I think enough has been written about the way Matt Garza ended last season. It wasn't good and that's really unfortunate. But at this point I'm not really interested in rehashing all of that. I'm more interested in looking forward. Garza has at least two seasons left on his contract, perhaps three, and that's what today's article will focus on.
When the Brewers first announced they had signed then free agent pitcher Matt Garza I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. At that point, he had been a largely successful starting pitcher, albeit an injury prone one. That first season in Milwaukee was a pretty solid one: 27 GS, 163.1 IP, 3.64 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 2.7 fWAR. The second season was one of the worst possible seasons a pitcher could have: 26 G, 25 GS, 148.2 IP, 5.63 ERA, 4.94 FIP, 0.6 fWAR. I have to believe he can do better than that in 2016, but I don't have any real guesses as to how well.
A good first half will go a long way towards regaining his traded value. But that's not the only consideration teams will have. Regardless of how well he's pitching, his contract will heavily impact his marketability. The 2016-17 seasons are guaranteed at $12.5 million per--which would be pretty reasonable for a mid-rotation starter. But the 2018 season is an option with some complicated language.
The 2018 option vests at $13 M if three specific criteria are met:
1. Garza makes 110 starts between 2014-2017
2. Garza pitches in 115 innings in 2017
3. Garza does not end the 2017 season on the disabled list
The second and third point cannot be planned around. But the first point very well could be. Garza started 52 games over the first two seasons of his contract. He'll have to start 58 games over the next two seasons to meet that first criteria. That's an average of 29 starts.
The last time he made at least 29 starts was the 2011 season when he started 31 games. So it feels like a long shot that he'll do it twice in the next two seasons. However stranger things have happened. And if I was a team considering acquiring Matt Garza it would have to enter into my calculations. And that's kind of a problem because no one has any idea how many starts he could make in 2017--or the second half of 2016 if this is a mid-season trade discussion. That's why I lean towards Garza getting moved after the 2016 season--unless he misses enough starts in the first half. That way teams will know exactly how many starts he needs to make before the option vests.
There is one final consideration with regards to the contract. Should it not vest, it becomes a team option worth just $5 million. That could end up being incredibly valuable to a team should Garza return to form. This is another reason why I think it's more likely Garza doesn't get moved--assuming he can be traded at all--until the winter. If he does return to form, and it becomes clear the 2018 option doesn't vest, he could become a rather significant trade commodity for the Brewers. In this scenario they would have a mid-rotation starter on a 2 year $16.5 million contract. That's pennies.
There's also a clause that states if Garza spends more than 130 days on the disabled list in a 183 day period, the vesting option changes to a team option worth just $1 million. But if that happens this year the Brewers aren't going to be able to trade him at least until 2017's trade deadline, so let's just think positive thoughts.
I said before that I'm not sure what to expect from Garza this season. The hope is he returns to form. But it could be that his stuff just isn't as good as it once was. I still don't think he'll be anywhere near as bad as he was last year. But it's possible he's not good enough to get traded. Then we'll be thinking about the vesting option in a whole different way.
The Brewers have a chance to start getting good again in 2018 and they have a lot of starting pitching prospects coming up soon. Matt Garza could end up just being in the way. So perhaps the Brewers will be okay with selling low on Garza, or at least not getting full value. If he's pitching any kind of all right around the deadline, and a team comes knocking, they might very well be willing to eat some money and accept a meager return just to have someone take him off their hands.
These are the pros and cons David Stearns will have to consider. Matt Garza's performance will have a lot to say about where he pitches next year and maybe even to end the season. But that contract makes things tricky. It could hinder trade talks or it could substantially increase his trade value. And at this point I really have no idea which is more likely.