What Getting Matt Garza Could Tell Us About the Rangers

UPDATE: Matt Garza has officially been traded from the Cubs to the Rangers, reportedly in exchange for Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, and a player to be named later. This post was originally published on Friday, July 19.

Matt Garza hasn’t been traded, yet, so Matt Garza hasn’t been traded to the Rangers, yet. In fact, a report circulated late Thursday night that the Rangers were examining their other options, backing away from the Garza pursuit. The price, they say, is a high one. But, Friday’s reports have made a Cubs/Rangers trade appear imminent, and as a matter of fact one could go down while I’m in the process of writing this post. That would be annoying for me but delightful for you. It’s a virtual certainty that the Cubs will deal Garza very soon, and the Rangers seem like far and away the most likely destination.

Joe Davidson says the Rangers and Cubs are reviewing the various medicals. If true, that implies this is at the later stages, and what’s unknown is what the Rangers would be giving up. It stands to reason Mike Olt would probably be involved, along with others, but I’ll leave prospect coverage to prospect coverers. Most important, here, is Garza — the free-agent-to-be — going to Texas, and what such a transaction might tell us about the way the Rangers view themselves.

Little details first: the Rangers are two games back of the A’s in the American League West, and they and the Rays are the current wild-card leaders. The Orioles are nipping at their heels, and then the Yankees and Indians are nipping at the Orioles’ heels. Garza is in line to be a free agent in a few months, and because he’d be going away in a midseason trade, he’d be ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, so there would be no free-agent compensation. Garza isn’t from Texas, but any team that lands a pending free agent has the benefit of getting an exclusive negotiating window, which isn’t without value. The Rangers could have the inside track on signing Garza to an extension, if that’s something they wanted to do.

So, the Rangers like Garza because the Rangers want to upgrade their starting rotation. Why might that be? Here are Rangers starting pitchers currently on the disabled list:

The Darvish injury isn’t a major one, and he’ll be back real soon. He’s expected to start Monday. Ogando is expected to start Tuesday. Lewis is in the minors on a rehab assignment. Harrison is throwing bullpens. Tepesch is trying to get over some elbow inflammation. It’s a small miracle the Rangers are where they are in the standings, given all the injuries they’ve faced, and the rotation hasn’t been what it was expected to be behind Darvish and Derek Holland.

But, Ogando is supposedly just about ready to resume pitching in the bigs. Lewis is supposed to be just a few weeks away. Harrison is supposed to be just a few more weeks away. That would give the Rangers five starters — five talented starters — for some of the season and all of the playoffs, and that would suggest they don’t truly have a great need for Garza’s services. On talent alone, Garza wouldn’t be a big upgrade over any of those five. He’s not as good as his little ERA.

So if the Rangers are this committed to adding a starter, it follows that the Rangers probably have some doubts about how their arms are going to return and perform. Ogando’s coming off shoulder discomfort, and his velocity is down from where it was when he was a starter before. Lewis is coming off elbow surgery, and he’s already experienced one setback. Harrison is recovering from back surgery, and he’s not even yet involved in game action. Maybe one or two of these guys will return at or around 100 percent, but to count on all three? There are too many questions, and the Rangers can’t count on what they have in house.

Of course, there are others. Tepesch has shown promise, but an elbow injury is an elbow injury. Justin Grimm was demoted to the bullpen. Martin Perez is back from injury and pitching, but his results still aren’t close to matching the perception of his talent. Josh Lindblom has five starts. Ross Wolf has two. The Rangers have leaned on pitching depth and survived, but Garza would be a guy both good and healthy, which is a top priority as teams face the home stretch.

Between now and the end of the season, maybe Garza would get 14 starts with the Rangers, if they got him right away. That’s not a lot, and realistically, maybe he’d be a one-win upgrade. Maybe a little more than that. Then Garza would figure to slot into the playoff rotation, if the Rangers qualified, somewhere behind Darvish and Holland depending on the progress of the other arms. Then Garza would face the prospect of free agency. Put that way, he doesn’t seem like a player worthy of fetching a high price. Garza’s a non-elite starting pitcher. He’s not Cliff Lee. He might not even be the best starter available, depending on Jake Peavy. But to understand the reasoning, you have to understand the Rangers’ current position.

