Why Matt Garza's $52 Million Contract Is Free-Agency Steal

Jason MartinezContributor IJanuary 23, 2014

Garza will return to the NL Central as a Milwaukee Brewer.
Garza will return to the NL Central as a Milwaukee Brewer.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

On Wednesday, the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com) reported that, to one's surprise, the New York Yankees outbid the rest of the league for the services of Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.

A day later, we were once again reminded that you should always expect the unexpected in the baseball world.

The Milwaukee Brewers, a team that might have been the least active club in baseball this offseason and one of the quietest in terms of the rumor mill, agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with starting pitcher Matt Garza. The deal was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

While the Brewers were one of my picks for "biggest losers" of the offseason a few weeks back for their lack of aggressiveness in retaining free agent Corey Hart and the trade of Norichika Aoki, the addition of Garza at a much lower rate than anyone could have predicted may have flipped the perception of how things have gone up until now. 

Back in October, I predicted that Garza would land a deal in the neighborhood of Anibal Sanchez's deal (five years, $88 million) with the Detroit Tigers in the previous offseason. And, just for good measure, I thought his agent would get his client a couple million more to put him just ahead of Sanchez at five years and $90 million. 

Three months later, my prediction wouldn't have been much different. If anything, Tanaka's massive seven-year, $155 million deal only solidified my thoughts on what Garza would eventually sign for.

I was wrong.

In my opinion, giving Garza $90 million would've been an overpayment for a 30-year-old who has only made 42 starts in the past two seasons because of various injuries and is widely regarded as a solid No. 2 or 3 starter.

Still, it's a surprise that not one of the 30 MLB teams bit and he ended up with a deal that's only slightly higher than Ricky Nolasco's four-year, $49 million deal with the Minnesota Twins that he signed in early December. 

While the perception of the two pitchers is much different—Nolasco is regarded as a solid No. 3 or 4 starter—the two pitchers are actually quite similar, so maybe it shouldn't be surprising that they received similar deals.

Garza's average annual totals since 2008

via Baseball-Reference 


Nolasco's average annual totals since 2008

via Baseball-Reference 

Nolasco is a year older and gives up more than a half-run more per nine innings. He's also more hittable, but doesn't walk as many hitters as Garza.

Both pitchers dominated for stretches in 2013. Garza went 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last six starts (43.2 IP, 34 H, 10 BB, 38 K) before the Chicago Cubs traded him to the Texas Rangers. Nolasco went 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA in a 12-start span (74 IP, 58 H, 17 BB, 62 K) after he was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

One of the reasons that Garza was expected to get more money than he did was his previous success in the AL East and in the playoffs—he was the ALCS MVP for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

When compared to Nolasco's deal, the Brewers' signing may not be viewed as a huge discount. However, it's hard not to like $13 million per season for Garza between the ages of 30 and 33 seasons. Their rotation, as Adam McCalvy of MLB.com pointed out, was one of the best in baseball during the second half of last season. Garza's addition can only help.

They signed Kyle Lohse to a team-friendly, three-year, $33 million last year and could have the steal of this offseason with the Garza signing.

During Garza's last healthy season (2011), he posted a 3.32 ERA with a 2.9 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9 with the Cubs. It wouldn't be a complete shock if he could be that pitcher again.

Unlike Nolasco, who is very unlikely to exceed expectations in Minnesota, Garza has plenty of upside and could easily out-pitch the value of his deal. If he doesn't, chances are that he still gives them four solid seasons that fall in line with his career numbers.

Just a guess here, but I'm pretty sure that, had Garza known he'd have to settle for a four-year, $52 million deal this offseason, he would've signed a contract extension for more money with the Cubs before they traded him in July.

Had the Cubs known he wouldn't be able to get more than four years and $52 million, they might have put more effort into signing him.

Instead, he's now with the division rival Brewers for the next four seasons on a relatively team-friendly deal.