Matt Garza’s Ongoing Lat Problem and His Future with the Chicago Cubs

matt garza chinIt’s still hard to pinpoint just what’s going on with Matt Garza’s “mild” left lat strain. Although the injury was never thought severe, he’s been shut down twice because of it, initially when he faced batters on February 17 (the first time he’d faced batters since an elbow injury ended his 2012 season in July), and then again after his throwing session on Saturday. Neither time did anyone express long-term concern or describe the injury in terms that would make you nervous.

Yet, here we are, more than two weeks later, and the Cubs are telling us that Garza could now miss the entire first month of the season?

It’s March 4 today. May 1 is almost two months away. Garza is potentially going to be out another two months after suffering from something neither he nor Dale Sveum is willing to describe as, like, an actual injury?

Huh?

Just listen to them discuss the thing yesterday.

“Now we know it is just time,” Garza said after his session on Saturday didn’t go as well as he’d hoped, per ESPN. “We pushed it and pushed it hard. Everything felt great. Now it is the body saying, ‘Let’s take a little more time.’

“It happened late [while side throwing on Saturday]. It is not bad, I just think this came out from not pitching seven months. It didn’t hurt, [the discomfort] is just not gone. With stuff like this it has to be gone.”

Sveum echoed Garza’s innocuous description.

“Hopefully this is not a real bad [side strain] where you can’t sneeze or laugh,” Sveum said. “I don’t think it is that bad, but he is just not ready to throw a baseball yet. It didn’t get worse; he is just not ready to step up any extra intensity.”

Sure, Garza’s also building up arm strength from the elbow injury (seven months ago), but do those quotes sound like they’re talking about a guy who’s missed two weeks, and now might miss two more months?

I know teams are cagey about injuries. I know they’re even more cagey when the player at issue could eventually be involved in trade talks (and then the player, himself, will be cagey if he’s hoping for an extension or a big free agent deal). But something in all of this just doesn’t pass the smell test.

I’m all for Garza getting himself completely healthy, and this very well may be the time line that is required to get him there. But there is a significant and serious disconnect between that time line and the story coming from Garza and the Cubs. I’d just like to know what’s up.

Setting all of that aside, Garza’s injury – whatever you call it, however seriously you describe it – will have a profound impact on the Cubs’ near-term roster construction and organizational maneuvering.

As I’ve said all offseason, regardless of where you fall on the extend-him-trade-him spectrum, only good things could happen for the Cubs if Garza was healthy and effective right out of Spring Training this year. If the Cubs decide to shop him at the deadline, he’d have more trade value. If the Cubs decided to engage him in serious extension talks, they’d have more confidence that they weren’t buying a lemon.

So … the injury sucks. It sucks for the Cubs. It sucks for the fans. And it sucks for Garza. Sure, the injury prevented the Cubs from trading him in the Spring, which would have left him subject to the possible financial harm of a qualifying offer from his new team (if he’s traded midseason, on the other hand, his new team is not permitted to make him a qualifying offer). But missing a month, and then coming back strong could just as likely leave open the possibility that the Cubs are the ones making him that qualifying offer, doing the same harm to his market. Plus, there’s the whole “pitchers are risky investments, especially when they have lots of injuries in their past” thing – that doesn’t lead to huge contracts in free agency.

Now, we just hope that Garza fully recovers, pitches lights out in May and June, and at least leaves the Cubs some options, including a deadline trade. If that doesn’t happen (or even before the deadline), I’ll still be on board with a reasonable extension. The Cubs need pitching in the next few years, and a healthy Garza is as good a pitcher as they’ll find or develop in the near-term. The rub on an extension, however, is that the Cubs have to use the threat of a qualifying offer as leverage to get a slightly more reasonable deal. With apologies to Garza, the situation has long passed the point where the Cubs would be justified in offering him a market-level extension. If he’s tied to draft pick compensation after this season, he’s not going to get true market-level price if he departs the Cubs, and that’s the only leverage the Cubs have left to wield. The injury issues are ultimately what has brought the qualifying offer into play, and the Cubs need to use it.

If things play out that way and the extension doesn’t happen, you’re left with two “worst” cast scenarios: (1) Garza accepts the qualifying offer, and the Cubs are forced to keep Garza for 2014 at $13.5 to $14 million; or (2) Garza signs elsewhere, and the Cubs get a compensatory draft pick. Obviously it’s far, far, far (did I mention far?) short of what the Cubs would have netted in trade last offseason or even last July, but at least it’s not nothing.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

57 responses to “Matt Garza’s Ongoing Lat Problem and His Future with the Chicago Cubs”

  1. Corey Costello

    Stil think they should extend him.

