matt garza cubsYou’re going to see a whole lot of “this could be Matt Garza’s last start with the Cubs” pieces today – as we’ve seen on the day of each of his starts over the past couple weeks – but I’d like to avoid that here. Yes, it could be his last start, but given the increasing chatter about the Cubs’ steep asking price, I don’t know that it’s fair to conclude that today’s start is any more likely to be his last with the Cubs than his next one. Or the next one.

All we know is that, because an extension between the two sides is unlikely at this point, and because the Cubs are long out of contention, they’ve got to trade Garza at some point this month if they want to capture the value he now offers. Garza is a short-term asset on a team that doesn’t need short-term (2013) assets. The Cubs need long-term pieces, and that necessitates a trade. It’s unfortunate, depending on your desire for the Cubs to keep Garza, but it is the reality.

That said, and against the backdrop of two rental pitchers already being dealt (Scott Feldman to the Orioles, Ricky Nolasco to the Dodgers), it’s fair to start trying to put a really specific price tag on Garza’s services for the remainder of 2013. We know that the Cubs want “a lot,” and want “top prospects,” but what is a reasonable return for a pitcher who is likely the best available this year at the Deadline … but who is a pure rental (i.e., a free agent at the end of the year)?

The Feldman and Nolasco comparisons are useful because they took place in the present market, but for reasons of ability/reliability/etc., they aren’t perfect comps for Garza. Therefore, maybe we can dip into the 2012 trade season for instruction on Garza’s present trade value.

Last year, the best rental pitcher moved was Zack Greinke, who went from the Brewers to the Angels for top prospect Jean Segura (quickly becoming a fixture in the Brewers’ lineup), and pitching prospects John Hellweg and Ariel Pena. At the time, Segura was the Angels’ top prospect, and was considered a top 75 prospect in all of baseball. Hellweg and Pena were top ten prospects in the system, with most services having Hellweg in the top five.

It was an excellent haul for Greinke, particularly in retrospect (at the time, some expected it would be even more). Although I can argue that Garza is “the Greinke” of this year’s rental trade class, I’m not going to argue that Garza offers as much value as Greinke did last year. Greinke had higher upside, and generally did not come with the same injury concerns that Garza does. That said, the two aren’t as far off as some would believe, and Greinke made a few million in 2012 more than Garza does this year – so that’s a minor consideration as well.

Indeed, folks are already speculating that the Cubs’ expected return on Garza is going to be something just shy of what the Brewers got last year for Greinke. It isn’t a perfect comparison, but we’re getting close.

If Greinke is an imperfect comparison on the high end, the Anibal Sanchez trade might be an imperfect comparison on the other end. When the Marlins traded Sanchez to the Tigers last year, Sanchez was long over most of the injury concerns that popped up early in his career, but wasn’t considered to offer quite as much upside as Garza does now (we could debate that point, but we’ve all been polluted by hindsight – I’m just offering my sense of the pitchers and the markets at the time). Sanchez made a couple million less than Garza does now, but you know the Marlins weren’t about to take on any cash to move him – the Cubs would be willing to do so in a Garza deal.

Where the Sanchez comparison really becomes difficult is in the nature of the trade. It wasn’t just Sanchez for prospects. It was Sanchez plus Omar Infante (a nice, cost-controlled infield piece at the time), and a slight trade-up in competitive balance draft picks for prospects. To be sure, the prospect return was pretty solid. The Tigers sent their top prospect, pitcher Jacob Turner (whose stock had slid some, but was still a top 50/100 prospect, at least), a good pitching prospect in Brian Flynn, and a good outfield prospect in Rob Brantly. Depending on your rankings service of choice, each of Flynn and Brantly were top ten prospects (back end) in the Tigers’ system. So, it was quite a haul for Sanchez and Infante.

Taking these comparisons together, you start to get a relatively clear picture of a reasonable demand on Garza: three top 10 organizational prospects, including at least one who is in the top 100 in all of baseball.

Considering also that last year’s market offered both Greinke and Sanchez (and Ryan Dempster, and Paul Maholm, and more), and this year’s market is already down two of the better available starters (Feldman and Nolasco), I don’t think using the Greinke/Sanchez frameworks is all that unreasonable. You can play around at the margins – two guys just barely in the top 100 instead of one in the top 50; three top 20 organizational prospects instead of two at the back of the top ten; young Major League players inserted; etc. – but that’s just about what the Cubs should be asking for, in terms of total value. (And, by all indications, that is, indeed, what they’re asking for.)

A price in that range is probably what the Cubs are currently sitting back, waiting for someone to meet. And until a team does, or until the Trade Deadline arrives, Garza will continue making “last starts” with the Cubs.



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