Matt Garza wouldn’t change the look of the whole team, but he’d be a probable upgrade at a point where that upgrade might be the difference between making the playoffs and missing them. Or, between winning the division and qualifying for the one-game wild-card playoff. Looking at the projected standings page, both the Rangers and A’s are projected to finish at 90-72. The Rays are at 91-71, and then the Yankees, Orioles, and Indians are projected to finish within striking distance. You can basically think of this as being a high-leverage situation, where pluses and minuses are magnified. There’s real, meaningful incentive for the Rangers to upgrade as much as they can, even if the actual upgrades aren’t so substantial. It was the Rangers, after all, who came apart down the stretch a season ago and lost to the Orioles at home in the one-game playoff. That’s fresh in the organizational memory, and the Rangers would like to not do that again.

So a team like Texas is looking to make a short-term improvement. The whole point is trying to make the playoffs, and just winning the wild card isn’t quite enough anymore. A team like Chicago is looking to make longer-term improvements, and that’s why there’s a fit. That’s why this is probably happening. A year ago, a few months before free agency, Zack Greinke brought the Brewers Ariel Pena, Johnny Hellweg, and Jean Segura. Only Segura was a top-100 prospect, and Garza isn’t better than Greinke was, but the Brewers of course are thrilled with their current shortstop and maybe Mike Olt would become that kind of value. This is a trade that could benefit the Cubs without tearing down the Rangers’ system.

For what it’s worth, it’s not like Garza doesn’t have his own question marks. He’s recently had some elbow problems, and in 2011, his strikeout rate was 31% above the NL league average. So far this year, it’s 13% above the average, and Garza’s allowed his highest rate of contact since 2010. He’s throwing more fastballs than he has as a Cub, and he’s allowing more fly balls than he has as a Cub, and Garza would suffer a little bit going from NL Chicago to AL Texas. As much as Garza carries around some name value, he’s not a top-of-the-line starter. He’s a starter who gets talked about a lot, and who throws hard. The magnitude of his actual impact would probably be smaller than the magnitude of the perception of his impact.

But Garza’s good, and he’s available, and the Rangers have the pieces, and the Rangers have a use. Maybe Texas, too, would be interested in trying to sign him to a long-term extension. Last offseason, a 29-year-old Edwin Jackson got four years and $52 million. A 29-year-old Anibal Sanchez got five years and $80 million. Garza will be 30, and he could be looking for Sanchez-type money. The recency of his injuries might drive down the average annual salary or reduce the length of the guaranteed commitment, but Garza would probably want four or five years, and $14 – 16 million each. The Rangers know that, because I guessed that in five minutes and the Rangers are a lot smarter than me.

The Rangers have five talented starters, but three of them have legitimate injury question marks, and the Rangers aren’t in a position where they can deal with that much uncertainty. Garza could make them a little more stable and a little more good. And though his actual addition wouldn’t make the Rangers substantially better, it could make them better enough. A small upgrade is only a small upgrade until it makes all the difference in the world. The Rangers probably understand that better than most.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

72 Responses to “What Getting Matt Garza Could Tell Us About the Rangers”

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  1. ALEastbound says:

    Does Neftali fit in somewhere?

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  2. BX says:

    As an A’s fan, I’m scared. Please put Utley on the market, Phillies.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Choice for Utley? Yea or Nay?

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Pretty sure RAJ is still under the delusion that Michael Young’s clubhouse leadership and grit will lead the phillies with an epic comeback. Their thrashing of the Yanks today proves it. As a braves fan, I hope he keeps up the good work.

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      • Mcneildon says:

        Yep. The Phillies would probably have to lose all of their games through July 30th for RAJ to sell. You forgot to mention his likely delusion that the Phillies are a “second-half team” because they had a lot of post-All Star break success in recent years with much more talent than they have now.

