Although he’s still in the process of building up the arm strength necessary to go on a rehab assignment after suffering a lat injury in Spring Training, Matt Garza remains on the radar for a variety of teams considering their rotational needs this season. That, according to Nick Cafardo, who says not only that Garza will garner interest once he shows he’s healthy, but also that Garza is already on some teams’ wish lists.
It should be no surprise to you that, even if the Cubs manage to hang around .500 by the time he returns to the rotation, Garza’s appearance in Chicago is going to be met with a swirl of trade rumors. He could be the team’s most valuable trade chip, despite his injuries, and they will consider their options as the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches.
The key to successfully trading Garza for value at the deadline – assuming that’s the route the Cubs choose to go – will be his health and effectiveness once he returns to the rotation. Equally critical, however, is how long he has been back in the rotation (healthy and effective). Yes, teams can watch Garza make his rehab starts, and yes, they can project his effectiveness going forward. But to obtain the kind of value the Cubs would need to move Garza, you’d have to think it would take at least 10 healthy starts in which Garza looks like the 2011 Garza.
That means, at a minimum, Garza is going to have to be full-go by the first week of June. Presently, the expectation is that he’ll return a few weeks before that, but at least there’s some buffer built in. And, knowing that they have such a short window of time in which to demonstrate Garza’s value, the Cubs will be cautious not to rush him back … but are absolutely going to want him back on the mound by June.
For his part, Garza has just as much incentive as the Cubs to get back out there soon – and for good. He’s a free agent after this season, and the longer he sits out or the more unhealthy/ineffective he looks when he returns, the worse his free agent contract will look.
Of course, all of this is set against the backdrop of an organization with minimal upper level pitching talent, and a market that makes it harder and harder to acquire guys like Garza in free agency or trade. In other words, the Cubs will have to continue to consider the possibility of extending Garza, if possible, before the Trade Deadline. If the Deadline comes and passes without a trade or an extension, the Cubs will be looking at the very real possibility of entering 2014 with no Garza and no haul of prospects, either. At best, they might net a compensatory draft pick, assuming Garza pitches well enough to merit a qualifying offer and decline it.
Ken Rosenthal actually wrote about the sticky qualifying offer issue this week with respect to Garza, and it’s worth a look. The part that I think Ken probably could have also discussed, but didn’t, is the fact that the Cubs could use the threat of a qualifying offer to coax an extension out of Garza. It isn’t a nasty thing to do, given that the Cubs aren’t going to want to lose Garza for nothing – and, indeed, might be happy to have him back in 2014 on a one-year, $14ish million deal. But, if the Cubs do make him that offer, Garza’s free agent value will be slightly depressed, as we saw this past offseason (Kyle Lohse being the extreme example). So, even from a purely financial perspective, Garza might be wise to consider a hometown discount to the Cubs on an extension, if that’s an offer they’re making him in, say, July.