Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

I like Matt Garza, and I like him on the Chicago Cubs. He’s a quality front-half of the rotation type, even if not an ace, and we all know the Cubs could use as many effective starters as they can get.

Still, he’s only under control through the 2013 season. With the Cubs mired in a rebuild, and with Garza a valuable, short-term asset, you could understand the Cubs’ desire to get his future cleared up. Is he a trade piece? Is he an extension candidate? How does the stress reaction in his elbow, which ended his 2012 season in July, impact those choices? How does the increasingly limited free agent starting pitching market impact those choices?

Well, the thing is, there’s no great answer. At least not right now.

First, consider Garza as a trade piece.

I know everyone wants to talk about Matt Garza’s trade value in light of the James Shields/Wade Davis/Wil Myers/etc. trade, and I’ve already discussed why I don’t really see a comparison there. You can add to that a statement from ESPNBoston, representing an external take on Garza’s trade value (emphasis mine):

The Red Sox considered trading for Garza at the deadline last July. Adding Garza could help the current starters in Boston because he’s known for his solid work ethic in between starts and wouldn’t be afraid to speak his mind. However, Garza suffered a right elbow injury just before the deadline and was shut down by the Cubs in August. Chicago manager Dale Sveum said during the winter meetings that the 29-year-old right-hander is healthy and will be ready at the start of next season. The Red Sox likely could acquire Garza for a relatively minor trade as he would only be under Boston’s control for one season before he’d be eligible for free agency.

This is among the reasons you’re not likely to see a Garza trade – heck, you probably won’t even see a rumor – before Spring Training at the earliest, and, even then, it is unlikely. Other teams view Garza as a one-year injury risk. How much would you pay in trade for a guy like that? In other words, Garza is more valuable to the Cubs right now than he is to other teams in trade – and there’s no way in the world the Cubs are going to give him up for “a relatively minor trade.”

Now, consider the extension question, against the backdrop of his trade value, and the injury. Unfortunately, depending on Garza’s thoughts on his future, the Cubs might be in a really rough spot come Spring Training.

Let’s say Garza appears to be healthy, feels good, and is throwing well in the Spring. The Cubs may, at that point, want to extend Garza, which would be swell. But maybe they aren’t willing to give him a huge, open market-type deal – which would be understandable, given the injury, and given that guys generally give up some of their value when signing a long-term extension (that’s kind of the point). For his part, maybe Garza feels so good that he doesn’t want to give any kind of discount on an extension. Maybe he wants to prove that he’s fully healthy, and that 2011 (his dominant season) was the real Matt Garza. If he does that, he’d be in line for an enormous contract next Winter.

So, at that point, what do the Cubs do? If they don’t trade him before the season starts, the receiving team won’t be eligible to receive draft pick compensation should he leave them at the end of 2013. If they trade him in the Spring, though, he still won’t have thrown a regular season pitch since leaving with his elbow injury the previous July. How much trade value could he really have at that point?

What’s the best outcome here? Well, clearly, the best outcome from the Cubs’ perspective would be a discounted extension. Quality arms are getting tougher and tougher to come by, and the Cubs already have one in Garza. If he’s healthy, I have no doubt that the Cubs would – all things equal – prefer to hang onto Garza for several more seasons. Maybe that’s a good outcome for Garza, too. He gets to stay in a city for which he’s professed affection, and he gets to be with the Cubs when they finally become competitive (I mean, theoretically, right?). He also gets some measure of security, coming off an elbow injury. I don’t care how confident you are in your abilities – when your arm is your money-maker and it shows signs of trouble, it might be time to cash in for whatever you can get.

But if Garza wants five years and $100 million? That becomes a very difficult decision when the only options on the other side are (1) trade him in Spring Training for a modest return; (2) hold onto him and try to trade him at the Trade Deadline for a modest return; (3) keep him for the season, try to sign him to an extension (which may have gotten a whole lot more expensive), or receive a draft pick when he walks.

You can see why there isn’t an easy or obvious decision here.

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