Dodgers Trade Rumors: Is a Zach Lee-Matt Garza Deal a Great Long-Term Move?

Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterJuly 25, 2012

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Shortly after the Chicago Cubs forgot to tell Ryan Dempster that he had been traded on Monday afternoon, discussions progressed with the Los Angeles Dodgers regarding a deal for Matt Garza.

As reported by Jim Bowden of and MLB Network on Twitter, the rumored deal would send the Dodgers’ top prospect, right-hander Zach Lee, to Chicago.

Under contract through the 2013 season, Garza, 28, may simply be a rental for the remainder of the 2012 and possibly 2013. This season, the right-hander owns a 3.91 ERA and 1.177 WHIP, and has recorded 96 strikeouts and 32 walks in 103.2 innings. 

Remember last year when the Giants traded their top prospect, right-hander Zack Wheeler, to the New York Mets to rent Carlos Beltran for the final 44 games? Despite the fact that their farm system ranked as one of the worst in baseball, they wanted to win immediately and chose to ignore the potential impact of his departure.

I only bring up Wheeler because this trade already has an eerily similar feel. After acquiring Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins (very) early Wednesday morning, the Dodgers are clearly all in. And after drafting a pitcher in the first round every year from 2007-2011, their farm system ranks as one of the worst in baseball. But does that justify the decision to weaken it even more?

Ranked as the baseball’s No. 46 prospect in Prospect Pipeline’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects Update, the Dodgers drafted Lee with the 28th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Considered to be unsignable due to his commitment to play both baseball and football as a quarterback, a franchise-record $5.25 million signing bonus quickly changed his mind.

Here is what I had to say about the 6’4”, 190-pound right-hander in my midseason scouting report:

The right-hander's fastball typically sits in the 90-93 mph range to both sides of the plate, and he will give hitters a different look by mixing in the occasional cutter. For the first time in his young career, Lee threw both a curveball and slider in 2011, with the latter frequently showing plus potential. His changeup is pretty mediocre, but is a pitch that may vastly improve his overall pitchability.

For someone his size, Lee repeats his mechanics well and doesn’t sacrifice command despite throwing across his body. Furthermore, he exudes confidence on the mound while controlling the pace of the game.

More advanced than other 19-year-old pitching prospects, Lee was 9-6 with a 3.47 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 91 K/32 BB over 109 innings at Low-A Great Lakes in 2011. He began the 2012 season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga where he was 2-3 with a 4.55 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 52 K/10 BB in 12 starts before an aggressive midseason promotion to Double-A.

Since the jump, the right-hander has been getting knocked around: 0-2, 9.45 ERA, .360 BAA and 16 K/12 BB in 20 innings spanning five starts.

But do his recent struggles impact his trade value? It shouldn’t.

Lee is 20 years old, and is currently at a level that’s too advanced for him, regardless of how quickly he has the potential to rise through the system.

All that matters is that the front-line starter upside is definitely still there. In the early stages of rebuilding, a trade to the Cubs would presumably give Lee extra seasoning in the minor leagues to refine both his pitches and command, and therefore a better chance of reaching his high ceiling.

If he ultimately stays with the Dodgers, then a big-league debut in mid-to-late 2013 is conceivable—barring an injury or unexpected lack of success.

Anytime a team makes a deal involving a promising, highly-touted pitching prospect, there’s a considerable amount of risk involved. However, if the Cubs can get the Dodgers to eat a majority of Garza’s pending salary—he will earn $9.5 million in 2012 and be arbitration-eligible this offseason, and then upwards of $12 million in 2013 before he becomes a free-agent after the season—the addition of Lee will give the team a new No. 1 pitching prospect at a relatively low cost.

Given the Dodgers’ “win-now” mindset and already-bleak farm system, this is exactly the type of trade the Dodgers may feel compelled to complete.