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      • za says:

        I’m hoping RAJ doesn’t let the Mets knocking Lee around today knock some sense into him.

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    • Neil says:

      Would you take Altuve?

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  3. RMD says:

    The Rangers really should have been more aggressive this offseason so they wouldn’t have been dependent on Matt Garza to save them from missing out on 1st place. As Sullivan said, he will only moderately improve their regular season rotation. They should have signed either Michael Bourn or Kyle Loshe. They certainly had the money. It looks like that conservatism means they won’t make it to the ALDS for the seconds straight year.

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    • DrewK says:

      Completely disagree. Both are aging players that were looking for Boras top dollar. If that’s the best free agency had to offer, then John Daniels was wise to stay away given their window is far from closing.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Why would Texas need Bourn. They signed Leonys Martin out of Cuba and he has been very good. Lohse is trash and Texas did not know Harrison would get injured or that Ogando would have injury issues..

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      • Ivan Grushenko says:

        Because Martin is their only probably good OF signed past 2013 and he can’t play all 3 OF positions. I can see not wanting to give up the draft pick but Bourn would make the team noticeably better.

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    • Blockhead says:

      Fun fact:

      Leonys Martin: 1.6 WAR, 99 wRC+, 12.1 UZR/150 in CF
      Michael Bourn: 1.4 WAR, 97 wRC+, 3.0 UZR/150 in CF

      The Rangers really needed Bourn.

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      • Jared says:

        Yeah, I agree, Bourn is a little overrated because of his past gaudy stolen base numbers. But overall, I don’t think he adds as much offensively as his reputation suggests. Platooning Martin and Gentry has been preferable and costs next to nothing. But it’s true, we will need to add at least one outfielder after this season. Who knows, maybe they’ll pull something off here in the next two weeks for a corner outfielder.

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      • Terence says:

        If only we had more than the last 300 AB’s to determine true talent and project future value…

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      • JN says:

        Funt fact: UZR in that small a sample tells you very little. They probably are better off with Martin considering the money, though.

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  4. JJ says:

    Check me out sometime soon!



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  5. tb3nn3tt says:

    Wouldn’t mind JD offering up some combination of Olt, Sardinas, Odor, Edwards, and Jackson for Garza but pushing hard to get have an OF included, too. Either Soriano (plus a chunk of salary) or DeJesus would work – corner OF in Arlington could get ugly with Murphy not hitting, Cruz potentially being suspended, and both being free agents at the end of the year.

    (Schierholtz would be great, too, but they can probably get a better return elsewhere.)

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  6. jim says:

    I went to the projected standings page to see the reasoning for Texas being projected the same as the A’s since the A’s already have a 2 game lead and a much better run differential. I haven’t looked at Texas second half schedule, but Oakland’s is relatively easy with more home games and the bulk of their non-division games against Minnesota and Toronto.

    Then just for kicks I clicked on “third base” just to see where Donaldson is ranked. According to the rankings Donaldson has an OPS under 800. I knew that wasn’t true so I double checked that. It’s still right around 900.

    To me that kinda puts all of the stats and projections on this site as very suspect.

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    • That’s a projection, which assumes Donaldson will get worse down the stretch. It’s not a stat typo. Maybe you disagree with the projection, and that’s fine, but it won’t make a huge difference on the team level.

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      • Rick says:

        I think the projection system fails with players who are now being used strictly as platoon players (which the A’s utilize a lot); so, unless the projections are adjusted to the players playing time coming against platoon advantages, then they are necessarily underestimating their performance.

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        • Ben Hall says:

          Can you give an example of a player who’s projection is underestimating their performance because of their platooning? I would imagine that this effect would be very small. But perhaps I’m wrong.

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    • sneakyflute says:

      the rangers had a run differential of 60-something before they lost several impact players at once. run differential is useless in this case.

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  7. Tim A says:

    The projection systems here don’t like A’s players all that much (a lot has too do with lack of track record), but the team has a lot of room for positive regression in my opinion. I think Anderson, Reddick, Cespedes, Parker, and second, I mean if all else fails I think Weeks at second is an upgrade over what they are currently rolling out, but I would hope they do better unless he earns it.

