Rangers pay steep price to finally land Matt Garza from Cubs
After spending the past year targeting Matt Garza as a potential upgrade for their rotation, the Rangers have finally landed their man. On Monday, just hours before his scheduled start for the Cubs against the Diamondbacks, they acquired the 29-year-old righty for a five-player package that includes two players to be named later. It’s a steep price to pay for a mid-rotation starter who may just be a short-term rental, but with a banged-up rotation, Texas needed a significant upgrade to enhance its playoff push, and it got one.
The Rangers first courted Garza last year, and were said to be extremely close to acquiring him from the Cubs last summer before a stress reaction in his elbow knocked him out of action after July 21, causing the two sides to agree to a deal involving Ryan Dempster instead. Texas and Chicago resumed talks on Garza recently, and as of Friday, a deal was said to be imminent, at least until discussions hit a snag with regards to the medical files on one Rangers prospect. With the Red Sox, Orioles and other teams also interested in Garza, Monday’s scheduled start created an impetus to finish off a deal before another team could swoop in — or before Garza could get hurt again.
With the trade of Ricky Nolasco to the Dodgers earlier this month, Garza was the top starting pitcher left on the market, albeit one who profiles as a mid-rotation starter, not a frontliner. In parts of eight seasons with the Twins, Rays and Cubs, he owns a career 3.80 ERA (109 ERA+) with 7.6 strikeouts per nine, with very similar numbers over a four-season stretch (2008-2011) during which he averaged 198 innings per year. He helped the Rays ascend to respectability as part of their 2008 and 2010 AL East-winning teams, the first of which won the AL pennant as well, and put up a 3.48 ERA in five postseason starts in those two seasons.
The stress reaction limited Garza to just 18 starts and 103 2/3 innings last year, and a strained latissimus dorsi prevented him from making his 2013 major league debut until May 21. Though his performance was uneven in the early going, he has pitched to a 1.24 ERA over his past six starts, all quality starts. Through 11 outings totaling 71 innings, he has a 3.17 ERA and 7.9 strikeouts per nine, with a career-best 3.4 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio to boot.
The Rangers, who at 54-44 are three games behind the A’s in the AL West and 1 1/2 back in the wild-card race entering play on Monday, certainly need a starter to bolster their rotation. Even with Yu Darvish coming off the disabled list to face the Yankees on Monday night, the team has a quintet of starters still on the DL in Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando and Nick Tepesch, with the first three working their way back from various surgeries and unlikely to help in the near future; Ogando is scheduled to make his first start since June 5 on Tuesday. A starting five of Darvish, Derek Holland, Garza, Ogando and rookie Martin Perez should be much more able to compete for a postseason berth, with the other injured pitchers possibly offering upgrades once they re-establish their effectiveness.
As for the package Texas gave up, the only player currently on the big league roster is Justin Grimm, who has made 17 starts for the Rangers but was recently sent to the bullpen due to ineffectiveness and forearm tightness. Also in the deal are third baseman Mike Olt and righty C.J. Edwards, with two players to be named later rounding out the deal. A quick look at each:
• Olt is a 24-year-old (25 on Aug. 27) former supplemental first-round pick who had a big season at Double-A Frisco last year, hitting .288/.398/.579 with 28 homers and appearing in 16 games with the Rangers. He came into the year ranked number 22 on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list and number 30 on Baseball Prospectus’ list, but has hit just .213/.317/.422 with 11 homers in 65 games at Triple-A Round Rock, missing five weeks in April and May due to vision problems but heating up considerably since returning. With Adrian Beltre signed through 2015, the Rangers considered moving him to first base or an outfield corner to fill needs at the major league level, but given the extent to which Olt profiles as a plus defender at the hot corner, they concluded that he had more value as a trade commodity than as a rookie learning a new position. With the Cubs thin at third base, he should get a chance to play there at the major league level some time later this year.
• Edwards is a 21-year-old righty who was just a 48th-round pick out of a South Carolina high school in 2011. Standing 6-foot-2 but listed at just 155 pounds, he was described by Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks as “long and limby.” Edwards has dominated the A-level South Atlantic League this year, delivering a 1.83 ERA and striking out 11.8 per nine in 93 1/3 innings without allowing a homer (he has yet to surrender one in 160 1/3 innings of pro ball). Via reports from BP’s Zack Mortimer, Edwards has a plus fastball that can touch 95 mph with plenty of movement, as well as a curveball with plus potential and a changeup that flashes the ability to be average or better. He’s years away from the majors, and his small frame may ultimately limit him to a bullpen role, but with the chance for three above-average pitches, the Cubs will keep him on track as a starter.
• Grimm is a 24-year-old righty who was the Rangers’ fifth-round pick out of the University of Georgia back in 2010. Pressed into fifth-starter duty this year due to injuries after just 23 starts and 140 1/3 innings in the high minors, he has failed to deliver a quality start in his last eight turns and has been roughed up for a 6.37 ERA overall, largely due to a high homer rate (1.5 per nine) and a searing .349 batting average on balls in play, a mark that ESPN’s Keith Law wrote “isn’t a function of bad luck so much as poor command and lack of fastball life.”
Though scouting reports prior to this year pegged Grimm as capable of touching the mid-90s with his four-seamer, the knock was that his heater lacked movement and deception; averaging a more modest 92.3 mph with the pitch this year, the pitch has been hit for 11 of the 15 homers he’s allowed. His two-seamer, with which he generally works in the low 90s, has more movement. His curve, which has been hailed as a plus pitch, has been more effective, and he also offers a changeup that shows some promise. In all, it’s a package that some see as a third or fourth starter, but others feel is more suited to a swingman role. In any case, he’ll need to regroup, possibly at Triple-A.
One player to be named later in the deal may be Neil Ramirez, a 2007 supplemental first-round pick who has put up a 3.68 ERA while striking out 11.0 per nine at Frisco. A shoulder issue that knocked him out of action for two weeks may have been what scuttled the earlier iteration of the trade; on Saturday, he started for the first time since hitting the DL and was roughed up for five runs in 3 1/3 innings, though his fastball sat at 93-95 mph. Another possibility, perhaps a more tantalizing one, is Rougned Odor, a 19-year-old second baseman currently hitting .306/.370/.459 with 26 steals at High-A Myrtle Beach.
Even without knowing who the two additional players are, it’s clear that the Cubs — who in recent weeks have traded pitchers Scott Feldman and Carlos Marmol and outfielder Scott Hairston — have netted a significant haul, one that should boost their rebuilding efforts. The Rangers have sacrificed a fair bit of their minor league depth to increase their chances of making the playoffs, but they didn’t trade top prospect Jurickson Profar or Perez to do so. They’re still in need of a corner or DH bat to bolster their lineup, but until the dust settles on this deal, it’s unclear what they’ll have left with which they can part.