Though the Cleveland Indians do not have the best trade pieces, they should still make a strong effort to acquire Chicago Cubs' starter Matt Garza.
With the news that Theo Epstein and Co. are open for business on their ace starting pitcher, the Indians should join the numerous teams vying for Garza's services. At age 27, Garza had a true breakout season in 2011:
10-10 W-L, 3.32 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, 8.95 SO/9, 2.86 BB/9, 3.13 SO:BB, 5.0 fWAR (tied for 13th in the majors)
The Indians have two top of the rotation pitchers in Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, but the rest of the rotation is suspect. Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona, Derek Lowe, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Zach McAllister, Scott Barnes all profile as fourth or fifth starters in 2012, leaving the Tribe with a decent, but not great, rotation.
The question marks regarding the Tribe's 2012 lineup are plentiful. Can Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner stay healthy? Can Shin-Soo Choo bounce back? Can Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley become everyday players? Can Asdrubal Cabrera avoid regressing to his pre-2011 form? Can Carlos Santana take the next step into stardom? Who will play first base?
None of these questions can be easily fixed since these players are all under contract and going to be a part of the 2012 team. Thus, it's possible that the Indians could look to fortify their rotation to counteract the potential issues they will have on offense.
The only problem trying to trade for Garza is what he will cost. When the Cubs acquired Garza from the Rays last offseason, they gave up Chris Archer (number one prospect according to the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook), Hak-Ju Lee (fourth), Brandon Guyer (10th), Robinson Chirinos (16th) and Sam Fuld. And this was before Garza broke out.
One can expect that the Cubs' return for Garza will be even higher with the lack of elite pitching in the free agent market. But how can the Indians pull off getting Garza?
My idea would be sending the Cubs this assortment of players:
SP Josh Tomlin
OF Nick Weglarz
SP Jason Knapp
OF LeVon Washington
1B Jesus Aguilar
RP Cory Burns
Tomlin would give the Cubs a pitcher to start now that is under team control through 2017 that can start for the big league club now. Weglarz may have had a down 2011, but he still maintained a high OBP (which we all know Epstein loves) despite his injuries. Knapp is still young and a top-of-the-rotation prospect despite Tommy John surgery. Washington also had a down year, but he is still a top athlete worth of being a first round pick in 2009 and a second round pick in 2010. Finally, Aguilar and Burns had breakout campaigns in 2011 and could be enticing for the Cubs.
This might not be enough to get Garza, but at the very least, the Indians should hang around in the negotiations to drive up the price for others. That would help the Indians by hurting their potential rivals (the Yankees will likely be interested in Garza), but I would love to see the 2012 Indians rotation headed by Jimenez, Garza and Masterson.
Garza is expected to make $8.7 million in 2012 and is under team control through 2013. He fits into the Tribe's window for contention perfectly and can fit under the Tribe's $70 million payroll budget. Acquiring Garza could be the move that elevates the Indians from fringe contenders to potential favorites in the American League.