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    • brendan says:

      I think the projections are correct that tex is a bit better than oak, talent-wise, and I’m an A’s fan!

      Maybe if Anderson comes back strong in august he can make an impact on the playoff push. should be a tight race.

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    • me says:

      I’m not counting on Weeks for anything. But I do feel oddly good about the fact that Young, Reddick, even Cespedes have definitely underperformed relative to talent level–reasoning being if we’re in first place without much contribution from those guys, we stand to improve. Obviously others have picked up the slack (Colon, Donaldson) but I don’t think it’s too nuts to say this team could get better, especially with Anderson’s potential return.

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  8. Baltar says:

    I basically agree with what you’ve written here, Jeff, which I know is a tremendous relief to you.
    I do, however, caution you on the use of the argument, “A small upgrade is only a small upgrade until it makes all the difference in the world.”
    That is a slippery slope that can lead to a lot of poor trades and signings in the hands of GM’s, who are an inferior race to you and me.

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    • I thought of that while I was writing it. I just think it’s important to understand that, while Garza might not be a huge upgrade to the Rangers, huge upgrades aren’t really available, and small upgrades could mean a lot more to them than to plenty of other teams, given their current position.

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  9. Urban Shocker says:

    It’s a bit of zero sum game too isn’t it? Assuming that the price for Garza is relatively constant, the Rangers acquiring him represents a loss to the O’s for example.

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  10. jim says:

    OK now I get it.

    The projections page has projections. Guess I should have figured that out.

    I looked at a lot of the A’s projections going forward. With the exception of Cespedes and Reddick being a bit better in the last 66 games, everyone who has been bad is projected to stay bad and everyone who’s been good is projected to get worse.

    I wouldn’t bother pointing this out except that the A’s have the best record in baseball, not just from the All-star game last year, but from the beginning of 2012, which is almost 260 games. Seems a little strange that they are all of a sudden going to play about .500 ball in the next 67 games when their schedule is easier than anytime in the last 260 games.

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    • MobiusKlein says:

      For A’s on the projections page, the big difference between 1st half performance and 2nd half projection is the RA/G of 3.86 vs 4.22.

      It’s a similar story for the Pirates too. If you believe the pitching projections are accurate, you will envision a worse performance for both teams.

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    • sneakyflute says:

      the a’s aren’t a “true” 120-win team. they’ve had a revolving door of players playing above their heads. didn’t brandon inge hit two consecutive walkoff home runs?

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      • 2013 Portland Beavers says:

        He OPS’d .675 and was worth one bbref win. I’d hardly call that ‘playing above his head’ unless you want to go with exclusively anecdotes. It’s less that players are playing above their heads and more that Billy Beane/Bob Melvin have demonstrated over the last 2 years that they can get the best out of players by finding the right situations. Seth Smith can’t hit lefties so he’s not facing them. Nate Freiman’s in the majors because his skill is hitting left handed pitching. The pitching staff has far and away the highest FB rate in the majors because of the large outfield/foul ground and the marine layer. Additionally, one could argue that their three most talented/pedigreed players (Reddick, Cespedes, Young) are playing well below their true talent level. If you look at this club with any real scrutiny, you’ll find that the ‘revolving door’ is really just a number of well executed platoons. Don’t drink the ESPN ‘A’s are underdogs’ kool-aid. This team is built to do exactly what they are doing.

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  11. JamesDaBear says:

    I also factor in the Rangers wanting to keep Garza from going to the Orioles, Indians, Rays, Yankees and even Red Sox.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      I don’t see why the Orioles would want him enough to give up the kind of prospects that Texas is rumored to be giving up. Their rotation doesn’t have any giant holes, although none of their guys is particularly great. Garza himself isn’t particularly great.

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      • Bill says:

        Plus, if Baltimore would have wanted him, they wouldn’t have traded for Feldman. I imagine a Garza trade would have looked like that one plus a couple of impact prospects that Baltimore was not willing to part with.

