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No, Garza Doesn’t Make Cubs Contenders

MATT GARZA PITCHES lrphoto © 2008 Ferguson | more info (via: Wylio)The Cubs are set to acquire Matt Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays in a multi-player deal, and predictably, comparisons to the Brewers’ trade for Zack Greinke  are popping up.

The consensus seems to be that the Cubs paid a bigger price for Garza than the Brewers did for Greinke. In the deal, Chicago is reportedly giving up RHP Chris Archer, OF Brandon Guyer, C Robinson Chirinos, SS Hak-Ju Lee, and OF Sam Fuld in exchange for Garza, OF Fernando Perez, and another minor leaguer that’s not yet known.

The Cubs’ farm system definitely takes a blow with this deal, but I don’t know if anyone outside of Chicago is too concerned about that right now. Those of us who root for the Brewers? We only really want to know how this impacts the division for the next two years.

For 2011, this trade doesn’t do much for the Cubs. Before the trade, they were looking at another sub-.500 season, even if guys like Aramis Ramirez stayed healthy and Carlos Pena rebounded to pre-2010 levels. With Garza, I actually view them in much the same way I viewed the Brewers after they traded for Shaun Marcum — closer to a .500 team that will need to get lucky to make a real push for the playoffs.

From the Cubs’ perspective, though, one of the perks of trading for Garza is that he still has three years of team control left — even if things aren’t pretty this year,  it makes plenty of sense to try to build around a rotation anchored by Ryan Dempster, Garza, and possibly Andrew Cashner. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Cubs have Kosuke Fukudome ($14.5MM) and Pena ($10MM) coming off the books after this season and Aramis Ramirez ($14.6MM) has a $2 million mutual option. After 2012, they’re of the hook for Carlos Zambrano ($19MM) if they decline his option, as well as Dempster ($14MM).

Those are a lot of big-money deals, and perhaps the Ricketts family will tighten the purse strings in the future, but I wouldn’t count on it. The Cubs are more likely to continue to spend to fill holes than they are to sit on their cash, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see them make a big push for Prince Fielder next winter. The trade for Garza is as much about building for the future as it is about improving the team right now. In fact, that was one of the reasons why I supported the Brewers’ reported pursuit of Garza during the Winter Meetings.

Now, is Garza on the same level as Greinke? No, and I would be willing to wager that anyone who thinks so is a pretty blatant Cubs homer that can’t think about this trade objectively. But like Marcum, Garza is a solid guy to have pitching second or third in your rotation — he’s better than most of the guys pitching in those spots in the NL, and he’ll throw a lot of innings.

As Steve Garczynski of Bernie’s Crew pointed out, maybe the Brewers should actually be excited about the Cubs’ addition of Garza. Over the course of his career, Garza has thrown his fastball exactly 70% of the time — understandable, since it’s by far his best pitch, coming in at 36.2 runs above average. But as Jim Breen posted at Bernie’s Crew earlier this week, the Brewers were the best team in baseball when it came to hitting fastballs. It doesn’t matter how good your fastball is — the Brewers are going to hit it if they know it’s coming, and if they’re guessing fastball against Garza, they’re going to be right 7 out of 10 times.

From Garza’s perspective, it won’t help that he’s an extreme flyball pitcher, either. For his career, he’s only been able to induce a groundball out 39.7% of the time. Last year, his GB% was down to just 35.8% — making him the fifth-most extreme flyball pitcher in baseball. It’s probably a safe bet that the Brewers will homer off of Garza at some point this season.

Garza undoubtedly makes the Cubs’ rotation better than it otherwise would have been, but he’s not Zack Greinke. In 2010, he wasn’t even Ted Lilly — Garza had a FIP of 4.42, while Lilly was at 4.27. Lilly also outpaced Garza in FIP in 2009. During his three years with the Rays, Garza had an fWAR of 7.9. During those same years, Lilly was a full win better, putting up an fWAR of 8.9.

In the best case scenario for Chicago, the Cubs with Garza will be just as good as they were with Lilly the past few years. Is that enough to compete for a wildcard spot, let alone in the new-look NL Central? It doesn’t seem likely, does it?