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Some thoughts on Matt Garza

Matt Garza is likely to be traded, and the Rangers are supposedly one of the teams after him


This is a post I've been putting off writing for some time.

I don't want to write about Matt Garza. I've got no interest in writing about Matt Garza. I don't particularly care about Matt Garza. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the Rangers acquiring Matt Garza.

And so I kept putting off doing this post, hoping that the Cubs would trade him to someone else, or that we'd hear the Rangers have dropped out. But that hasn't happened yet -- if anything, the reports are that the Rangers are one of the frontrunners for Garza -- so I guess I have to write about Matt Garza.

The Rangers have had interest in Garza, who went from the Minnesota Twins to the Tampa Bay Rays in the Delmon Young/Jason Bartlett trade, for quite some time. When the Rays traded Garza to the Chicago Cubs in January, 2011, the Rangers were supposedly heavy bidders as well, and T.R. Sullivan wrote back then that the Rangers offered Derek Holland, Engel Beltre, Frank Francisco, and Robinson Chirinos (who Texas would get from the Cubs in a separate deal, if the Rays said yes) for Garza.

The Rays instead ended up sending Garza, Fernando Perez and Zach Rosscup to the Cubs for Chirinos, Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, and Sam Fuld.

And you know what they say about the best deals being the ones you don't make...Holland, since the start of the 2011 season, has had an ERA+ of 111 in 499 innings, compared to a 115 ERA+ in 372.2 innings over that stretch by Garza, and Francisco was used to land Mike Napoli from the Blue Jays soon after he wasn't included in a deal for Garza. I'd say the Rangers ended up ahead, overall.

In any case, Garza is one of the hottest commodities on the trade market, the best starting pitcher being shopped. He's a free agent after the season, so you're getting him for approximately 11 starts plus the playoffs if you trade for him. But he's also had injury issues this season and last season, so it should be said you're getting him for 11 starts plus the playoffs if he stays healthy (and if you make the playoffs).

The problem with Garza is that, in a nutshell, he's simply not all that great.

His ERA by season, since 2007: 3.69, 3.70, 3.95, 3.91, 3.32, 3.91, 3.17

His FIP by season, since 2007: 4.18, 4.14, 4.17, 4.42, 2.95, 4.17, 3.79

His xFIP by season, since 2007: 4.41, 4.42, 4.14, 4.31, 3.19, 3.59, 3.87

In terms of fWAR, Garza has basically been a 2-3 win per season pitcher other than in 2011, when he was worth 4.9 fWAR. This season, in one-third of a season, he's put up an fWAR of 0.9, which means he'd be worth 2.5-3.0 wins over a full season. If you prefer bWAR, he's on close to a 5 win pace this season, after never having had better than a 3.5 bWAR season.

As you can see above, his ERA this season is lower than it has ever been, despite the fact that his FIP is only a little better than his historical levels. he has a significant spread between his ERA and his FIP, largely explained by a .266 BABIP and an 80% strand rate. His infield fly ball rate is the lowest it has ever been in his career, while his line drive rate is the highest its been in a full season, so I'd tend to believe his performance going forward is likely to be along the lines of his FIP, rather than his ERA.

And if that's the case, you're getting a pitcher who is worth about one win over replacement the rest of the season. And that's what makes it hard for me to be enthusiastic about Garza.

The Rangers currently have Yu Darvish and Derek Holland pitching at a high level. At this point, you'd feel good about them offering you four starts in a seven game playoff series. If you're getting Garza, it is to slot in behind those two pitchers in the playoffs, not to be a #1 starter.

Of course, the Rangers also expect to have Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison back in August, along with Alexi Ogando back right after the All Star Break. Whether or not Garza is worth trading for depends largely on your level of confidence in Lewis or Harrison being able to be a quality member of the playoff rotation come October. Because Garza is not, I do not believe, a significant upgrade over a healthy Lewis or Harrison. The Rangers have supposedly said they aren't going to trade Martin Perez to get Garza, and that makes sense, as dealing Perez means Garza is just representing an upgrade from Perez, and isn't filling one of the existing holes in the rotation.

There's been talk that the Rangers are willing to deal Mike Olt in order to land Garza, but if that is, in fact, the case, that would surprise me. First of all, per T.R. Sullivan at last year's trade deadline, the Rangers weren't willing to part with Olt to land Zack Greinke, a better pitcher. Secondly, the Rangers, as we all know, have several holes in their lineup to fill next season, and Olt is one of the few major league ready position players the Rangers have. Yes, he's primarily a third baseman, but Adrian Beltre isn't exactly looking spry in the field right now, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to think the Rangers could plan on using Olt at first base against lefthanders next season, at third base for 50-60 games to give Adrian Beltre more reps at DH, and get the remainder of his starts in a COF or DH slot.

The reason why you would trade Olt now for Garza, after holding on to him at this point, is if you're convinced Olt's bat plays only at third base. And if that's the case, the Rangers would be essentially admitting that they'd mis-evaluated Olt up to this point.

So if not Perez and not Olt, who else would they deal? Todd Wills tweeted that the Cubs like Leury Garcia, and he's the type of player I'm sure the Rangers would love to use as a trade chip, since he doesn't really fit in a long-term plan here. There are also the various and sundry high-upside guys in the lower minors that the Cubs might have some interest in. Still, a package headlined by Leury Garcia doesn't seem like enough to land Garza.

Of course, I would have thought that a Kyle Hendricks/Christian Villanueva package wouldn't be enough to land Ryan Dempster last year, and that's what it ended up costing, so who knows. My guess is that the Rangers figure that they'll keep in contact with the Cubs, try different packages, see if they can grab him without giving up Olt or Perez, and if the price for Garza gets too high, simply pass. I just have a hard time seeing 11 starts from Garza, and upgrading from a Yu/Holland/Ogando/Perez playoff rotation (assuming Colbyashi and Harrison don't return) to a Yu/Holland/Garza/Perez playoff rotation as being worth parting with Mike Olt.

Of course, I said the same thing about Zack Greinke last season, and the decision not to give up Olt to get Greinke, and to grab Dempster instead, likely cost the Rangers a division title. If the Rangers had traded for Greinke and plugged him in their rotation, they likely hold off the A's and win the A.L. West.

And who knows...maybe that experience, maybe seeing the team miss out on a division title because they didn't pull the trigger on a deadline deal, will prompt the Rangers to pull the trigger and deal Olt for a rental pitcher in 2013.