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    • Baltar says:

      That’s a very good point. The Rays, however, would not want him. They have at least 8 capable starters.

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  12. sneakyflute says:

    texas should keep olt as he’s shown the ability to hit at the aaa level. perhaps he can play 3rd while beltre DHs. i’ve never understood leaving players to stagnate in the minors. they only improve by facing tougher competition.

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    • Billy says:

      Usually it’s because teams feel a lack of regular playing time is more harmful to a young player than keeping sharp every day at AAA even if they aren’t learning much there. You may be right, but that’s the other side of th coin.

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    • Tim A says:

      Texas should DH one of the best defensive 3B in the league, so some kid thats hitting below the Mendoza line, and has been demoted too AA can get in the lineup, right. Let the PCP wear off before you start thinking baseball thoughts.

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      • sneakyflute says:

        beltre has a hamstring injury that’s limited his range a bit. even if olt doesn’t hit, he could provide some defensive value and he could possibly replace profar who should be sent to aaa to hone his abilities.

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    • Fink says:

      Why would the DH Beltre he’s one of the top 3rd baseman in baseball?

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  13. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    As a Rangers fan, I’m so over Mike Olt. Its all about Joey Gallo now!

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    • rbt says:

      Good luck with that!

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    • Andy says:

      Tap the brakes there. Gallo has sky-high potential, but he’s a long way away and has work to do. Not to mention, he might end up being a COF or 1B instead of a 3B. And as much as I love his power (and I do), there’s still plenty of time for him to flame out.

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  14. chuckb says:

    Jeff, something’s wrong with your post here. For some reason, the gif’s aren’t showing up at all on my screen.

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  15. Alex says:

    Upon examining precedent and both organizations needs, this trade seems foolish.

    The author states that M. Garza represents a one win improvement to TEX, at most. M. Garza is a two month rental with no compensatory picks involved, if TEX acquires him, so the only benefit TEX stands to gain is two months of middle rotation pitching and an exclusive negotiation period. If, without M. Garza, TEX projects to tie OAK for the AL West, then why should TEX sell low on their N. Ramirez and M. Olt type prospects?

    Admitting that that one win improvement would place TEX as the AL West winners in the projections cited by the author, what must be considered is how TEX could better use their prospects for this season and next: Their only major league OF under contract for 2014 is L. Martin. TEX has a need for COF under contract through 2014, and their prospects could be used to address this, rather than trade for two months of M. Garza. When the possible suspension situation regarding N. Cruz is considered, using prospects to acquire M. Garza begins to seem foolish.

    Additionally, the exclusive negotiation period that would also stand to be acquired by TEX must be considered. TEX has control over Y. Darvish, D. Holland, M. Harrison, A. Ogando, M. Perez, N. Tepesch, and J. Grimm for the foreseeable future, with long term guaranteed contracts with Y. Darvish, D. Holland, and M. Harrison. Does TEX have the financial flexibility to guarantee a fourth spot in their rotation to a pitcher who is older than the aforementioned? Or are their funds better used in acquiring a COF?

    CHC’s situation also deserves mentioning. TEX, while having a strong minor league system, covets MIF, CF, and C talent. Their system, as a result, is ripe with SS and 2B in the higher levels (AA and AAA). Meanwhile, CHC also has a long commitment to S. Castro, with J. Baez the heir apparent to the second MIF position. For a team searching for cost controllable major league talent, TEX’s system doesn’t appear to match with CHC’s organizational needs.

    All of these factors lead to a conclusion that a M. Garza to TEX trade simply isn’t realistic.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Why prepare for a World Series run in 2014 when adding a player could win the division and give you a World Series shot this year? As for the other pitchers, Ogando can go to the bullpen and I think that all the injuries around MLB shows you can NEVER have too many starters…

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  16. Jason says:

    As a Cubs fan, I’d really like to see Garza moved to the Rays for Archer, Hak-Ju Lee and maybe a couple of other pieces. And then I’d like to see Jim Hendry dressed in a clown suit, and paraded through the city the way the Blackhawks just were, except the millions of people lining the streets would be throwing rotten fruit at Hendry as he waved and blew kisses to the crowd.