    1. Jono

      me, too

    2. Jono

      If Garza is slow to start off 2013 (ie taking a 4.something ERA into the trade deadline), it’s probably in his and the team’s best interest to agree on a one year extension.

    3. DB Kyle

      I’m not crazy interested in paying top dollar to extend a pitcher who hasn’t been healthy in the last three seasons.

      1. Edwin

        Wouldn’t it just be 2 seasons? He made 31 starts in 2011, and had the best year of his career.

        1. JR

          He had an elbow injury around May 2011 and was out for a few weeks. Although, he came back and pitched well that year.

          1. Edwin

            I see. I guess I figure any season a pitcher puts 30 or more starts in is a pretty decent season, health wise.

            1. JR

              No doubt. He was badass in 2011. But he did make a DL trip because of his elbow. Looks like similiar injury to last year. Here’s Brett’s piece on it below.

              http://www.bleachernation.com/2011/05/25/discussing-the-matt-garza-injury-and-answering-the-questions-it-raises/

              1. Cubbie Blues

                2011 was a bone bruise. Last year he had a stress reaction in his elbow. A stress reaction is microscopic fractures in the bone from repetitive stressing. If left unchecked it will turn into a stress fracture.

                1. JR

                  I gotcha. Regardless bone issues in a pitchers elbow back to back years seems shaky at best in my book. But I am just an average dude who doesn’t want to see the Cubs get screwed…

  2. Jeff

    Nice article Brett, you captured the situation perfectly…although the scenario’s suck..lol

  3. Kenster

    Garza really has been grinding my gears lately. They spent a lot to get a year and a half of good not great pitching from him. Should have traded him when he had the upside

  4. Rich

    We dont know behind the scenes..but it just seems a really long time for a lat strain. I mean..these players do have to play with some pain…I guess it is just let him heal completely and have a great 3 or 4 months after that point.

  5. JR

    Good thoughts Brett. Yeah something with this whole situation seems shaky. If I were to guess Sveum and Garza are both hiding a little something… I actually think the Cubs holding that Compensation pick over Garza’s head is a huge deal for Garza’s worth. Is another team going to want to pay him a lot, lose a high pick, and hope his durability issues recently are just a fluke? I have my doubts. Especially seeing Lohse out there still without a team. You can say what you want about Lohse, his age, and his K rate. To me he has far less red flags than Garza at this point, and if he can’t find a home good luck to you Mr. Garza.

  6. Jeff

    Brett, what’s your knowledge level with the arbitration process? I know it’s rare that a players salary decreases in arbitration, why is that? Shouldn’t arbitration reflect performance not act like a tenure system at a university?

    If the scenario played out that Garza pitched and put up average numbers again and the Cubs offer him arbitration and for some reason he accepted, would he automatically get more than the 10.25M he is earning this year, even if his statistics have decreased over a three year span?

    1. MightyBear

      The Qualifying Offer is different than arbitration. It has to do with the top players in baseball have to get so much money.

      1. Jeff

        So what are the requirements in the Qualifying Offer, what dictates what a team has to offer a player in the QO?

        1. Cubbie Blues

          It is determined by averaging the top 125 player salaries from the previous year.

          1. Jeff

            Even if Garza isn’t one of those top 125?

            1. Cubbie Blues

              Yes. The offer has nothing to do with how good the player is. It has to do with draft pick compensation if the offer is declined.

            2. Jeff

              I’m assuming that by top 125, you mean top 125 in salary, not by performance.

              1. Cubbie Blues

                Correct.

  7. cubchymyst

    How much could this delay have to due with him needing time to get stretched out properly to pitch a full 6-7 innings once he is healthy again. I haven’t been paying much attention to pitch counts but how long do they typically give starters in spring training until they throw 80 pitches in one game? Or is the pitch limit on the starter more due to simply wanting to get more pitchers in the game for evaluating who will make the bullpen.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      The stretching and other “loosening” exercises that are really important happens the day of the game. Yes, you can do various exercises that help keep you limber, but what those really do is build up muscles that “stop” as well as the ones that “start,” and also build up muscles that can support tendons & ligaments. However, if you get them loose on Tuesday, then you need to go back and get them loose all over again on Wednesday. This is particularly true if you do anything strenuous on Tuesday: the lactic acid and muscle building leave the arm (or leg or torso) muscles stiff.

