UPDATE (7 p.m.): Usually it takes a few days for a team to confirm a signing. Rarely do you see a team acknowledge media reports and say nothing is final yet. And you never see the team take to Twitter to make that statement, but that’s what’s happening now with the Brewers:
Despite media reports, negotiations between the #Brewers and Matt Garza are ongoing, but there is no deal yet.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) January 24, 2014
With Garza’s injury history, it’s easy to assume there was an issue with the physical, but all reports say otherwise — the two sides are simply still negotiating. A deal could still get done, but for the time being, the door is still open for another team to swoop in if nothing is final. Stay tuned.
Doug Melvin’s biggest moves tend to pop up without many prior rumors. Add another sneaky signing to the list: the Brewers are reportedly signing Matt Garza. Ken Rosenthal says that it’s a four-year deal worth $52 million.
Garza, like most free agent pitchers this winter, had to wait for the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes to play out before seeing his market truly develop. When Tanaka signed with the Yankees for seven years at $155 million, most expected the markets for Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana to explode. Instead, the Brewers get Garza for roughly the same deal the Twins gave Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million). Milwaukee was never connected to Garza in the rumor mill until today — teams like the Angels, Indians and Diamondbacks seemed to pull in most of the headlines.
Unlike the other top pitchers still on the free agent market, Garza will not cost the Brewers a first round pick to sign. Like Zack Greinke last winter, Garza was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer because he was traded midseason before becoming a free agent. The Cubs traded Garza to Texas before last season’s trade deadline for C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, Mike Olt and Neil Ramirez.
Garza likely goes right to the top of the Brewers’ rotation. Had he been a Brewer last season, he would have been the best pitcher on the staff, posting a 3.88 FIP and striking out 7.8 batters per 9 innings — good for a fWAR of 2.2 for the Cubs and Rangers. For the sake of comparison, Kyle Lohse had a 4.08 FIP, 5.66 K/9, and 1.8 fWAR. Yovani Gallardo had a 3.89 FIP, 7.17 K/9 and a 1.7 fWAR. Garza is a strikeout pitcher, with a fastball that’s averaged 93 mph and one of the best sliders in baseball — FanGraphs had the pitch at 8.2 runs above average in 2013.
With that said, Garza does come with some warts — he won’t be winning a Gold Glove anytime soon with his bunt defense, and he does carry a fairly significant injury risk. He’s no stranger to the disabled list, and injuries hampered the Cubs’ ability to trade him in each of the past two seasons. The elbow is a real concern, and his medical records may be a reason why the Brewers could afford him in the first place. Still, at an average annual value of $13 million, Garza would only need to match his 2013 numbers to be worth the deal. If he repeats his 2011 performance — 8.95 K/9, 3.32 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 4.9 fWAR — he becomes a huge bargain.
At the very least, adding Garza to Lohse and Gallardo gives the Brewers a solid enough top three to give them a fighter’s chance at a wildcard spot. If Wily Peralta continues to improve and Marco Estrada can stay healthy, the Brewers should have of one of the more solid rotations in the division to go with an offense that will keep them in just about every game they play. The addition of Garza also likely pushes would-be 5th starter candidates Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith to the bullpen, where their strengths may be better suited, anyway.
There’s enough risk to be worried about a signing like this, and it’s pretty clear that Mark Attanasio is still expecting to win (and is stretching the payroll accordingly). But unlike last year’s late signing of Kyle Lohse, this move doesn’t hurt the future of the organization — a thin farm system doesn’t have to forfeit another first-round talent, and if things go catastrophically wrong for the Brewers in the next few years, the deal is reasonable enough that they shouldn’t have an issue trading it away.
Could Garza get hurt and spend a significant part of the deal on the DL? Sure. But the Brewers’ medical staff — the same one that made sure the club steered clear of bringing Shaun Marcum back last winter — has earned the right to be trusted, and if they didn’t see anything to scare Melvin off, maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about Garza’s health in the short term. The Brewers just got a very good starting pitcher for a very reasonable deal. It’s okay to feel a little optimistic right now.