, Garza made $6 million last year. He’ll probably get a raise in arbitration to about $8.5 to $9 million this year. That still makes him cheaper than free agent options like Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle. And the team might be able to avoid arbitration by offering him a longer term contract that would keep the 2012 salary lower. At age 28, Garza is definitely worth the risk of a multiyear deal.
Garza is a great pitcher, and the Twins should never have dealt him away in the first place. Aside from letting David Ortiz leave in free agency, I cannot think of a bigger front office blunder by the Twins this century. But they now have at least a ghost of a chance to get him back. They absolutely have to at least make an attempt to do so.
I have no illusions that the Twins are likely to reacquire Garza. When a pitcher this good hits the market, there are bound to be many teams interested. Some of those teams are probably willing to give up better prospects than the Twins have or can afford to trade. But they have to at least try. If I thought the Twins would be able to sign Garza long-term, I would be willing to part with any prospect in the farm system other than Miguel Sano.
With Garza in the starting rotation, the Twins would be one huge piece closer to fielding a respectable team.