Revisiting the Matt Garza/Delmon Young Deal Once More

Speaking of that Delmon Young deal...

With knowledge comes responsibility to review the past. If Wile E. Coyote learns that the Road Runner can detect dynamite from distances expanding the blast radius, this changes his perspective on what he should've done. Selecting David Price over Matt Wieters was fine with my 2007 self - ace potential woo!  Evan Longoria instead of Tim Lincecum was okay too - grotesque deliveries always scare folks away. Once you learn that not all deliveries ranging from the mean are going to result in injury or that hitters are more safe than pitchers you develop a different viewpoint than the old one you held. It is in this state of reflection that the Delmon deal resurfaces.

Back then it was pretty well established that Young was a brat. He moped, he essentially accused Joe Maddon of playing favorites, and he segregated the clubhouse in a better manner than he could ever segregate balls from strikes. The Young deal came in surreal fashion. For weeks the rumors were stirring but still, trading Delmon Young? Now, the Rays got Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan in return and that looked good and all - and the performance since have done nothing to sway such predeterminations - but trading five years of a young corner outfielder with remarkable potential for six years of a starting pitcher with remarkable potential is pretty damn risky.

As noted, Young had character and developmental issues. He was 21-years-old and basking in the winter glory of appearing in all 162 games and hitting 13 home runs with 38 doubles. Through 812 plate appearances Young had 16 home runs and a .738 OPS. Defensively he took questionable routes, but all was forgotten when Young would pull the trigger on his right arm and catch runners foolish enough to advance on practically any batted ball towards right field.

In a season with Rookie of the Year award expectations Young was unimpressive in most regards, a stellar contrast to his brief symposium the year prior in which Young hit a home run in his first game and would gun down Ichiro Suzuki attempting to take third base on a single in his fourth game. Success was expected in large part because of Young's minor league track record. In about 600 plate appearances Young terrorized A-ball pitching with a .322/.388/.538 line. He moved on to hit AA just as well at .336/.386/.582. In Triple-A he would struggle as a 20-year-old, batting only .304/.326/.463, but the potential for so much more existed.

Garza himself had struggled in brief major league exposure. His 4.47 ERA and seven strikeouts per nine were not quite what one expected from a flamethrower. With so many talented arms in the Rays system maybe this wasn't the best of ideas after all. If that seems like analysis pulled from the shallow end of the pool then, well, it is.

In protest of becoming a lecture on recent history, we know that positional players are more valuable than pitchers, and we know that they progress on a more-linear path. These two combinations loaded the Rays portion of the deal with a landmine in the form of Garza's right arm. Remember that nerve issue Garza encountered early in the 2008 season? Yeah, neither do most people, but if the injury turns out more serious, how different do we view this deal?

Credit the front office for feeling confident and comfortable in their analysis of Young's potential and likelihood to reach said potential. Perhaps the intimacy in which the Rays experienced Young's work ethic drove the proverbial stake into Young's coffin. Was there a crippling fear that Young would wake up after his trade and make an effort to improve his skills? Who knows? Nobody can predict the future, instead people can make the best projections based on what knowledge is available at the time. In this case the Rays nailed it by assuming Young would continue his lifelong pursuit towards becoming the real life Donatello - pizza-exclusive diet included.

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As of today, Garza has made 62 starts for the Rays which incredibly ranks him eleventh in franchise history. With two starts next season Garza will surpass Wilson Alvarez and Edwin Jackson, with four he moves beyond Tanyon Sturtze, and over a full 30 starts Garza's name will be above the late Joe Kennedy, above Andy Sonnanstine (assuming Sonnanstine makes at least 10 fewer starts than Garza), and higher than Mark Hendrickson, Bryan Rekar, and Ryan Rupe. All of that movement would place Garza third in franchise history.

That collection of names is rather unimpressive and entirely telling at once. It seems foolhardy to anoint someone two seasons into their career as one of the nth best pitchers in franchise history, but under the circumstances there is a strong case to be made that Garza is indeed the third best starter. Remarkably the comparison made to John Smoltz, Steve Avery, and Tom Glavine has come true for the Rays triumvirate of young starters. While Kazmir is doing his best to avoid the new-world Avery tag, Shields and Garza figure to lead the Rays rotation for years to come.

That ideology leads to a contract extension discussion. Garza is youthful with post-season experience and the characteristics of a fine major league pitcher. He throws a heavy, hard fastball with ride and an assortment of complimentary breaking pitches which have combined for streaks of offensive celibacy unrivaled on staff.  At one point Garza went on a 10-game run where he struck out 8.4 per nine and walked only 2.5. Garza walked a few more over the rest of the season (3.5 per nine) which is a shame, because 8.4/2.5 joins company with Josh Beckett and Josh Johnson - two of the finer pitchers in baseball.

Garza's xFIP was 4.43 last season, a career best. That's better than a lot of pitchers who get more acclaim. Better than former Ray Edwin Jackson, better than Rick Porcello, better than Scott Baker and Andy Pettitte, Jair Jurrjens, Mark Buehrle, and numerous others. Garza may or may not eventually ascend to the throne in the kingdom of Aceland, but he's pretty good.

That being said, long-term deals for pitchers are always risky. The natural attrition rate and unpredictability means it takes a pretty special talent or contract construction to make it worthwhile. The Rays have seen both sides of that card with Kazmir and Shields. The former was a top arm who fell apart far too quickly while the latter has one of the more failsafe deals in baseball.

Ubaldo Jimenez' deal seems like a template for a Garza deal, although you could argue Ubaldo is a better pitcher and that Garza should get less than 4/10 (Note: Both had comparable inning totals through these seasons):

 

xFIP Garza Jimenez
2007 4.52 4.54
2008 4.58 4.34
2009 4.43 3.64

 

I don't know whether Garza will get an extension or not, but my hope is when we reflect on the deal down the road it will lead us to the conclusion that the Rays were right once more.

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