      As for building up the arm strength by building up pitch counts in spring trainting, it’s part building up aerobic endurance (although that is largely anachronistic now that pitchers work out all year long), but mostly just rebuilding arm strength. You can throw on the side, but that is not quite like pitching against live batters. (It gets even more strenuous when the games count, at least given everything that pitchers say.)

      1. cubchymyst

        The need to pitch against live batters, is what I was wondering about. So an injury might mean he can’t throw for 2 weeks, but he might need another 3-4 weeks of facing live batters until he is ready to start a game after that. My guess is this is even more true since he hasn’t pitched in a game since last year.

    2. RoughRider

      Normally, pitchers don’t get to 80 pitches until the third or fourth start in Spring Training. Since he can’t throw yet he’ll never get enough innings in to be ready for opening day. My guess is he’ll stay in Mesa until he’s ready to face real pitching and then get some starts in a warm weather location. Probably at least 1 or 2 in Daytona or Tennesse since they will be playing in Florida the first few games.

  8. lou brock

    In the long run this situation with Garza could actually work in the Cubs favor. This injury along with Baker still in recovery mode means we now know that Feldman, Wood, & Villanueva will all be starting in the rotation at the beginning of the season. We should not be hearing anyone complaining about not getting a chance to show what they can do. It also opens up bullpen spots for Wade , Bowden, or Rondon to all pitch with the big club in April.
    This will allow them to build their trade value if they do well & the Cubs can get more prospects in return.

  9. itzscott

    Pretty tired of the mysterious and continuing Garza injury. You’d think with the money involved that the Cubs would use the top doctors to be able to definitively diagnose exactly what Garza’s problem is by now, treatment options and how long it would normally take to recover.

    Tired of this whole thing already and I’d be happy if the Cubs just cut their losses with him and move on.

    It’s become a distraction that in light of the Cubs current state of affairs isn’t worth it and raises huge red flags regarding Garza’s reliability going forward with the Cubs.

    1. hansman1982

      Either way you are paying the man. No sense in paying him $13M to go play for someone else…especially if he can be a quality #2-3 starter.

    2. DocPeterWimsey

      Historically, the Cubs have been very tight-lipped about injuries. We all remember the bafflegap we got every spring concerning Mark Prior: and it seems that the Cubs actually had pretty good ideas about what was wrong with him despite their vagaries. It’s quite probable that the Cubs do have a much better idea of what is wrong with him, and they just are not telling us.

      That said, many types of injuries have very similar symptoms. What “top doctors” do better than others is think of all the possibilities, not identify exactly which one it is.

    3. gocatsgo2003

      Who says that the Cubs HAVEN’T diagnosed and treated the injury for what it’s worth? They stand absolutely nothing to gain by reporting the true nature of the injury if it is worse than previously reported, whether it be in trade or extension talks.

    4. Devin

      Maybe they are being “extra” careful with Garza so this lat injury doesn’t become something that really IS serious later in the season. Yes, Garza on the DL to start the season hurts his trade value, but if he is rushed back into action, ends up seriously injuring something (trying to compensate for the lat discomfort) and he hits the DL in May/June, the Cubs are SOL in terms of trading him. I’ll take Garza out till May and 100% than a 75-80% Garza that is liable to fall apart near the deadline.

  10. Curt

    it’s getting really close to just being rediculous he has an injury lady yr that was supposed to be mild and he’d be ready to go by spring training he throws a very limited number if pitches and now it’s another mild, not serious, nothing to worry about injury except wait a minute he won’t be ready to pitch until may, really its time to get him healthy and deal him,no extension it’s time to move on.

  11. gratefulled

    I just hope he is not hurt too much to where he can’t make shaving cream pies. God, those are funny!!!!!

    1. MightyBear

      He nailed Samarzdija.

  12. WGNstatic

    As cubchymyst pointed out above, I am not sure that the 2 weeks since injury/2 months until he is ready is really all that shocking.

    We know that Garza was coming back from an injury and thus would use the entire spring to get ready for game action. Even then, nobody would have been shocked if they were told that Garza would miss his first start in April to give him more time to get ready.

    Now, fast forward to the start of the season. Sure, May 1 is 2 months away. Another way to look at, it is 4 weeks past the start of the season. In other words, 4 weeks past when Garza was supposed to be ready go after using all of that time between now and then. He is already 2 weeks behind and lets say he is another week from throwing. That puts him 3 weeks behind schedule.

