Too often this offseason, we’ve focused on the trade possibilities for a healthy Matt Garza. If he shows he’s healthy in the Spring, what trades can the Cubs make? What about mid-season? Is it better to wait until the deadline?
Those discussions, while legitimate, tend to lose sight of the fact that a healthy Garza offers another potentially equally valuable option for the Cubs: signing him to an extension. And even that discussion loses sight of another angle: Garza wants to show he’s healthy and pitch well so that he can get the best contract after 2013 that he can – be it with the Cubs or elsewhere.
Garza undoubtedly likes being a part of the Cubs organization – he’s said as much many times – but his focus this year, in addition to helping the Cubs be as competitive as possible, has to be on demonstrating his value to any and all teams that would have interest in him when he reaches free agency after the 2013 season. He’d be doing himself a disservice if that weren’t the case.
“I’m just going to go out there and pitch,” Garza told the media of his final year before free agency. “I’m going to make people want me.”
But he’s open to staying with the Cubs long-term, right?
“My goal is to go out there and pitch and prove that I’m healthy enough and make them want me to stay,” Garza said, per the Tribune. “That’s my job. Right now there’s all the questions: ‘How is he going to come back? How is he going to rebound?’ Those are legitimate questions. I haven’t thrown off a mound competitively for two months. Now I’m getting back into it, feeling great …. I’m just excited to be pitching again. Not really too worried about what the future holds. All I know is April 1 is Game One and I want to be there.”
I don’t think there’s much doubt that, on the right deal, the Cubs would definitely want a healthy, effective Garza to stay long-term. But what is “the right deal,” and how do the two sides get there? As I’ve written before, there could be some difficulty in reaching that point. The Cubs, because of Garza’s injury issues and because of the “hometown” effect, would want to get Garza at a discount. Garza, because of the ballooning salaries around baseball and because of the weak starting pitching market after this season, would probably not want to leave too much on the table to sign an extension. If he feels like he’s healthy, maybe Garza expects to go out and dominate this year. If so, he’s going to want to get paaaaaid.
How does this dance play out? Well, there’s no way to know right now, especially given the lingering trade possibility.
But if this offseason is instructive, I’m not so sure Garza is going to want to wait until after the season to make up his mind about an extension. Consider this: if Garza remains on the Cubs for all of 2013, and pitches decently but not dominantly, he probably receives a qualifying offer from the Cubs (a one-year offer at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball – it’ll be a touch higher than $13.3 million next year). That qualifying offer, if he declines it, will tie him to draft pick compensation. And, as we’ve seen with a number of free agents this year – most prominently Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse, the latter of whom is still looking for a job – teams are extremely reluctant to part with a draft pick (and the associated bonus pool money) for non-elite free agents.
Is Garza willing to risk falling into that category? Is he willing to risk having to settle for a short-term, low money deal next year because he’s been dragged down by draft pick compensation? If there’s a reasonable extension offer on the table from the Cubs, is he more willing to consider it now that he’s seen what the market looks like for players in his range?
These are the questions running through Garza’s mind, his agent’s mind, the Cubs’ front office’s mind, and any potential Spring trade partners’ minds. I’d imagine the Cubs, if they have any interest in extending Garza at all, have already started the process of applying this leverage. It isn’t so much a “threat,” because the Cubs are going to want to make a qualifying offer regardless (because otherwise, they risk losing Garza for nothing at all). But it is certainly pressure.