Matt Garza (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)
There are two things that set apart Matt Garza from the other free agent starting pitchers who are still unsigned. And I think the combination of those things set up the Astros perfectly to pursue and add Garza to their 2014 rotation.
For starters, let’s get the good news out of the way. Unlike other free agent starting pitchers, signing Garza will not cost the Astros a compensatory draft choice. And that is something that sets him apart from other options that are still available. This is also why Garza should be the pitcher Jeff Luhnow looks to sign.
However, there is a reason why Garza is still available. And that is his health. Or at least concerns about it. The fact that it is his pitching elbow makes it that much worse.
"Garza is a noncompensation free agent, but teams have been reluctant to pony up a four- or five-year deal. Garza may have to settle for fewer years even with the price of pitching very high. “There may be concerns about him physically,” said one AL executive. “I think most teams are thinking four or five years is just too risky, even if he’s a no-compensation guy.”"
I want to make something very clear here, from the start. In no way do I advocate giving Garza even a four year contract. The scenario I am talking about is at most a one or two year contract with incentives and options. Now with Masahiro Tanaka off the market, the pressure is on for Garza to sign.
Garza has a screw in his pitching elbow and it has caused him to make three trips to the Disabled List so far in his career. In fairness to him, none of those trips came in 2013 and Garza did make 24 starts last season. The 30-year old had a 10-6 record with a 3.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP while striking out 136 batters in 155.1 innings.
If his health was not an issue, then Garza would be a very sought out pitcher. He is still in the prime of his career and has a lifetime ERA of 3.84. However, we know that is not the case, so teams must tread carefully. I don’t think the Astros are in the position of taking a long-term risk on Garza, but a short-term deal could be a prudent move.