The Matt Garza Deal from the Cubs Perspective

The rumors started gaining traction this week, and now we have a deal. The Cubs have acquired Matt Garza and two minor leaguers in exchange for five players, including Chris Archer, whom Baseball America recently ranked the Cubs No. 1 prospect. The move has a clear win-now bent, as the Cubs’ NL Central rivals have loaded up on talent this winter. But it this enough to put them back in the picture?

In terms of Garza himself, Dave expressed his thoughts not long ago, comparing him to Aaron Harang. I’m not sure I’d go that far. As Dave noted, Garza has “posted significantly better ERAs over the last several years in the more challenging league,” and I don’t think that’s a small consideration. At some point the ability to consistently out-perform your FIP and xFIP has to be a skill.

What troubles me most about Garza in Chicago is his fly-ball propensity. During the past three seasons only six pitchers have allowed fly balls at a rate greater than Garza. Since Wrigley Field is quite a bit more homer-friendly than Tropicana Field, we could see Garza allow a few more fly balls to leave the park. But other than that I have few concerns about Garza the pitcher.

In terms of Garza’s fit on the Cubs, there are a number of questions. The Cubs had something of a middling starting staff last year, finishing ninth in starter ERA and 10th in FIP and xFIP. But they did finish seventh in WAR, thanks to having five starters who produced 2 or more WAR. All five of those starters — Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Zambrano, and Carlos Silva — will return for the 2011 season. They also have Andrew Cashner, who could start for the team at some point this season. Why, then, trade a few top prospects for a depth move?

The problem, it appears, is the uncertainty at the back of the rotation. Dempster and Wells are solid contributors, but neither is an ace in the traditional sense of the term. Zambrano has been that ace in the past, but he pitched only 113 innings last season due to various issues, and I’m sure the Cubs would rather not count on him in 2011. Silva bounced back to his pre-Seattle levels, but he also managed only 113 innings. In that way, Garza provides insurance for the Cubs. He’s a better bet than either of those guys to throw 200 innings, and the Cubs could certainly use another 200 innings of reliable pitching.

The only question left, then, is of whether the Cubs gave up too much. The most significant chip is Archer, who, again, ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s Cubs prospects list. Kevin Goldstein ranked him No. 3. Both outlets love Archer’s stuff, but note that his control will continue holding him back if he can’t improve. Goldstein seems to lean towards him emerging as a relief pitcher. Maybe that’s how the Cubs ultimately view him as well, and therefore is why they included him and not one of their other top prospects such as Trey McNutt or Chris Carpenter.

Also included in the deal are SS Hak-Ju Lee, No. 4 on BA and No. 5 with Goldstein, OF Brandon Guyer, No. 10 with BA and No. 11 with Goldstein, C Robinson Chirinos, No. 12 on Goldstein’s list, and OF Sam Fuld, who has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Cubs. Overall that appears to be a solid package for Garza and a couple of return prospects. Lee, though the best prospect on the list, just turned 20 and is probably a ways off. Guyer will probably end up as a fourth outfielder. Chirinos might be the most interesting of the bunch. He’s a catcher, converted from the infield, and he has absolutely mashed the ball for the past two seasons. He’ll turn 27 in June, so he could get a long look this year.

Overall the Cubs gave up a solid package of prospects for a solid pitcher. It might have been a slight overpay, since the deal includes two top-five prospects and one really interesting 11-20 guy, but that’s the premium the Cubs have to pay in order to stay afloat in the NL Central. They now have a pitcher who can give them 200 innings and probably around 3 WAR — and perhaps more, if Garza does indeed posses the skill to outperform his FIP. The only problem is that he’s replacing a guy who produced more than 2 WAR last year. Still, considering what it will take the make the playoffs from that division, I’m sure the Cubs were happy to make the trade.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.