Brewers take huge gamble on Matt Garza

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
2:24
PM ET
As expected, Matt Garza is heading to ... wait, the Milwaukee Brewers?!?!

In baseball, you just never know.

Of the four big-name free-agent starters out there -- Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo -- Garza was perhaps the most attractive. He and Arroyo aren't attached to a draft pick like Jimenez and Santana. Garza's also younger than Arroyo and more consistent than Jimenez and Santana. But he's not without risk, having made 18 starts in 2012 and 24 in 2013 after missing time because of a sore elbow in 2012 and then a strained side muscle in 2013. He also had a short disabled-list stint in 2011. When the Rangers acquired him for the stretch run last July, GM Jon Daniels said he was "comfortable" with Garza's physical status.

The Brewers are giving him a reported four-year, $52 million deal (pending a physical), close to the four-year, $60 million that Jim Bowden predicted back in November, so health issues didn't scare off the Brewers.

What do the Brewers get? A 30-year-old right-hander with a two-seam fastball with good movement, plus a four-pitch arsenal that includes a slider -- his best strikeout weapon (batters hit .163 off it with 75 of his 136 K's coming on the slider). Garza had improved his strikeout-to-walk ratios pitching with the Cubs compared to his days with the Rays, so staying in the National League will obviously help. The biggest concern is that he pitches up in the zone with the fastball and he gave up 35 home runs the past two years, a span of 259 innings. Miller Park is a good home run park, so he'll have to keep the walks at a minimum to limit the damage from homers.

The Brewers definitely needed pitching help; via FanGraphs WAR, their starters ranked 28th in the majors, ahead of only the Twins and Astros. They gave up the most home runs of any NL rotation, which speaks somewhat to the park but also to the lack of a true No. 1 or No. 2.

The rotation now shapes up like this, with Garza probably the de facto ace:

Matt Garza
Kyle Lohse
Yovani Gallardo
Wily Peralta
Marco Estrada

That seems like something better than the 28th-best rotation, but keep in mind that Gallardo has regressed (4.18 ERA) and Peralta hasn't yet put it all together (4.37 ERA).

If anything, the Brewers' offense remains just as big a problem. They scored 640 runs, eighth in the NL, but playing in Miller Park the Brewers need to rank among the best in the league to contend for the postseason. The 2012 club actually led the league in runs even after losing Prince Fielder. But Corey Hart is gone from that club and Aramis Ramirez knocked in 105 runs that year. Having Ryan Braun return to MVP-caliber play will help, but they still need a first baseman (they have the uninspiring group of Juan Francisco, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds and Hunter Morris) and will be counting on second-year left fielder Khris Davis to provide production. Right now, the lineup shapes up like this:

Jean Segura, SS
Carlos Gomez, CF
Ryan Braun, RF
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Jonathan Lucroy, C
Khris Davis, LF
Juan Francisco, 1B
Scooter Gennett/Rickie Weeks, 2B

Kendrys Morales would have been a nice fit to provide a left-handed bat at first base -- the first six guys all hit right-handed. Unfortunately for the Brewers, even though they finished tied for the No. 10 record in the NL, their first-round pick isn't protected (the top 10 are protected) as they had a better 2012 record than the other 88-loss teams. Winning three of four in the final series against the Mets allowed the Mets to "catch" the Brewers at 88 losses. So if they did sign Morales, they'd lose the pick; instead, they're hoping four bad players equal one good player. Good luck.

I can see the Brewers as sleeper wild-card contenders, but they need to get a better bat for first base and hope Gomez and6 Segura can improve off their big 2013 seasons.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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