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Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003



October 2011



The Cubs Should Extend Matt Garza

Written by , Posted in General

I am the first to admit that I was not a fan of the Matt Garza trade when the Cubs initially made the deal to bring him to the North Side in exchange for five prospects in January.  While a part of my initial reaction was not loving the Cubs trading two of their top four prospects in Chris Archer and Hak Ju Lee, much of my trepidation was thinking Garza, who won’t turn 28 until November, wasn’t all that good.  I thought he was a solid middle of the rotation starter who you could count on to reach around 200 innings a season, but middling K/9 rates and a high HR/FB percentage meant he wasn’t likely to reach the next level.

I am also the first to admit that I was completely wrong.  In my defense, I don’t think anyone guessed that Garza’s approach would entirely change upon joining the Cubs.  In Tampa, Garza relied heavily on a fairly straight mid-90s fastball.  Over 71% of the pitches he threw as a Ray were fastballs.  As a result, hitters could wait on the fastball and hit it a long way when Garza left it up in the zone.

As a Cub, however, Garza has only thrown his fastball 53.5% of the time.  From 2010 to 2011, Garza increased the amount he used his slider from 14% to 23.7%, increased the use of his curveball from 9% to 11.9%, and doubled the use of his change up from 5.5% to 11%.  It’s not clear if this was the result of working with a different coaching staff, or if Garza made this change on his own upon moving from the extreme pitcher’s park that is Tropicana Field to the Friendly Confines.

Either way, the results have been phenomenal.  Garza posted an 8.91 K/9 rate this season, the best of his career, while not increasing his walk rate.  He pitched 198 innings this season, and has thrown at least 184 innings in all four seasons as a full time Major League starter.  His ERA (3.38), FIP (3.00) and xFIP (3.23) are all career bests.  Garza has the eighth best fWAR and FIP in the NL, and the ninth best xFIP.  He’s approaching ace territory, and at the very least is one of the best number two starters in the game.  To put this into the context of recent Cubs history, Garza arguably had the best season by a Cub starter since Mark Prior in 2003.  Garza’s only real competition for that claim is Ryan Dempster in 2008 (Garza had the better K/9, BB/9, FIP and xFIP in 2011; Dempster had a better ERA, threw more innings, and had a statistically insignificant better fWAR of 5.2 compared to Garza’s 5.0.)

As a Super Two player, Garza gets four total years of arbitration, with the two most expensive of those arbitration years remaining.  He will likely make at least $8 million in 2012 and $10 million in 2013 before hitting free agency at age 30.  If Garza continues to pitch like he did in 2011, he will probably be able to command at least $15 million per year with a contract length of at least five years.

The Cubs should ensure that Garza doesn’t reach free agency and that he is in their long term plans at the front of the starting rotation for the next half decade.  I think something that adds up to around 5 years/$60 million would probably get it done, and that could potentially include an option year or have a team option added on as a sixth year.

A five year extension right now would serve two major benefits: First, it would keep Garza with the Cubs through his age 32 season, likely allowing the Cubs to keep Garza through the majority of his peak seasons without risking paying Garza a lot of money through a decline.  Second, the Cubs probably will not have to give Garza as many dollars per year for his 2014-2016 free agency seasons as they would if he actually reaches free agency.  I know some Cub fans are turned off by the idea of signing anyone to a long term deal right now.  While there are always risks for signing players to long term contracts, Garza’s age, performance, and injury history point to him being a fairly low risk proposition.  As such, keeping Garza a Cub for several years into the future should be the Cubs’ number one priority this off-season.

  • Trent

    I 100% agree with all of that. Why wait until he becomes more expensive when he hits free agency? Lock him up now. Do the same with Castro.

  • Norm

    Me too, completely agree. Also about Castro.

  • Jedi

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that signing a GM should be priority number one this off-season.

    But I do like Garza.

  • Chuck

    I am, generally, opposed to giving anything over 4 years to a pitcher becaue of the significant injury risk compared to non-catcher positions players. However, a 6 year $70M contract that buys out his arbitration years would be a decent investment. If he continues to improve/maintain current levels of production throughout the contract, he will be a bargain. He gets financial certainty. The Cubs get a break over the length of the deal. It is a win-win. That is why it will never happen.

  • Garza is the only thing we have going in the rotation. I guess we all know that. My favorite thing about Garza starts; being able to figure out why he gives up runs. Bad breaking ball…poor location on the heater, etc. Dempster has made me nervous since he was a closer…some days he is just off. Some of Z’s starts began ugly and never improved; more-so for Wells on that note. RoLo wasn’t good, but he turned out to be our second most reliable starter last season. So, yeah. One more vote for extension.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    I like it, Noah. Nice job.

