The St. Louis Cardinals moved today to lock up one of their important young pieces, signing pitcher and potential ace-in-the-making Jaime Garcia to a four year contract worth $27.5 million. The deal also includes two club options in 2016 and 2017, the values of which have not been released as of this writing. As Garcia is currently in his second year of service time, the deal guarantees his third pre-arbitration season as well as all three of his arbitration seasons, with the two club options covering his first two years of free agency.
Garcia has defined himself quite clearly in his first season and a half in the big leagues. He strikes out a good number of batters, with a 7.7 K/9 sitting just under a full point above the league average. His control was mediocre last year, sitting at 3.5 BB/9, but that number has fallen a full point and now sits at a very good 2.5. But his real calling card is his ability to get the ground ball — for the second straight year, Garcia is posting a ground ball percentage in the mid-50s, and it’s this ability that largely drives his 3.22 ERA and 2.98 FIP.
Through a season and a half, Garcia has basically established himself as a pitcher who holds offenses to 80%-90% of the league average. His defense-independent numbers compare extremely well to division rival Yovani Gallardo, a pitcher who received an extension in his third year of pre-arbitration status as well. Gallardo’s contract, signed at the beginning of last season, covers his three arbitration years as well as his first year of free agency, and will cost the Brewers $30.1 million guaranteed, although Gallardo’s contract only contains one club option.
The Cardinals paid a bit more for Garcia than the Brewers did for Gallardo given that Garcia’s contract doesn’t take him into free agency, but that makes sense given his Garcia’s ERA totals as well as the natural progression in player salaries. Seeing as Garcia is looking like a 4.0-5.0 WAR pitcher at this point, as long as the club options are worth something near $15 million dollars (for example, Gallardo’s 2015 option would pay him $13 million), the Cardinals will likely be holding quite a bit of surplus value with Garcia at no risk to themselves come 2016 and 2017.
Of course, there is always risk when extending players early on in their careers and there is even more risk when doing so with pitchers. At only 25 years old last week and posting excellent numbers already, though, Garcia was an asset just screaming to be locked up. The Cardinals saved themselves the chore of arbitration battles, may have saved some cash over those three years, and now have the option to retain a cornerstone-quality starting pitcher for two of his free agent seasons. Sometimes, baseball operations really are that simple.