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Why Matt Garza’s return is so important

Matt Garza makes his return to the mound tonight. Here’s why that’s very important to the Brewers future.

Philadelphia Phillies v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Matt Garza makes his 2016 Brewers debut this evening. Tough luck that it has to come against slugger Madison Bumgarner. But that’s not what I wanted to look at today. I thought this would be a good opportunity to provide a refresher on Garza’s contract. It’s been something Brewers fans have been thinking a lot about over the last couple of years because of his complicated option year.

The Brewers have control over Garza through next season—he makes $12.5 million annually with $2 million deferred from each season. The option year is for 2018. Originally it was a vesting option. Vesting options become guaranteed at $13 million if certain criteria is met. For Garza he need to meet three requirements.

  1. Make 110 starts between 2014-2017
  2. Throw 115 innings in 2017
  3. Not on the disabled list to end 2017

The second and third requirements no longer matter. He needs to make 59 starts between now and the end of the 2017 season. After missing the first 2+ months of the season it’s impossible for him to meet that mark. Even were he to make 34 starts in 2017—he’s never started 32 games—he would still have to make 25 starts this year. With 98 games left this year, it’s very unlikely Garza makes more than 20 starts. If that.

Since the option will not vest, the language in his contract says it becomes a team option. And instead of being worth $13 million, it’s only for $5 million. That’s actually extremely cheap in today’s dollars. Even for a mediocre 4/5 starter that’s not a bad value. But what if Garza can have a rebound season?

The days of him being a borderline No. 2 are long over. But perhaps he can still be a solid No. 3. Last season was terrible for him, but a lot of his peripherals remained near career norms, including velocity. His swinging strike rate did drop considerably and his hard hit% was the highest of his career—still not quite sure if it matters though. But both were dramatically different than previous seasons.

So is this a sign of his declining stuff or just a statistical anomaly? That’s an answer I don’t have. We need more data points to determine if this is a trend. And that’s what we should start to learn now that he’s healthy and pitching again. If he answers these questions positively, then the Brewers might have a moderately valuable trade commodity on their hands.

In free agency even mediocre pitchers are seeing 3 year deals in the $30-40 million range. What the Brewers would have with an effective Matt Garza is a decent pitcher on a 2 year deal worth just $17.5 million. And there’s the built in safety net that if he’s awful or hurt in 2017, the team can just cut ties with him by choosing not to exercise the 2018 team option.

I’m not suggesting the Brewers can break the prospect bank with Garza. But think back on the Yovani Gallardo deal. If Garza can prove he’s effective this year, the Brewers can probably get at least as much as they got for Gallardo, perhaps even a bit more. So let’s hope Garza can indeed prove that he still has something left. We’ll start to find out tonight.

Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Contracts
Statistical information courtesy of FanGraphs