MLB Free Agent Targets: Pitcher Matt Garza
Matt Garza is one of the best available free agent pitchers in the class of 2014. Will the Toronto Blue Jays pursue the right-hander? Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Name: Matt Garza
Position: Starting Pitcher
Going into the 2013 MLB season most people expected Matt Garza to be the top free agent pitcher available in the class of 2014. He perennially strikes out more than 20% of batters he faces, issues very few walks and doesn’t allow a high frequency of home runs. Doing these three things well usually leads to success for a pitcher, which helps explain how Garza has been able to post seven consecutive seasons with an ERA under four.
The biggest factor with Garza and one reason why he may very easily be the first pitcher signed this offseason is that there is not a compensation pick attached for signing him. Since he was traded midseason by the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers he is not eligible to receive a qualifying offer and is a rare top-end free agent that does not come with those strings attached. With a very strong draft expected for 2014 teams may thing twice about offering a deal to all but the very top players in this year’s free agent class.
Garza struggled a bit with the move back to the American League after playing two and half years in the NL but overall his peripherals didn’t change much. I don’t buy into the theory that some guys “can only pitch in the National League” like so many have said about Josh Johnson and he had three very good years in the AL East between 2008 and 2010 but not dominating in Texas seemed to hurt his stock slightly around MLB.
Looking specifically at his splits between the first and second half, his K/9 was almost identical (7.86 vs. 7.90) and BB/9 was lower in the second half (2.54 vs. 2.35). But the move to very hitter-friendly park in Arlington plus having to face a DH instead of a pitcher led to an increase in his HR/9 during the second half (1.01 vs. 1.28). Opponents also batted better off him in general (.227/.292/.368 vs. .265/.317/.436).
Part of the success players found off Garza was due to a better BABIP – it was .266 in the first half and .308 in the second (his career mark is right around .290). And his much higher ERA (3.17 vs. 4.38) was mostly caused by a huge and probably unsustainable dip in his strand rate (80.0% vs. 68.3%). All in all he still pitched to a 3.96 FIP in the second half which wasn’t far off his 3.78 first half FIP.
About the only knock there is on Garza is his durability. He’s missed time in both the past two seasons and doesn’t isn’t the guaranteed “innings-eater” that teams look for when investing large sums of money in player. However he did throw 790.1 innings over a four-year span between 2008 and 2011.
Despite what some may think was a bit of a shaky second half with the pitching market scarce across baseball Matt Garza should still command big-time money in free agency. Tom Diekers at MLB Trade Rumors rated him just behind Masahiro Tanaka and Ervin Santana in his final 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings but with Santana commanding a compensation pick and Tanaka seemingly already a Yankee if he does post, Garza may still be arguably the class’ most desirable pitcher.
Steve Adams, also of MLB Trade Rumors, predicts Garza will sign a four-year deal worth approximately $64 million. As for suitors the list as you may expect is long – Adams suggests more than half of MLB teams could be interested in Garza. That’s just what Toronto Blue Jays’ fans want to hear I’m sure.
Matt Garza would make a lot of sense for the Blue Jays especially since they are already dealing with a depleted farm system and no signed first round draft pick from 2013. Even though both of Toronto’s first round picks are protected keeping their second rounder as well could prove valuable down the road if the draft turns out as deep as many experts expect. That’s not to say the Blue Jays should hang on to their second round pick if acquiring another target forces them to forgo it but it’s not often any more you can acquire a top-end free agent and keep all of your draft picks.
That being said, the Jays are in for some tough competition when it comes to Garza. They haven’t had the best of luck with pitching injuries north of the border but with two solid innings-eaters already in Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey the Jays may actually be able to assume some of the risk that comes with signing Garza.
At the end of the day, it all come down to the price. A four-year deal would obviously be preferable but the Blue Jays don’t have much on the books after 2015 as most contracts turn into team options or expire at that time. Free agents next winter could include Max Scherzer, Homer Bailey, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson or maybe even Clayton Kershaw. So the Blue Jays could wait but they need rotation help now. Could Matt Garza be a player that transitions the Blue Jays from this window of opportunity into the next?