The Cubs record of participating in only one arbitration hearing since 1993 (Ryan Theriot, 2010) is in jeopardy. Matt Garza and the Cubs are more than $4.5 million apart and seemingly on their way toward a hearing.
For those of you who don't know, the arbitration process works this way: both player and team submit a salary figure for the 2012 season and a panel of arbitrators pick one or the other. There is no in-between.
Garza has submitted a figure of $12.5 million, while the Cubs have countered with $7.95 million. Note that Garza earned $5.95 million in 2011.
In the meantime, teams usually come to an agreement prior to the hearing. Many times it's the midway point between the club's offer and what the player is requesting.
Alternatively, the Cubs could sign Garza to an extension, effectively buying out his arbitration years and potentially, even a free agent year or two.
But in this case, I'd think that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be hard-pressed to give in to Garza, even on a compromised midpoint figure of $10.225 million. That's because the Cubs offer is the fair one, in my opinion.
Garza is not an ace, he is a No. 2 starter. That's certainly not bad, but the figure he's seeking indicates that Garza's people view him as an ace.
I realize that wins and losses are not a fair judge of a starting pitcher, since there are so many variables beyond a pitcher's control involved in the W-L records (defense, relief pitching, run support).
But the arbitrators usually don't understand this, nor are they likely to use advanced metrics in their decision. They usually look at the W-L record, and ERA.
Those counting stats (10-10, 3.32) are not indicative of a pitcher deserving of such a huge raise, and the Cubs likely understand this. Now, if the panel used sabermetrics, that would be another story.
Garza had a 5.0 WAR according to FanGraphs last year (13th best in MLB among starting pitchers), which made him one of the best pitchers in baseball. His 118 ERA+ suggests he was 18 percent better than average.
Additionally, his FIP was 8th best among starters, and his xFIP was 11th. That would provide some additional support except that again, the panel is not likely to understand all that.
Instead they will look at his pedestrian W-L record and the fact that his ERA was good for just 26th in baseball among starting pitchers, and his WHIP just 47th.
But another important reason for the Cubs not to give in to Garza's request is that it would make it a bit more challenging to trade him.
Yet as much as I appreciate Garza, trading him that is exactly what the Cubs need to do, assuming they can get equal value in young prospects in return.
No, they shouldn't just give him away, of course. They should be firm in demanding top prospects in return. But a team that's rebuilding, like the Cubs are, could use two or three good pieces instead of the one Garza.
Sure, as Epstein himself has stated, Garza is a guy you can build around. But the sooner the Cubs can get impact young players into their system, the sooner they will be on their way to building a winning organization.
Meanwhile, the Cubs appear to have a winning case. If they do not compromise, or reach a long-term extension, the case will go before a panel. This could get ugly.