It had long been thought that the stagnant free-agent pitching market in Major League Baseball would finally become active once again after Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka was signed. Many teams looking for pitching help will willing to bide their time until Tanaka made his decision.
On Thursday, the first domino fell.
Approximately 24 hours after it was reported that the New York Yankees had signed Tanaka for seven years and $155 million, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Milwaukee Brewers had come to terms on an agreement with free-agent right-hander Matt Garza for four years and $52 million.
The deal has not been officially announced by the Brewers, and as with all new contracts, the deal is pending a physical.
The Brewers had been the least-active team this offseason in terms of transactions, but they ended that inactivity with a major splash. Garza gives them a solid veteran presence in the starting rotation along with Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse.
Last year, the Brewers’ starting rotation was among the best in the majors in the second half of the season. While starters were just 11th in the National League overall with a 4.20 ERA in 2013, they posted a 3.36 ERA in 68 games following the All-Star break.
The fourth and fifth spots will likely include Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada. Estrada was strong once again in his second year as a starter, posting a 3.87 ERA in 21 starts. Peralta, a rookie last year, was 11-15 with a 4.47 ERA in 32 starts.
Garza, now 30, has posted a 3.84 ERA in parts of eight seasons in the majors. He was traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers last July and finished the season with a 10-6 record and 3.82 ERA in 24 starts.
The biggest concern for the Brewers is Garza’s health. He has missed significant time in each of the last three seasons. In 2011 and 2012, Garza dealt with elbow issues and last year he was sidelined for the first seven weeks of the season with a rib cage injury.
When healthy, Garza is capable of eating innings, striking out nearly one batter each inning and is known to be a passionate pitcher who will go to battle until his arm falls off. That’s the competitive spirit the Brewers will be looking for.
Milwaukee has depth as well, should Garza succumb to injuries once again. Tyler Thornburg showed great promise in 2013 with a 2.03 ERA in 18 appearances, seven of them starts. He’ll likely start the season in the bullpen for the Brewers.
The deal makes sense for the Brewers, as Garza has pitched in the NL Central for the past three seasons. For the Cubs, Garza posted a 21-18 record and 3.45 ERA in 60 starts, including a 3-1 record and 2.88 ERA against the NL Central-rival St. Louis Cardinals.
After a disappointing 74-88 season and fourth-place finish in the NL Central in 2013, the Brewers now feature a starting rotation that figures to help them compete against the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. Garza has struggled against the Reds in the past, posting a 6.34 ERA in six career starts. But against the rest of the division, Garza has been strong. In a league with a weighted divisional schedule, Garza’s signing made complete sense for Milwaukee.
Overall, the contract will be well worth it if Garza can avoid the health issues that have plagued him in recent years. Adding a strong veteran arm gives Milwaukee a fighting chance.