Will Well-Traveled Matt Garza Finally Stick in Milwaukee?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 23, 2014

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Matt Garza (22) looks down as he works against the Minnesota Twins in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Suddenly, there's a decent chance Matt Garza will stick in one place for four straight years for the first time in his major league career.

This being Garza's career, however, I guess it's no surprise there's also a decent chance that he won't be spending four straight years in one place.

First, here's the necessary context: Garza, a free agent for the first time in his career, has reportedly found a home. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:

Make that two years in a row the Brewers have nabbed a talented pitcher on a seemingly below-market deal. They picked up Kyle Lohse for three years and just $33 million last March, and now they've given Garza just $3 million more than the Minnesota Twins gave Ricky Nolasco.

Quite a good deal, that. In addition to being a year younger, Garza's 110 ERA+ since 2008 trumps the 95 ERA+ Nolasco owns since then.

As for where this puts the Brewers, a quick look at the NL Central suggests they're not the St. Louis Cardinals' equal. But in Garza, Lohse and Yovani Gallardo on the pitching side and Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura, Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett on the hitting side, the Brewers do have the pieces to make things interesting.

If it all pans out as the Brewers hope, Garza is finally going to be in a place he can call home. If not, well, he might be forced to add another entry to his "Why I Got Traded" diary.

Let's review the entries that are in there already, shall we?


Trade 1: From the Twins to the Rays in 2007

2007 was the year Garza "arrived." Baseball America had him as its No. 21 prospect heading into the season, and Garza made good on that by posting a 3.78 ERA in 15 starts for the Twins down the stretch.

M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

The Twins could have held on to Garza. In fact, you can argue that they should have given that they seemed destined to trade staff ace Johan Santana (they eventually did).

Trouble was: the Twins needed a bat. Their offensive output had fallen by half a run per game in 2007, and their outlook for 2008 looked worse with Torii Hunter having bolted for Anaheim.

So there went Garza to Tampa Bay, with the big piece coming back to Minnesota being Delmon Young. Because he had been rated No. 3 on BA's pre-2007 rankings and had managed a decent .723 OPS in his first big league season, he looked like the potential high-impact bat the Twins needed.

Wrote Garza in his diary: "They figured they needed his bat more than they needed my arm, so off I went. Hey, it happens."


Trade 2: From the Rays to the Cubs in 2011

Garza was a good get for the Rays, compiling a 3.86 ERA between 2008 and 2010. They also wouldn't have reached the World Series in '08 without him, as he came up huge against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS with a 1.38 ERA in two outings.

ST PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 19:  Television personality Ernie Johnson talks with pitcher Matt Garza #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays after defeating the Boston Red Sox in game seven of the American League Championship Series during the 2008 MLB playoffs on Octob
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

But the Rays are the Rays. They do what they must to remain good on a small budget, and one thing that entails is trading players who are the right mix of "still talented" and "getting expensive."

That's where Garza was after 2010. He had made $3.35 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and had responded with 204.2 innings and a 3.91 ERA. A substantial raise was in order.

The Chicago Cubs ended up taking Garza off Tampa Bay's hands in a deal that included Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee. Archer broke through with a 3.22 ERA in 23 big league starts in 2013, and Lee is currently one of Tampa Bay's top prospects. Classic Rays, indeed.

Into Garza's diary went: "I was getting too expensive for them, so they dealt me for young guys. Hey, it happens."


Trade 3: From the Cubs to the Rangers in 2013

Garza's time with the Cubs was generally successful. The 3.32 ERA he posted in 2011 was the best of his career, and he ultimately ended up with a 3.45 ERA in 60 starts in Chicago.

CHICAGO, IL- JULY 9:  Starting pitcher Matt Garza #22 of the Chicago Cubs sits in the dugout during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Wrigley Field on July 9, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

But Garza wasn't a missing link. The Cubs were a losing team in 2011, and again in 2012. It was obvious by the middle of it that they were in for more of the same in 2013, forcing the Cubs to face facts with Garza. They were a team going nowhere with an attractive free-agent-to-be pitcher on their hands.

So for the third time, there went Garza. The Cubs dealt him to the Texas Rangers in return for well-regarded third base prospect Mike Olt and others.

The entry in Garza's diary: "It was either trade me or watch me walk, so they traded me. Hey, it happens."

Teams trade arms for bats, jettison players who are getting expensive and get something for impending free agents all the time. We know how it is. So does Garza. The guy's qualified to give a university lecture on the various reasons ballplayers get traded.

He might be even more qualified to give that lecture before long. For another thing teams have been known to do is get rid of contracts they no longer want but can easily be moved, and, heck, maybe you've already looked at Garza's new deal and pondered how it might fit that description before long.

In a market that's given Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes $8 million per year, Nolasco over $12 million per year and a guy who has never thrown a pitch in the majors over $20 million per year, $13 million per year for a solid No. 3/No. 2 type like Garza is nothing. His contract is a team-friendly deal right now.

And given how likely it is that the cost for good starting pitching is going to rise next winter with the likes of Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester, Homer Bailey and Justin Masterson poised to hit the market, Garza's deal is bound to look like even more of a team-friendly this time next year.

So don't be surprised when clubs start lining up to take Garza off Milwaukee's hands if the Brewers decide to put him on the block. And on that note, don't be surprised if that happens.

Yes, the Brewers have potential. But they also have bust potential. Lohse and Ramirez are both up there in age. Gallardo's stuff isn't what it once was. Braun didn't resemble an MVP-caliber player when he was on the field in 2013, and he spent a lot of time off it due to his suspension resulting from MLB's investigation into Biogenesis. Segura looks like a keeper, but it's too soon to tell with Davis and Gennett.

Also, the Brewers have the worst farm system in MLB by Baseball America's reckoning, and the only players they have signed past 2016 are Braun and Garza himself. 

So if things do go south for the Brewers in the near future, they'll be forced to rethink the direction of the franchise. That might include dangling Garza and his soon-to-be-insanely-team-friendly contract in hopes of securing some young talent. 

I obviously can't say for certain whether another trade is in Garza's future. My crystal ball is out for repairs, forcing me to make do by conjuring some odds.

To that end, I'd go so far as to call it 50/50 that Garza actually stays in Milwaukee for the next four years.

He just signed a contract that's bound to be very movable a short way down the line, and he didn't get it from a team that's standing on clearly solid ground. And because Garza still has youth working for him, he probably won't stop being the pitcher he is any time soon: a guy who's talented enough to be desirable, but not talented enough to be indispensable. 

Garza shouldn't get too comfortable in his new home. Story of his career.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.


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