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2014 Free Agent Preview: Matt Garza

In a weak free agent class for pitchers, Matt Garza is the best option available but injuries and a weak second half will hurt his value.

Ronald Martinez

Matt Garza’s 2013 season has mirrored Ryan Dempster 2012 campaign in several obvious way. Both players started their walk years with the Cubs and put up strong numbers over the first half of the season. Both players were then dealt to the Rangers around the trade deadline as Texas made a final push to make the playoffs. Dempster posted an ERA over 5.00 in 12 starts for the Rangers last season, more than doubling his pre-trade average and after 13 starts, Garza has been just a little better than Dempster with a 4.38 ERA. Both deals also failed to push the Rangers over the top in the division race.

Despite the similarities, Garza will enter free agency in a much better position than his former teammate. At 29-years-old he can angle for the type of long-term deal that the then-36-year-old Dempster had little hope of getting. Thanks to the trade to Texas, he cannot receive a qualifying offer and therefore, he will not cost the team that signs him a draft pick. That makes him easily the best arm that will come without a qualifying offer in this extremely weak free agent class for pitchers. There a number of older veterans with better numbers and Kansas City’s Ervin Santana has a far superior ERA this season, but combining his age, stuff and track record with the lack of compensation makes Garza the best the 2014 market can deliver for pitchers.

Garza isn’t without his own negatives, however. He has a worrisome history of injuries over the past several seasons. He was limited to 103 2/3 last season when an elbow injury shut him down in August and this season he began the year on the DL with a side strain. On top of the health risks, Garza has also never managed to turn his eye-catching stuff into ace-level results. His 3.85 career ERA is just five percent better than league average and both his FIP and xFIP are a mere four percent above average. Even though he is the best arm on the market, he is no ace. He should appeal most to teams in need of a quality mid-rotation player to put them over the top.

Top Bidders


The Angels have spent the last two seasons look up at the Rangers and Athletics despite headline-grabbing moves in each proceeding off-season and the reason is clearly pitching. The offense certainly can’t be blamed for their shortcomings, even with the disappointing returns they have received from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. They rank fifth in the American League in runs scored this season and when you factor in the disadvantages of their stadium they sport the third best offense in the game (by wRC+). Unfortunately their starting rotation has been equally awful, ranking as the fifth worst in the AL by ERA.

After see their attempt to fill out the back of the rotation with players like Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton, they will almost certainly look for more this time around. They are still a year away from having to face a Mike Trout arbitration decision and their 2013 payroll was already slightly less than their 2012 one. The potential for some front office changes could dramatically change their course of action, but if they are still hoping to win with this group, Garza has to be a target for them this winter.


The Giants have done an incredible job developing pitchers in recent years and they have been rewarded with two World Championships for their hard work. They are still working that magic too as reclamation project Yusmeiro Petit appears to be the latest example of their supernatural pitcher-developing abilities. Unfortunately, thanks to some under-performances, bad luck, and decline this season the Giants have posted the third worst starter ERA in the National League. To get back to playing meaningful baseball next fall, San Francisco will have to upgrade from dead weight like Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong. Fortunately, Matt Garza is an excellent fit.

AT&T Park is one of the most forgiving environments for a fly ball pitcher and the Giants have taken advantage of that effect quite well. Garza is not as extreme a fly ball pitcher as Petit or Chad Gaudin, but he has bounced back and forth between being heavily fly-ball oriented and fairly neutral over his career and his 2013 season has skewed towards fly balls fairly dramatically with just a 39% ground ball rate. The move to AT&T and the NL West would be ideal for him and could help return him to the effectiveness he showed while playing in pitcher-friendly Tropicana as a member of the Rays.


Compared to the Giants and Angels, the Orioles have been quite successful this season and that has helped hide the fact that they have featured some of the worst starting pitching in the American League. Their 4.54 starter ERA is worst than anyone but the Astros, Blue Jays and Twins. They will be free of Jason Hammel and his 5.00+ ERA this winter and Scott Feldman is also hitting the market. That leaves cost-controlled arms Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez in the Orioles future rotation. They lack a true number one and their best candidate for that role, top prospect Dylan Bundy will not be back until mid-season next year following Tommy John surgery. Garza may not be the ace this staff really needs, but he would give them a strong mid-rotation arm at a cost they can handle and that may be enough for this talented young club.

Potential Dark Horse Bidders


The Nationals took a flyer on Dan Haren with a one year deal this season and while his second half was fairly strong, he was so bad for the first few months that he still sports a 4.90 ERA. He made $13 million this season and he is a long shot to be given a qualifying offer given his poor numbers. Washington was sunk by injuries and under-performing role players like Haren this season but they can still be one best teams in the National League without much tinkering. An upgrade from Haren to Garza would be smart move and one that wouldn't add too much to their bottom line next season.


The Phillies have two strong starters in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels but almost every other starter who took the hill for them was a disaster. They have a number of holes to fill and even with their large and dedicated fanbase, they can’t simply sign the top guy at every position they want to upgrade like the Dodgers or Yankees can. Brian McCann and outfielders like Ellsbury, Pence and Choo are probably going to be a bigger focus, but Garza might be the one guy they can actually land. Citizen Bank Park is not the ideal environment for him but he would still be a major upgrade over everyone but Hamels and Lee.


The Yankees hung around in the AL East and the wild card race far longer than they probably should have given their decidedly un-Yankee team batting line of .244/.309/.379. That line made them the second worse AL offense by wRC+. While they will improve some with the healthy return of Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, they will have to put a great deal of focus on improving their offense this winter.

White pitching was the key to their competitiveness in 2013, they still have holes to fill in the rotation. Andy Pettitte is retiring again. Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda are going to be a free agent and Hughes probably won’t be back as a starter. Garza has plenty of experience pitching in the AL East from his days in Tampa Bay and the Yankees can obviously afford him. The real question is how much they will be willing to throw at the rotation after they pay Robinson Cano and fix the offense.

What will he get paid?

The comparison to Ryan Dempster is useful in some ways. Obviously, the similarities in their walk year narratives don't matter as much as things like age (Dempster was 35 in walk year and Garza is just 30) and track record. but Garza could do worse than the $13.25 million average annual value that Dempster got. He will be looking at a longer deal and the lack of options on the market will help him out but I would not be surprised if he earned just a little more than Dempster on a per year basis. Another Cubs pitcher then becomes a fair comp. A deal like Edwin Jackson’s four-year/$52 million is probably too low , but it is a fair starting point given his age, injury history and performance.

On the high-end, Garza is not likely to top the 5-year/$88 million deal Detroit gave Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez is a Cy Young contender this season, but his career numbers were just a bit better than Garza’s when he signed that deal. However, Sanchez had been more durable in the years leading up to his free agency and he didn’t have the same second-half drop in performance that Garza has had. I think he will top out at around five years and $70 million given his risk, but the lack of options might push him up to $75-77 million total.