The Milwaukee Brewers continue to rely on the rest of the major leagues to produce pitchers. This time, it’s former Rangers, Cubs, Rays and Twins starter Matt Garza, as the two sides have reportedly agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract Thursday in the first major transaction since Masahiro Tanaka went off the market, although the club says no deal has been finalized as of Thursday evening.
The Brewers have lacked for in-house pitching for years, as the farm system hasn’t been able to give Yovani Gallardo a consistent rotation mate since he joined the club in 2007. Since then, the club has made three significant pitching trades — for CC Sabathia in 2008, and for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in 2011 — and signed two pricey free agents — Randy Wolf for $29 million over three years prior to the 2010 season, and Kyle Lohse for $33 million over three years prior to last season. (And, of course, the club signed the recently retired Jeff Suppan to a four-year, $42 million deal prior to the 2007 season). As such, Garza joins a growing tradition of expensively imported rotation salves.
The Brewers rotation Garza is joining needs such a salve desperately. Milwaukee starters finished in the bottom six in K/9, HR/9, FIP and innings pitched in 2013. Although this Brewers team still lacks an ace, the top trio of Garza, Kyle Lohse and Gallardo has been largely successful in recent years. Additionally, Garza’s presence will allow the Brewers to let prospect Tyler Thornburg continue to grow in the minor leagues if he can’t beat out Wily Peralta or Marco Estrada for the final rotation spot in spring training. It may not project as great, but it does project to improve considerably.
And they’ll need a substantial improvement from the rotation if they want to make a run at the playoffs. The talent appears to be there offensively — Carlos Gomez made an MVP charge, Jean Segura made the All-Star team, Ryan Braun returns to the lineup and Jonathan Lucroy continues to impress even in an era of excellent catching talent. But over the past two seasons, the Brewers have consistently been one of the worst pitching teams in the league. Garza’s steadiness, then — he joins Felix Hernandez and Matt Cain as the only three pitchers to post an ERA under 4.00 with at least 80 innings pitched every season since 2007 — is just what Milwaukee needs in front of what should be a potent offense.
One might understand if Garza were disappointed with his payday. His contract comes in at a similar price to Edwin Jackson (4 years, $52 million with the Cubs last year) and Ricky Nolasco (4 years, $49 million with the Twins this year), similarly young pitchers Garza has outperformed throughout his career:
Perhaps the timing was a bit wrong. Perhaps teams were concerned about the arm injuries that have limited him to just 42 starts over the past two seasons. Either way, it might be concerning to the other free agent pitchers (and their agents) remaining on the market, like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo. If this is all a pitcher like Garza — the owner of a 3.62 ERA an 8.4 K/9 and a 3.1 K/BB since 2011 and five successful career playoff starts — can get, what of the remaining hurlers? Santana, for example, was pining for a $100 million contract, but can hardly justify such a sum following Garza’s pact with the Brewers — Garza didn’t even have the stigma of draft pick compensation to deal with.
The Brewers, perhaps emboldened by the money coming in from MLB’s new national TV deal, used the situation to plug a large hole at a palatable price even in their tiny media market. The Brewers will need a lot to go right in 2014 to return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, but the presence of Matt Garza in the rotation can at least let the cream city dream of a winner this summer.