How Do You Solve A Problem Like Garcia?

There’s been a lot of talk about pitching this offseason.  Whether it’s a pitcher that’s gone (Shelby Miller), a pitcher possibly changing roles (Carlos Martinez) or a pitcher that never materialized (Max Scherzer), a strength of the Cardinals has been the talk of the town, more than you’d expect after 23 shutouts as a staff (and given the offensive weakness of last year–you’d think we’d be talking about the hitters!)  Pitching is the name of the game and the name of this hot stove season.

However, in all the talk this winter, one name has been pretty overlooked.  Not entirely–you’ll hear his name pop up from time to time–but not seriously considered.  Yet Jaime Garcia could be the X factor, the monkey wrench, the good-problem-to-have headache of the 2015 season.

Let’s start with the big number: $9.25 million.  That’s how much Garcia gets paid next year, whether he starts 30 games or if the only baseball he plays is on his XBox.  (Is that what the kids play these days?  I still only have a Playstation 2, so I’m quite out of the loop.)  Garcia’s salary most likely will be a significant tiebreaker in any sort of competition.  If he’s healthy, my feeling is he at least starts the year as the #5 starter.

Is that a bad thing?  Again, you are assuming health here and that’s a dangerous assumption to make with Garcia, who has thrown less than 100 innings in the past two seasons combined.  Garcia had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, the same thing that made Chris Carpenter‘s last real good run the 2011 playoffs, even though he didn’t retire until after 2013.  Carpenter didn’t have much success battling the injury and there’s a strong probability that Garcia won’t either.  While reports are glowing right now, they were pretty good for Carpenter in the offseason as well.  It was when the daily grind started that the injury would really rear its head.

Let’s say he’s healthy, though, and that John Mozeliak has forgiven him for the way he went about the surgery.  That means the Cardinals would have a 28-year-old lefty pitcher with strikeout stuff and a fairly rested arm.  Garcia’s ability has never been in doubt, as he already has two seasons with 13 wins and, save his baptism into the league in 2008, has never had a FIP over 4.00.  Without the last couple of games last year, when he was likely dealing with the injury, you could drop that level down to 3.75.

It seems to be a given right now that Martinez will be the man for the rotation, the man they cleared room for by dealing off Miller in the Heyward trade.  There’s no doubt that Martinez has some electric stuff of his own and I’ve argued that you have to get him out of the bullpen soon before he becomes too valuable to move and gets stuck there like Trevor Rosenthal.  Without Garcia, I’d say the best thing would be for Martinez to go into the rotation and Marco Gonzales to be a long man in the pen (though that would mean a lot of lefties down there, not even counting the Patron Pitcher of the Blog).

If Garcia is right, though, I think you have to start him, slide Martinez into some role in the bullpen (the eighth is possible, but that would seem to be Jordan Walden‘s spot) and let Gonzales start in Memphis while waiting for the seemingly inevitable injury.

That inevitability is why there’s a problem.  Because with a reasonably healthy Garcia, maybe you make some sort of deal.  Maybe you trade John Lackey off.  Maybe you move Gonzales for some top prospect.  However, in the back of your mind you know Garcia’s not likely to last.  That you’ll need that depth eventually.

That’s the frustrating part for both Garcia and the club.  They are both holding their breath, waiting to see just what that shoulder will do, whether the arm will stay sound.  Garcia would like to pitch well enough that the Cards would at least consider picking up that $11.5 million option for ’16.  If he can do that, even if they let him go another team would be on him in a heartbeat.

However, if he follows the Carpenter path, this could be the last real payday for Garcia.  Another injury-riddled year and the best he likely could hope for was a one-year, make-good contract with someone after the Cards decline the option.  This is–pardon the pun–a make or break year for Garcia.  If he breaks, it could be very, very costly.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been a huge Garcia fan.  His seeming inability to pitch on the road or out of his routine was irksome.  However, he seemed to be doing better with that last year and we all felt Lance Lynn‘s blowup innings were a major pain until he stopped doing them.  There’s no reason to think Garcia couldn’t make a similar stride in his game.

I like Martinez in the rotation, but I’m–as my partner here at the Conclave once put it–honking for Jaime this spring.  Having a dominant lefty in the rotation would be a wonderful thing for the Redbirds, no matter how long it lasts.  It’s going to be a lot of fun watching everyone go after that last spot this spring, I believe.  Glad FSMW is televising so many of them!

  • Dan Buffa

    Nice write up Shop!

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