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    • rbt says:

      Why would the Rays want to trade for Garza? They already have five perfectly capable and healthy starters, plus two more who are major league ready in AAA, and one whose just been cleared to pitch again after suffering a concussion.

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      • Ronson says:

        He was joking. That’s who the Cubs originally traded to the Rays for Garza…

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      • SKob says:

        WOW! Even if you don’t remember the trade, you have to stop for a minute and think, ‘wait, what?’ before actually commenting there. hahahaha. But your absolutely right, Rays should not make that deal!

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  17. Ronson says:

    Jeff… I’m a bit surprised you made no mention of Garza’s success in the AL East and in the postseason. Don’t you believe that plays into what the Rangers see in him?

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  18. Johnny Ringo says:

    I feel like the author underestimates Garza’s value to the Rangers. They have a lot of young pitching, but with question marks, and not much of a track record. Garza has a nice track record and would help a lot in the middle of that rotation.

    Rangers are in go for it mode. No reason in my opinion to be sitting around waiting on these young guys to pull through. Every team in the league tries to get better each year. If you have a legitimate shot, you should take it.

    Who can you get right now on the trade market that’s a better pitcher than Garza? And, I’m all about going young, and building prospects, but let’s not forget that most of them don’t work out.

    I’m just as fine with the Cubs keeping Garza, and signing him to an extension, as I am them trading him.

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  19. Juan says:

    People look at the Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz trades and laugh at
    the GMs who made them, without considering all the facts. Detroit
    and Boston were in the thick of a pennant race, and needed a shot
    in the arm at making the post season. Those GMs showed faith in
    their clubs, and decided to buy their teams a better chance at
    playing for a world championship, an opportunity which may not
    come again for another ten or twenty years. That was the price
    to pay (i.e. Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz). But, keeping those
    prospects is no guarantee that they will take their teams to the
    post season. For example, Hall of Famers Ernie Banks never played
    in a World Series, and Ted Williams played in only one. That does
    not take away their greatness, nor are the GMs wrong for
    attempting to win a world championship for their fans.

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  20. Saber Rattler says:

    Over the past several years, Garza’s ERA seems to be pretty consistently lower than his FIP. Does this mean he has been really lucky, or could there be something about his pitching style or the types of balls in play that he tends to induce that could account for such a difference?

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  21. Paul says:

    Is there going to be a Fangraphs article soon about Luis Cruz’s historically bad offensive year? His current wRC+ of 1 would be the worst single season mark since the start of the live-ball era (min. 300 PA, Cruz curently has 175).

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  22. Matty Brown says:

    they got him!

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  23. Juan says:

    Rangers finally got Garza! The prize was high, but even if
    it turns out to be a rental, it gives the Rangers a better
    chance by having a veteran pitcher with pennant race
    experience. There are never guarantees that the best teams
    win a championship, but just the teams that make the least
    mistakes. In 1960 the Pirates won the WS over the Yankees
    in the best of 7 games series. The Yankees had the better
    Series batting average, most home runs, most RBI’s, best
    ERA, but worst error (a gopher ball – walkoff homer by
    pitcher Ralph Terry to Bill Mazerowski in the last of the
    9th inning of Game 7) which crowned the Pirates as World
    Champions. Yes, Cliff Lee was a rental, but he took the
    Rangers to their first World Series ever. Well, the
    Rangers are still contenders, and more hungrier for a
    World Championship! So, acquiring Garza was the right call!

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  24. AnthonySoprano says:

    Garza’s much closer to a 3 win pitcher but Jeff is an inveterate AL fanboi so the bias is loud and clear. I remember all those articles that were written when MG was traded to the Cubs, saying he would dominate the NL because of his experience pitching in the AL East. Yeah, not so much. Then there were the articles about all the “talent” the Cubs gave up to acquire him. Yeah, a couple of part time scrubs, a perpetually injured and overrated shortstop with zero power & a #4 starter with command and control problems. Yeah, that was a great deal for the annointed one, the most exulted, Andrew Friedman.

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