    If you think of it that way, the difference between starting on April 1 and May 1 really doesn’t sound like that big of a deal.

    1. RoughRider

      17 % of the season.

  13. FastBall

    What this smells like is the PRIOR situation several years ago. Half Truths from the organization that turned into flat out LIES. If Garza is shut down for a week and then resumes a throwing program basically starting at step 1, his progression could certainly take about 3 weeks longer than if he started and progressed as a healthy pitcher in ST. Like Brett says this doesn’t smell right. If it was truly minor as defined by Garza and Sveum two weeks ago then it should not be an issue now. That or Garza is a very slow healer which is possible. Maybe he isn’t being honest about his elbow and the Lat is a side story. If in a week or so he starts throwing again and a week later he has an elbow issue this whole thing has been a LIE. I pray that is not the case!! But it would not be the first time this organization hasn’t been honest about a player’s health. Granted the last scandal was under different ownership and General Management. Dusty just commented in an article last week in the Cinci paper how Jim Hendry concocted the story on PRIOR and he was told to LIE to the media about his health. I am sure it happens quite often throughout baseball. Especially in case like Garza where the implications are near critical. His health has a major effect on this organization in many ways described by Brett. Put Garza in a Hyperberic Chamber and do some hi tech therapy on him to see if this can’t be corrected in a timely manner. My guess is that elbow is bad and the Lat is a cover story.

    1. gocatsgo2003

      So? If his injuries are worse than previously reported, what do the Cubs have to gain by reporting that fact? It decreases leverage in any possible trade talks and wouldn’t really affect extension talks because both the Cubs and Garza are well aware of the true nature of the injury.

      1. BT

        You don’t understand cats. All statements made by the GM should be crafted explicitly for message board posters. You wouldn’t want to LIE to them, would you? So what if the truth ends up hurting the organization in the long haul? The important thing is that people typing on message boards have full and complete information on player injuries. Even if that information would keep other teams from dealing for Garza. It’s very important to be completely honest with fans, even though sports like hockey just say “upper body injury”. In baseball we need very accurate and complete information.

        For some reason that completely escapes me.

        1. Jack Weiland

          I agree with you overall, but for what it’s worth most hockey fans and media think the “upper body/lower body” thing is absurd, too.

  14. Cheryl

    With his past history of injuries I wouldn’t extend him either. Lets hope he does well when he returns and the cubsget a decent offer in trade.

  15. Mike Taylor (no relation)

    I guess I’ll throw in my two cents on the situation and how I see it…

    If something is wrong with your body on one side (and you aren’t aware of it), the other side will pick up the slack, work extra hard and usually get injured (and injured worse, most likely than not). He was trying to build up arm strength to get ready for Opening Day; you can’t have a timeline like that when you haven’t thrown off a mound in so long… take a look at Scott Baker’s program and return schedule. There’s no rush to push anything, there’s no social media outlets from the Baker camp saying, “I feel great, pushing it to get ready for Opening Day, etc.”

    Just by that comparison, you could assume that these injuries are a symptom of personality… and even though it seems on the outside like he’s being super-cautious, we don’t know how those bullpen sessions went or how his body reacted. I think I’m officially off of the “extend him” wagon. Combine this with his horrendous fielding, he’s a liability.

  16. FFP

    I am not surprised by the impact (2 weeks-2 months) a lat injury is having at this point. As others have pointed out, this is delaying his getting into game shape. (~2 weeks to return to the rubber, ~3 weeks more to stretch out)
    I remember some other pitcher’s lat injuries being slow to come back from, too. I am not seeing anything ‘other’ between the lines, yet.
    The potential seriousness of the timing of this injury is, however, troubling. This player and team both need strong, early starts to remain The 2013 Cubs I want to root for.

  17. FFP

    The following was broken down by Gordon Edes two years ago. And these players injured were all already stretched out, I think.
    http://sports.espn.go.com/boston/mlb/columns/story?columnist=edes_gordon&id=6741647
    Lat injuries differences (appears to be) a variation in degree
    Year–player with declared lat injury (and the number of games they missed):

    2011 — Bruce Chen, Kansas City (44)
    2010 — Brad Penny, St. Louis (120)
    2009 — Brett Myers, Philadelphia (18; made just two cameo appearances in postseason)
    2009 — Chad Durbin, Philadelphia (17)
    2007 — Bartolo Colon, Los Angeles Angels (16)
    2005 — Ben Sheets, Milwaukee (32)
    2003 — Pedro Martinez, Boston (22)

    Edes also quotes from a Baseball Prospectus article that breaks down the mechanics and the importance of the the latissimus dorsi in pitching and an “increase in diagnosed latissimus dorsi strains over the last several years, likely due to improved accuracy of diagnosis.”

