Matt Garza finished the 2012 season with a 3.91 ERA.
Team president Theo Epstein surely hoped he would be able to trade Garza at midseason—presumably to a playoff contender—in exchange for a load of prospects that would help build depth in the club's minor league organization.
Instead, Garza was diagnosed with a triceps injury shortly before the July 31 trade deadline, killing whatever interest other teams may have had in him. No one was going to take a chance on Garza without seeing him throw first. That became an even smarter decision when Garza's injury was later upgraded to a stress reaction in his right elbow.
But if the Cubs were looking to trade Garza during the winter, those intentions were likely scuttled after the team decided to shut him down for the rest of the 2012 season on Tuesday (Aug. 21). Garza was moved to the 60-day disabled list, essentially confirming that he's done for the year.
Trade? What Trade?
The chances of Garza pitching again this year were slim. But had he been able to make one more start before the end of the season, the Cubs could have shown any teams interested in trading for him that he was healthy.
Yet rushing Garza back made no sense either. What if he hadn't been fully recovered and pitched poorly in a late-season appearance? Not only would that have killed any chance of making a trade, but it may have set back Garza's recovery.
Unfortunately, Epstein is now stuck in virtually the same situation he was at midseason.
No team is going to trade for Garza until he shows he can throw without difficulty. With no plans to pitch him again this season, Garza told the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer that he probably won't throw until spring training.
‘‘Maybe it’s just the Lord’s way of telling me I need a break,’’ Garza said to Wittenmyer. ‘‘Maybe it’s a good thing. So I’ll use it as a blessing and get my body in tip-top shape for next season.’’
Without the urgency of the trade deadline, Epstein had an opportunity to take more time to work out a deal with any team showing interest in Garza. He could have expanded his search beyond postseason hopefuls as well, though it was unlikely that a non-contender would take on a pitcher with one season left before free agency.
The best hope the Cubs are left with now is that Garza fully recovers and pitches well in the first half of next season. That could boost his trade value, though Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will have less leverage in getting a good return with Garza being a free agent after the season.
Ace For Now
If there's a bright side to Garza coming back to the Cubs for 2013, it's that he gives the team a chance to be more competitive with a strong No. 1 starter. With Garza and Jeff Samardzija at the top of the rotation, the Cubs figure to be reasonably competitive in the NL Central.
"Somebody has to (lead a rotation), why not us?" Garza said to ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla. "We like taking the ball every fifth day, so that shows we want it. There will be three other guys that want it just the same."
Who those "three other guys" will be is open for discussion. Travis Wood and Chris Volstad figure to fill two spots in the Cubs rotation. But who is the fifth starter next season?
Do the Cubs bring in a low-cost starter to fill that spot or take a chance on a prospect like Trey McNutt, who had a disappointing 2012 season for Double-A Tennessee?
The Cubs could do worse than having Garza lead their rotation, however. Teams like the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins or Colorado Rockies would love to have a pitcher of Garza's caliber as their No. 1 arm.
No Payroll Savings
One downside to Garza coming back is that he'll take up a sizable chunk of the Cubs 2013 payroll. Garza and the Cubs agreed to a $9.5-million salary this season to avoid arbitration. He'll likely earn a similar salary for next season, probably with a bit of a raise.
Rebuilding teams like the Cubs typically don't carry a $10-million pitcher on their payroll. Epstein and Hoyer could have used that money to sign a couple of relievers, a fifth starting pitcher or perhaps a reserve infielder.
That salary could also make it difficult to move Garza at midseason.
Most teams won't be willing to take on $6 million or more for a player that could leave as a free agent after the season. The Cubs will probably have to take on some of that money unless a team like the Dodgers is willing to take on the salary in return for giving up lesser minor league prospects.
Epstein surely had so much more in mind for Garza when he took the job as Cubs team president. He'll end up having to settle for far less. And that's only if he's able to trade Garza at all now.
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