Nick Cafardo reports that the Red Sox are still looking at Matt Garza as a potential trade deadline acquisition. Unlike Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, or Ryan Dempster, Garza is under team control for the 2013 season. This means two things: first, he's not a rental like the others, and second, Boston would be able to offer him a qualifying offer and receive a compensation pick if he departed following the 2013 campaign, as he would start that year with the Sox.
That by itself makes him a more intriguing option than the rest of the bunch, who are here and gone in two months. But this, in turn, is also going to make Garza's price tag potentially different than the rest, because he has more to offer in the long run, both for the team acquiring him and their farm system.
Before getting into whether it's worth it for the Red Sox to ship out a few prospects to acquire Garza, let's figure out just who he is. Garza has spent the last two years in the National League Central after pitching for three years with the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. He's 28 years old, and will be a free agent right before his age-30 campaign. He'll be in his fourth year of arbitration in 2013, after making $9.5 million in 2012, meaning he's lined up to receive close to his full yearly free agent value, if not all of it -- think $12 million or so, tops.
Garza has put up two Garza-esque years with the Cubs to this point:
Sometimes he's well above-average in ERA+, other times much closer to it, but he's very durable and productive, averaging 31 starts and 198 innings per year since he became a full-time rotation member in Tampa Bay in 2008. He's been on the disabled list just twice in that stretch as well, once for a neurological disorder in his right elbow, and another time for a contusion in the same joint. He missed just a little more than the minimum for both, though, and other than an illness that sidelined him for nine games in 2011, didn't miss any time otherwise.
Essentially, Garza isn't an ace, but he's the perfect arm for the middle of the rotation: he's always available to take his turn, and at worst, he'll be average. There's a lot of value in 200 innings of an average arm, especially one that occasionally goes above and beyond that. If either Josh Beckett or Jon Lester were producing at an average rate in 2012, Boston wouldn't be in need of another arm to begin with, but instead, Beckett owns a 95 ERA+, and Lester a much less forgivable 79 mark -- further below-average than Garza has ever been above.
There has been a lot of talk about Garza's 2012 being a down year, and how he wouldn't survive in the AL East with the same kind of value because of it, but there are reasons to believe both statements are a bit untrue. It has to do with the opponents Garza has faced in 2012: by Baseball Prospectus's opponent True Average*, Garza has faced the 12th-toughest lineups of any starter in baseball this year, minimum 100 innings pitched. His .274 opponent TAv isn't far behind the overall leader, AL East hurler and former teammate David Price (.277), and it isn't just bad luck, either: the NL Central can hit pretty well, especially when the pitcher doesn't get to face the unimposing Cubs lineup multiple times per year.
*True Average is adjusted for league difficulty, park, etc., so this is essentially an unbiased look at the competition Garza has had to face.
That .274 mark of Garza's is right around where he sat in the AL East in his three seasons there, as his opponent TAv was .276, .277, and .270 before he headed to the NL. He's already facing the kinds of competition he would see in the AL East over the next year-plus, and as his 2008-2010 showed us already, he's capable of producing above-average campaigns against those groups.
So, does that make him a worthwhile target for Boston? That's what the front office is currently debating, as it wouldn't be Beckett or Lester that Garza is replacing in the rotation. Most likely, it would be Aaron Cook, whose tightrope act with his sinker failed against the Blue Jays this past weekend as he gave up two homers. His ERA+ is still 124, but if you'd like to bet that the hurler with a home run rate that equals his K/BB is going to help the Red Sox get into the postseason more than Matt Garza would -- in either 2013 or 2013 -- then by all means, explain.
It all comes down to cost and need, however. The Red Sox have Franklin Morales waiting in the wings, and he could slot into the rotation next year, or even later in 2012, if the need arises. John Lackey will have returned from Tommy John surgery by 2013, and while there's the possibility he could be dealt, that's no sure thing coming off of major surgery. There's an even better chance Lackey comes back and is capable of being an average or better hurler in the AL East, essentially the job Garza is being asked to do beyond this season's last two months, and he's already on the payroll, without the cost of outgoing prospects, too. Lackey's ERA+ from 2008 through 2010 -- i.e., the seasons his elbow didn't require cortisone to function -- produced a 109 ERA+, right in line with the 110 Garza owns since 2008. It's not a guarantee he comes back at that level, but it's more complicated than simply dealing him because there's no room.
Cafardo mentions that the Cubs might have interest in Daniel Bard as part of the return for Garza. He's been struggling, but the core of Boston's bullpen is strong for the next few years, meaning you could talk yourself into Bard being more of a luxury than a necessity pretty easily. Bard might also mean that the cost in prospects is lower, allowing the Red Sox to avoid dealing their top-tier farmhands, instead focusing on the likes of Bryce Brentz or possibly Travis Shaw, if Theo Epstein is as happy with them now as he was back when they were drafted under his watch.
Is that too much for Garza, or just the right price? A lot of that might depend on how Boston's next few series go, as the need for the Cubs' right-hander is more obvious in 2012 terms than 2013 ones at this point.