    Once the GM domino falls, sorting out Garza’s future ought to one of the top priorities.


    I’m on the wagon for locking up Castro and Garza. I don’t think the new GM wouldn’t want them in for the long haul. We should be buying out their arbitration and a couple FA years. I would give Castro a nice deal like the Brewers gave Bruan after his rookie year, and if he outperforms that contract, I would tack on a hefty extension like Braun got.

  • CubbieDude

    What if you give him a 10 year deal today and he tears his labia tomorrow? And Lizzie, is that even the correct term?

  • Seymour Butts

    So much for throwing our support behind the Rays. I guess their GM is now chatable.

  • Seymour Butts

    Labrum…but you got our attention.

  • Buddy

    Not a fan of locking up pitchers long term. Young and talented position players? Absolutley!

  • Buddy

    And, the Rays are out of the playoffs. So much for all that “momentum” the talking heads kept telling us about.

  • Senior moment or comedy gold…you be the judge. I’m confused.

  • CubbieDude

    Ha!! That got their attention!! Even Seymour!! Yeth Doctor!!

  • lizzie

    @CubbieDude – OUCH!!!

    • @CubbieDude – I believe the term is labrum. If Garza has a labia we’ve got bigger issues than whether or not to sign him to a long term deal.

  • CubbieDude

    Seymour Butts, jswanson, lizzie & Joe Aiello: I know we’ve had this ridiculous discussion before; I just wanted to liven up the place. Apparently, it worked.
    Seymour: Thanks for the scholarly clarification.
    – Although, since “labia” is the plural of “labium”, the correct corresponding form of “labrum” would be “labra”, as in “What if we give him a 10 year deal today and he tears his labra tomorrow?”
    – And, by the way, the English translation of both terms (labia & labra) is “lips”.
    jswanson: Might be both.
    lizzie: Say no more; and thanks for playing along.
    Joe: As I said above, “…the term is labra”; and If Garza has a “labium…”

  • Dusty Baylor

    Ok, I really like Castro, a lot. I think he has a chance to be a special player. Coomparing him to Ryan Braun though? Really? Castro’s OPS career is .766. Braun’s is .933…and he’s hits for average, and he steals bases.

    I like Castro, and if the Cubs eventually lock him up, That’d be great, but let’s not throw a ton of money at him until he shows some better fielding, and either a little more power, or a little more getting on base.

  • Jedi

    You right Dusty, the Braun comparison is insufficient. Instead we should compare him to A-Rod…since here is how the list goes for guys with the most hits in a season at 21 years old or younger since at let 1959. No. 1 A-Rod; No. 2 Castro.

    He’s worthy of a big deal right now.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Jedi, you’re absolutely right..based on hits we should sign Castro to a huge deal right now. Since hits are the most important statistic.

    I’m not against locking up Castro…I’m against using Ryan Braun as the guideline.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Er…we’re comparing Starlin Castro to A-Rod?

  • Norm Bothwell

    I think we should compare Castro to Mike Caruso and Claudell Washington since they were the closest batting averages to Castro at 21 or younger.

    Dusty, I don’t think BLPCB was comparing Braun and Castro, just the contract situations. Could substitute Braun with Longoria, Tulo, Bruce, J.Upton…numerous others. Sign them well before arbitration to buy out some free agent years.

    Here was Braun’s deal:
    8 years/$45M (2008-15). Signed extension with Milwaukee 5/15/08, replacing 1 year/$0.455M deal renewed 3/2/08. $2.3M signing bonus, 08:$0.455M, 09:$0.745M, 10:$1M, 11:$4M, 12:$6M, 13:$8.5M, 14:$10M, 15:$12M.

    At that deal, Castro wouldn’t hit $10M until 2018.

  • @Norm…glad you brought that up. I have been thinking to myself all season that Castro is the spitting image of a young Claudell Washington.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Ok. Good point…then I get it.
    Locking up Castro at a reasonable price, a nice raise for him and buy out a couple of years of free agency. Fine I suppose.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Except for the fact that Claudell Washington was a lefty, and played the outfield..agreed that he’s the spitting image. Lol….

  • Jedi

    Thank you Dusty for understanding the folly in comparing any one stat between two players and making a conclusion based on that one stat alone.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Psst..I got the joke btw. =P

    Did anyone else read the Bruce Levine Cub player grades on ESPN? Oof….is that old news?

  • Dusty Baylor

    Mea Culpa Jedi…hadn’t had my 2nd cup of coffee yet