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Matt Garza and the $13 million shutdown

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The Brewers might have saved themselves a bunch of money by ending the struggling veteran's 2015 season early.

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Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

There were dozens of interesting comments coming from a wide variety of sources at Brewers On Deck last weekend, but some of the most intriguing notes came from Matt Garza's press availability. Garza insisted that 2015 is in the past for him and again reiterated that he left the team in September to be with his wife, who was bedridden while pregnant with twins. When asked if he regretted the way he handled his demotion, though, he had the following to say:

"If someone told you they were taking your job away, would you just accept it or fight it?" he said. "That wasn't why I went home. I would have stuck around, but they told me I wasn't starting so it was like, ‘I can go home and help my wife.' That was exactly what I had to do."

(h/t Todd Rosiak)

Obviously, if Garza had pitched better he wouldn't have found himself in this situation. But if he was upset at the time of his demotion, he had $13 million reasons to feel that way.

Many Brewers fans could likely recite the remaining terms on Garza's contract by heart: He's due $12.5 million each in 2016 and 2017, with $2 million each year deferred to be repaid between December 2018 and 2021. Additionally, he has a vesting/club option for 2018 that's becoming increasingly interesting. Here's how it works:

  • If Garza makes 110 starts over the 2014-17 seasons, pitches at least 115 innings in 2017 and does not finish that season on the disabled list, the option will vest and the Brewers are on the hook for an additional $13 million salary for 2018.
  • If Garza falls short of any of those criteria, the Brewers hold a club option for 2018 at $5 million.
  • Additionally, the team option is reduced to $1 million if Garza spends more than 130 days on the DL in any 183-day period over the length of the contract.
Garza's final 2015 start, on September 5, was his 52nd as a Brewer. (He's also made one relief appearance, but only starts count toward the 110 appearances needed to vest his option.) That was the Brewers' 134th game. If he had remained in the rotation and continued to pitch every fifth game, he would have accumulated five more starts in the month of September.

Those five starts could make a big difference in his situation. As things stand now, Garza needs to make 58 starts over the next two seasons to vest the option. Across baseball, 55 pitchers have done that over the last two seasons and most of them are names you'd recognize. 39 of those 55 pitchers posted a value at or above 2 rWAR per season over that span. Garza hasn't made more than 27 starts in a season since 2011. To vest his option at this point, he's going to have to do it twice in a row.

Now, consider for a moment an alternate situation where Garza remains in the rotation and makes five more starts in September of 2015. He'd have 57 for his Brewers career, and would need just 53 more to vest the option. That's a significantly more reachable number, as demonstrated by some of the pitchers who have done it over the last two seasons. 14 pitchers have made between 53 and 57 starts since Opening Day 2014 and while some of them have been very good (Chris Sale, for example), the list also includes guys like Kyle Lohse, Ryan Vogelsong and Jeremy Guthrie that combined to produce just 1.3 rWAR over six seasons.

For Garza, getting this option to vest might be the difference between making $13 million in 2018 and not getting paid at all. That single-year payday would represent about 16% of his career earnings, so it's hardly an insignificant figure for him. And understanding those figures might provide some context to his comments about "pitching selfishly" going forward.