Looking Back at the Matt Garza Trade

I was none too happy when the Cubs traded for Matt Garza in the offseason. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Garza. He was a good pitcher about equal to Dempster and Zambrano so that would obviously be good if you can add a starter like that to any rotation. However, I hated what the Cubs had to give up to get him. Berselius tried to make it sound less stupid, but then realized that Brandon Guyer had been a good hitter in the minors with the exception of one season. I still don’t think he hated the deal as much as I did.

Now it’s worth taking another look as we’re halfway into the season. We’re still a very long way from being able to fully evaluate this trade. The Cubs traded 24 cost-controlled years, 12 of which are for the league minimum, for 3 arbitration years. However, we know what Sam Fuld is. We know that Robinson Chirinos is a 27-year old catcher who hasn’t been particularly good except for a couple seasons. He’s also been terrible this season at AAA. What the Cubs really traded was Chris Archer, Brandon Guyer and Hak-Ju Lee. They also acquired Zachary Rosscup and Fernando Perez.

Let’s start with the main pieces in the trade: Matt Garza and Chris Archer.

Matt Garza

Garza has been spectacular from an xFIP perspective. His 2.84 xFIP is 5th best among qualified starters. It’s better than Tim Lincecum. His FIP is in the top 30 at 3.08 and that’s due to a couple starts that have seen his ridiculously good FIP regress toward his average. His ERA is a run worse than his FIP, which is odd considering his career (FIP always higher than ERA). Then again, he’s not pitching in front of that Rays defense anymore. No, he’s pitching in front of a defense that ranks 15th in the NL in UZR. Fangraphs has him being worth 2 WAR so far while rWAR has him at .9. Fangraphs uses FIP while Baseball Reference uses runs allowed and adjusts it for team defense.

There’s no denying that Matt Garza has tremendous stuff. He’s probably the best starting pitcher the Cubs have had in terms for at least 5 years. Garza has definitely surpassed my expectations. Had I know this is the pitcher the Cubs were getting, it probably changes my opinion of this trade. To this point, Matt Garza has been everything the media hyped him to be. He’s gotten a little unlucky in terms of stranding runners. The last two seasons he was at 75% LOB%, but this year it’s 65%. His HR/FB rate is a little higher than normal for him, but he has a career high 50% GB rate that is keeping the ball in the yard.

Chris Archer

Archer’s weakness had always been the walk, but this year he’s giving up more than 10 hits per 9 innings pitched. He’s walking 4.5 per 9 and his strikeouts are the same as they were last year at AA (8.6). His FIP is decent, but the ERA is horrible at 4.88. Considering how much trouble pitchers with poor control have had over the years, it’s quite possible the Cubs saw this coming and that we overrated him. At this point, that seems to be the case. I mean, unless he drastically improves his control he’s a back of the rotation starter at best. By the time he reaches the big leagues he’ll be walking over 5 per 9 unless it improves.

Hak-Ju Lee

Last season Lee has 27 extra base hits. He has 19 already this season. The guy is really good at getting on base (over .400) and his batting average is a cool .333. He’s also slugging over .450 this season in High A and that’s a pitcher’s league (Florida State League). It’s a great bounce back season for Lee after he didn’t play nearly as well last year as the year before. He doesn’t have any power. Speed is his game and he’s stolen 20 bases though he’s been caught 11 times. He’s taken 27 walks already and struckout 42 times.

Defense is the question mark even though scouts think that will improve. He made 34 errors a year ago and this season he already has 15. Defense gets harder the higher you go in the system so he has a long way to go before he can stick at SS.

Despite that, his bat should play well in CF or at 2nd base. He’s taken a big step forward with the bat and appears to now be the prize the Rays got for Garza.

Brandon Guyer

Guyer is only 6-1, 210 pounds, but if you want to look at a player with sneaky power, it’s him. He slugged .498 in 2008, .588 in 2010 and .518 this season so far. And he hits for average and gets on base. He’s batting .314/.388/.518 so far this year for the AAA Rays team. He played so well he got a very brief call up and hit a home run in his debut for the Tampa Bay Rays. Guyer is 25 years old and probably a corner outfielder, but he just might have the power to play the position. He’s also probably pretty good defensively in a corner. A high OBP, good slugger is going to find a spot on a roster. The only question with him is whether or not his age has helped him achieve the numbers. He’s been older than most prospects and maybe it’s just my lying eyes, but those guys seem less likely to star at the next level. So far though, all he’s done is hit at each level except for that one season.

Robinson Chirinos and Sam Fuld

The most notable thing Sam Fuld has accomplished this season is that the Rays had some sort of gimmick for him for one of their games. Proof that it’s not just Cubs fans who love the scrappy white guys. Anyway, Fuld got off to a great start this season with the Rays, but has cooled down considerably. His wOBA is under .300 now, but Fangraphs has him worth .8 WAR and rWAR has him worth .9 WAR because of his defense, which we’ve known is good for some time.

Robinson Chirinos has taken a big step back after a breakout season as he’s OPS’ing .684 in AAA.

Fernando Perez

Not even sure he’s still with the Iowa Cubs, but he’s been rather terrible this season, which is no surprise at all.

Zachary Rosscup

Rosscup turned 23 earlier this month. He was a 28th round draft pick by the Rays in 2009, but all he did that season in 40.1 innings was post a 2.38 FIP and 2.68 ERA. After staying behind and beginning 2010 in rookie ball (injury?), he was promoted to Low A where he threw 35.2 innings. He struckout 8.8 and walked 1.8. His ERA was 3.03 and his FIP was under 2. This season, at High A, he’s thrown 49.2 innings in 11 games (9 starts) and has allowed 43 hits, struckout 50 and walked 19. His ERA is 2.54 and his FIP is 3.50.

He’s thrown only 134 innings in his professional career so far, but it’s worth paying attention to. His K/BB ratio is nearly 3.5 and in Low A and High A he’s struckout a batter per inning.

 


 

Garza has proven to be worth the trade so far, but that remains questionable in the future. Either way, it’s not nearly as bad as I initially though. Based on what’s happened this season with Archer, it’s much less likely to be a huge steal for the Rays. As good as Lee has been, he still has a ways to go and may have to move positions. The Cubs also have a guy in Rosscup who still has a lot to prove, but could be a much better prospect than we thought at first.

If the Cubs were smart, they’d look to trade Garza around the deadline. They got a couple wins from him so if they can get a decent package in return, and one is surely to be found, it would be a good way for the Cubs to restock their farm system. Let’s face it: Garza is probably not going to be pitching for a contending Cubs team anyway.


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