Significance of the Matt Garza sweepstakes
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Until Prince Fielder ultimately decides where he’ll be playing this upcoming season, his name will continue dominating speculative MLB offseason reports. He is, after all, the best free agent on the market — some would argue this having been the case since day one.
However, as the rest of the baseball world awaits Fielder’s potentially monumental decision, there is a situation in Chicago that is being wrongfully overshadowed. That situation involves the Chicago Cubs and their new GM, Theo Epstein, in addition to just about every single team in the American League East.
Since Epstein has taken control of the Cubs, rumors surrounding Matt Garza have been swirling. First, it was reported that the Red Sox had requested Garza in return for Epstein himself, who was essentially traded from Boston to Chicago following the conclusion of last season. That proposal was turned down quickly.
Since then, teams like the Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins and Kansas City Royals have been involved in discussions regarding Garza. After being outbid for the services of Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays have shown increased interest as well. And don’t think for one second that Boston has withdrawn itself from the field of suitors.
A couple of weeks ago, Epstein addressed the situation saying, “Matt Garza is the type of pitcher you want to build around. He’s a proven top-of-the-rotation guy, a proven performer in the playoffs. I think last year he had his best season, all things being equal.”
As a Red Sox fan, I have listened to Epstein’s encrypted discussions with the media long enough to decipher his semantics and understand what he’s really trying to convey.
“Matt Garza is the type of pitcher you want to build around.”
Translation: Garza is the type of pitcher YOU want to build around; the type of pitcher we want to rebuild around.
“He’s a proven top-of-the-rotation guy, a proven performer in the playoffs.”
Translation: Attention desperate contenders in need of pitching! This guy can not only help you get into the playoffs, but win once you’re in, as well.
“I think last year he had his best season, all things being equal.”
Translation: Sure, his numbers wouldn’t suggest it, but he was actually very good last season. In other words, he isn’t going to be cheap.
All in all, Epstein would likely have no problem hanging onto Garza all the way through to opening day. After all, his value should be even higher as the 2012 season progresses. The teams on the cusp of contention will be looking for a guy like Garza to push them into the playoffs, and already solidified teams could incur an injury or two and make a play for Garza in an attempt to save their season.
The risk in that, of course, is that Garza may not have a great season or could end up injured himself — a risk Epstein won’t be willing to take.
Besides, Theo knows firsthand how cutthroat the American League East can be off the field. He also knows just how desperate his former team, the Boston Red Sox, is for starting pitching. Both the Sox and Yankees are getting older and Toronto is becoming a legitimate contender. The three teams may not share an equal level of interest in Garza but one thing is for certain: None of them want to see the other land him.
The fact, not lost on Epstein, is there’s a perfect storm of interest brewing in the East and he’d be making the smart play by moving Garza now rather than waiting until midseason.
Epstein is a smart guy, and Garza has pitched his last game in a Cubs uniform.
As I said earlier, Garza may not be the most talented player to find a new home in 2012, but he could very easily end up being the most influential.
Garza, who turned 28 years old in November, started 31 games for the Cubs in 2011. As Epstein alluded to, his statistics during that time weren’t exactly remarkable. Garza went 10-10, sported a 3.32 ERA and struck out 197 batters in 198 innings. Certainly not bad, but not top-of-the-rotation type numbers either, as Epstein would lead you to believe.
Regardless, the teams most interested in Garza don’t need an ace. The Tigers have Justin Verlander; the Sox have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester; the Yankees have CC Sabathia; even the Blue Jays have Ricky Romero. So, while Garza won’t be the ace of his new team’s staff, that team will pay for him as if he were.
Part of what makes Garza so valuable — and in turn, his situation so intriguing — is the fact he brings top-of-the-rotation potential to the middle of his new team’s rotation. You can bet that the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox will overlook the cost of acquiring Garza when they imagine his name occupying the third or even fourth spot of their respective rotations. Remember, he already boasts three consecutive seasons with an ERA under 4.00 in the loaded AL East while serving as Tampa Bay’s ace from 2008-2010.
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