The acquisition of pitcher Matt Garza by the Cubs, along with two minor leaguers, from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in exchange for five prospects - that include right-handed pitcher Chris Archer, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, and catcher Robinson Chirinos - is a brilliant and gutsy move by general manager Jim Hendry.
History suggests that the best is yet to come for talented right-hander Matt Garza.
The payroll restrictions, caused primarily by several backloaded, long-term contracts, that I feared when the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs last year have come to pass. Hendry no longer has an open checkbook available, so I give him credit for being creative and rolling the dice for a proven starting pitcher who is in his prime.
I anticipate that there will be a great deal of wailing from some Cubs fans in regards to the high price the Cubs are paying for Garza. Archer was ranked as the Cubs top prospect by Baseball America, Lee was ranked No. 4, and Guyer (the organization's 2010 Player of the Year) was ranked No. 10.
But the shot at landing a pitcher as talented as Garza is worth the gamble. And it's also welcome to see the Cubs deal some highly-regarded prospects while they still have value rather than waiting for them to fail at the major league level like Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, and Rich Hill. A deal like the one the Cubs just made is the luxury an organization is afforded when its farm system is deep.
This isn't the equivalent of the awful 1998 trade that sent top pitching prospect Jon Garland to the White Sox in exchange for mediocre reliever Matt Karchner. That was a short-sighted and ill-conceived deal to bolster a weak bullpen.
Nor does it mirror the 2005 deal that netted center fielder Juan Pierre from the Florida Marlins in exchange for young pitchers Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco,and Renyel Pinto. Pierre produced 204 hits in 2006, but the Cubs finished last in the NL Central and Pierre departed as a free agent after just that one season.
It's high time for the Cubs to take out a mortgage. Garza is not eligible for free agency until 2014 and will remain under Cubs control for the next three seasons.
Garza is 34-31 with a respectable 3.85 ERA in 94 starts over the last three seasons with Tampa Bay and, at 27, is just beginning to hit his stride.
If I had more time (life got in the way), I'd release a study of it. I selected 12 contemporary pitchers now in their 30s - Bronson Arroyo, Mark Buehrle, Garland, Dan Haren, John Lackey, Ted Lilly, Kevin Millwood, Roy Oswalt, Brad Penny, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez , and Randy Wolf, - who are the caliber of Garza. I suspect their stats from ages 27-29 were much better than when they were 24-26. It's probably worthy of a later post.
Some more thoughts regarding the acquisition of Garza:
* Garza has allowed just 26 hits in 31 postseason innings.
* In addition to the historical spike in regard to Garza's age, we should expect improvement due to his shift from the American to the National League. In recent years, pitchers like Lilly, C.C. Sabathia, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Roy Halladay reaped the benefits of moving from the AL to the NL.
* Lilly was 49-44 with a 4.48 during his last four seasons in the AL (2003-06) and is 54-38 with a 3.45 ERA since joining the NL in 2007. Sabathia was 106-71 with a 3.83 ERA in 7 ½ years with Cleveland before going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts with Milwaukee in 2008. Clemens was 38-18 with a 2.40 ERA in 84 starts with Houston from 2004-06. Johnson had a 3.60 ERA in 2,269 AL innings and a 2.92 ERA in 1,866 1/3 innings in the NL. Halladay was 21-10, pitched two no-hitters, and his 2.44 ERA last year was nearly a run better than in his 12 AL campaigns.
* Some of Garza's detractors have pointed out that the right-hander is a flyball pitcher. He allowed 28 home runs in 2010, but the total is comparable to Ryan Dempster (25 homers allowed last season) and Lilly (32) fared just fine at Wrigley Field. My previous studies of the wind patterns at the Friendly Confines have determined that the ballpark is not quite a hitter's paradise.
* I read elsewhere that Hendry has essentially replaced Lilly with Garza and that the swap is a wash. But Garza is eight years younger than Lilly.
The Cardinals are thin after Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Brewers are suspect after Zach Greinke and Yovani Gallardo, and the Reds' rotation that features Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Travis Wood lacks the Cubs' experience.
With the bounce-back years I expect from Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Carlos Pena; an improved defense anchored by a more experienced Starlin Castro; and a better bullpen thanks to the addition of Kerry Wood - my clear eyes see the Cubs running away with a weak NL Central this year. I am pumped for April 1!