Wednesday's signing of Tommy Milone to compete for a rotation spot further muddled a crowded field of starters for the Brewers. He'll join Junior Guerra, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Matt Garza and Chase Anderson in the race for five spots. Even if someone moves to the bullpen, it's possible someone in the group might get traded before spring training.
While Guerra would be the most interesting trade piece in that group, Garza might be considered the most likely.
Most of the moves David Stearns has made this winter have been about team control. The Brewers probably won't be contending for a playoff spot in 2017, but guys like Eric Thames and Travis Shaw could be on the next contending Brewers team. The same could be said for the likes of Davis, Nelson and possibly even Peralta. That likely doesn't apply to Garza.
The 33-year-old is about to enter the last guaranteed year of the four-year, $50 million contract he signed before the 2014 season and is owed $12.5 million next year. When Garza signed, there was a vesting option for a 5th year at $13 million, but due to time spent on the DL, it's now impossible for that option to vest, and the 5th year is now a team option for just $5 million.
It's that potentially very cheap option that could make Garza an interesting trade chip. After a bad 2015 and missing much of the first half, he bounced back in the second half of 2016 to put up a 4.16 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 14 starts, holding opponents to a .314 wOBA. He's no longer a strikeout pitcher, but he did induce more groundballs and soft contact in the second half after coming off the disabled list.
He's more or less an average pitcher these days, but $12.5 million is pretty much what you'd pay for league-average pitching these days on the free agent market, and assuming the bubble gum and paperclips holding his shoulder and arm together hold up, $5 million next year is good value.
The story of Garza’s stint in Milwaukee is one of frustration, but despite the 4.57 ERA in 413 Brewer innings, there were times when he still showed he could still be a solid starter. The problem was those unexpected gem outings seemed to be quickly followed by the 4 IP, 8 ER outings. Pitching is hard to predict, but Garza’s pitching seems especially so, and if you’re a team on the outer edges of contention it becomes a gamble to depend on him.
Still, the free agent pitching market isn't full of attractive options this year, and a team looking to improve its rotation without having to sign Jason Hammel to a $40 million contract could see Garza as decent option, warts and all. Garza's days of fetching top prospects in trades are probably over, but he could still bring back a useful (or at least interesting) piece or two.
Of course, while Garza likely doesn't have a long-term future with the Brewers, Stearns has not been someone to trade a guy just to trade him. It's entirely possible he lets Garza start the 2017 season in the rotation, gamble that he'll put up a couple of decent months, then use the idea of a $5 million option to get a desperate GM to bite in July.
Statistics courtesy Baseball Reference and FanGraphs