  18. Kygavin

    Im still on board with an extension and here’s why:
    Before last year Garza hadnt been hurt (as far as i can tell by innings pitched). His K rate at BB rate both improved with his move to the NL and no one can argue against the Cubs being a better team when he is on the mound. On top of that they really dont have any in the upper minors who would be capable of filling the void of where Garza would be. I think now would be a good time to offer him a shorter (3-4 yrs) and cheaper (12-14 mil) offer and hope he bites. He is still only 29 and has shown that he can be a very good #2 SP, and would anyone object to basically paying him what they gave Jackson?

    With that being said i do think there is something going on that the Cubs arent telling us about. Whether it is his arm still hurting him and they are covering it up by saying its his lat or if the initial injury was more serious than originally stated i think something is up.

  19. Jack Weiland

    I’m all for an extension at this point. It’s clear the return is not going to be better than the potential return if a healthy Garza can pitch for the Cubs.

    I also think the upside alone is worth that QO.

  20. RichP

    I’m 53 years old,and I’ve never in my life had a muscle strain that took 8 months to heal. I know what you’re gonna say. “You don’t pitch in the major leagues”. Yeah,well my jobs a lot harder. I am a bricklayer and I lift weight between 4.5 lbs to 100 lbs all day long,every day(except now when I’m laid off). I know Brett is fond of using Garza’s “cat’s pajama’s” quote,but I think Garza’s health more accurately reflects another Cat reference beginning with the letter “P”. Getting sick of his weak genetics. Play him ’til he breaks,and throw him on the garbage pile.(are we detecting some fan frustration?)

    1. Cubbie Blues

      Pheline? No, that’s not right.

      1. DarthHater

        erm-tweety-meme-generator-hmmm-putty-tat-8c7d9b.jpg

    2. WGNstatic

      Yeah… that sounds like a great idea…

      Dusty, is that you?

    3. Bigg J

      You know Rich I kinda agree with you. All pro players anymore go on the DL for a bruise. I mean come on bruises are part of the game. Guys would sit out a day or two because they got hit by pitch. We need more Cal Ripkens that will play everyday regardless how they feel. I believe pro players keep getting babied more and more every year. I caught for 12 years and had a dislocated knee and bum shoulder(sledding accident). I played all through bum shoulder and sat out month and a half for knee. I wanted to get back so bad and tried making dr. sign off for me. I could never sit out when I didn’t need to and watch my teammates out there. MLB needs more non guarenteed contracts. Not Ian Stewart’s non guarenteed 2 mil. (Not saying they would) Any of those players making 100 million can say they want a day off or fake injuries. I know they play 162 games/year, but then they have another 6 mths off.

  21. Die hard

    Like trying to keep a guy alive so can execute him….Just let Garza go – he’s only a # 4 on any other team

  22. calicubsfan007

    Starting to think that the baseball gods want us to extend Garza rather than trade him.

  23. Morken

    Let’s be honest. The Cubs’ brass botched their chances at trading Matt Garza while he was at his most valuable. He will never-due to his constant injury concerns-come close to equalling that same value, regardless of how well he pitches. So instead of trading Garza for pennies on the dollar, the Cubs’ best option is to re-sign him.

    1.) Due to his injuries, thus restricting him from establishing greater value prior to free-agency, Garza could give the Cubs an attractive financial discount, in exchange for long-term stability.

    2.) The impending free-agent class, after it’s all said and done, will fail to include many starting pitchers who are comparable to Matt Garza. In order to become a playoff contender, the Cubs are going to need to aquire prominent starting pitchers. Why not simply re-sign the prominent starting pitcher who currently resides on your roster?

  24. Edward

    Really looking forward to getting rid of this guy. The trade never made sense in the first place. I remember reading the bottom line on ESPN when the Cubs got him and wondering what in the world they were thinking when they were clearly nowhere close to a playoff team.

    Garza is the type of pitcher a World Series contender picks up at the deadline to strengthen a starting rotation in the playoffs. Here’s hoping such a need arises this season and they can get something for him.

  25. Frank Baron

    The name Garza and the words “completely healthy” don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence Neither do the words “tough guy”. Maybe his name is on some Miami clinics client list…