Friday, December 30, 2011

Speculation: Should the Phillies Inquire on Cubs' Starter Matt Garza?

The week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day have always given me the impression of a tumbleweed rolling through a barren desert in regards to baseball—Not much going on.

So as we sit here ready to ring in the New Year in style, there's not much going on in the baseball world. Regardless of the fact that several top tier free agents such as Prince Fielder and Ryan Madson remain on the market, the Philadelphia Phillies have finished up their winter shopping, for the most part, leaving room for a minor signing or two to round out the roster.

Or have they?

About a week ago, a blog that covers a wide range of Philadelphia sports called "The Philly Phans" passed along a rumor from a source of theirs suggesting that the Phillies may be close to acquiring New York Mets' third baseman David Wright.

The rumor sounds crazy at first. Why would the Mets trade the face of their franchise to their most heated rival? Why would the Phillies trade a number of top prospects with years of control to the Mets, a division rival who is trying to rebuild? You're supposed to kick your rival while they're down!

But as far as the topic of this post is concerned, all of that is secondary. Sure, the Mets have their reasons to trade Wright and the Phillies surely need a third baseman with legitimate power, but the aspect of this rumor that really caught my eye was that the suggested deal included Domonic Brown.

Now hold on just a second.

Is this the same Domonic Brown that the Phillies refused to trade in packages for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt? The same Domonic Brown that was rated as the organizations top prospect before losing eligibility? The same left handed hitting, outfield prospect that has been riding the shuttle between AAA and the MLB?

Once upon a time, Ruben Amaro Jr. wholeheartedly refused to trade Brown. If there was any truth behind the "Wright to the Phillies" deal at all, the Phillies' willingness to include their former top prospect should come as a surprise.

The real point of this post is more of a hypothetical question: If the Phillies are truly willing to trade Domonic Brown, wouldn't it be wise to shop him around a bit before trading him to a cash-strapped division rival trying to rebuild?

The David Wright rumor was the second time I've heard Brown's name come up this off-season. During the Winter Meetings, a rumor was being floated that the Phillies had inquired on former Oakland A's (now Washington Nationals') starter, Gio Gonzalez, and general manager Billy Beane requested the Phils' outfielder as the centerpiece of any deal.

Obviously, a deal between the Phillies and A's was never consummated, but the conversation in and of itself may have been a bit telling.

First and foremost, the fact that the Phillies were talking to other teams about available starting pitching suggests that they aren't terribly confident that they can sign Cole Hamels to a long-term extension. He's going to be expensive, and from a player's standpoint, has no reason not to test the market.

Secondly, the inquisition about starting pitching leads you to wonder how much confidence the team has in Joe Blanton. The expensive right hander made just eight starts last season, when he battled elbow injury, and in those starts, posted a record of 1-2 with an ERA of 5.17 and a WHIP of 1.51. Not terribly inspiring.

If Blanton is unable to stay healthy (and effective,) the Phillies will have to hand the ball over to Kyle Kendrick, and outside of their current long-reliever, the Phils have very little starting pitching depth. All of that goes without the simple mention that Vance Worley's advanced metrics point to a regression in 2012.

Simply put, it makes sense for the Phillies to inquire on starting pitching. If they're truly willing to include Brown in a deal, that expands their list of options, and one name to keep an eye on would be Chicago Cubs' starter Matt Garza.

As the Cubs go into a full-blown rebuild this off-season, Garza becomes their most valuable trade chip. The right hander posted a record of 10-10 last season with an ERA of 3.32 and a WHIP of 1.26. Perhaps most importantly, especially from a Phillies' perspective, is the simple fact that he is under team control, through arbitration, for each of the next two seasons.

At that point, the obstacles to the deal become two-fold. First and foremost, what is Garza truly worth in terms of prospects? At a glance, Brown seems to be a little too much for the Cubs' ace, but the hauls that the San Diego Padres and Oakland A's received for Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez this winter would warrant his inclusion.

The Cubs are said to be focusing on pitching, and the Phillies have several prospects with upside worth offering. If Brown is included in the deal, the Phils won't move Trevor May. However, they would probably listen to deals involving fellow right handed starters Brody Colvin and Jon Pettibone.

Assuming that Brown and one of those two starting pitchers are in the deal, what else could the Phillies offer? Would they be willing to trade talented outfielder Jiwan James to the Cubs? He would fit nicely into their rebuilding efforts, and they would have more time to nudge him along than the Phillies care to spend.

With those names bandied about, does a trade of Matt Garza in exchange for Domonic Brown, Brody Colvin, and Jiwan James make sense for both sides?

The second and largest factor would be Garza's price. Though he is under team control, he won't be cheap. He'll make about $8 million in arbitration for the 2012 season, and depending on the type of year he has in 2012, would see another large rise in 2013.

The Phillies would be well aware of this, and may try and beat back the price of prospects a bit. The more challenging goal, however, would be fitting Garza into their payroll. Having been unwilling to pass the luxury tax in recent years, they would have two options: a.) Move some of their more expensive players, for example, Joe Blanton, for salary relief; b.) Ask the Cubs to pay some of Garza's salary.

Neither scenario is a likely one.

There aren't many teams around the game that would be interested in taking Blanton's salary off of the Phillies' hands, and the Cubs are trying to move payroll off of the books, though I'm sure they would pay some of Garza's salary if it meant acquiring another, or a better, prospect.

At the end of the day, I don't think it would be unusual for the Phillies to ask the Cubs about Matt Garza. We're talking about a team that employed four aces last season and reaped the benefits, winning more games than any team in baseball.

You have to ask yourself, however, is the risk outweighed by the reward? The Phillies would be moving a supremely talented batch of players to bolster a pitching staff that is already considered the best in baseball. Would acquiring a guy like Garza decrease their chances of signing Hamels to an extension? Would the Phillies be able to move Blanton?

Remember, this is all just speculation. If the Phillies are willing to include Domonic Brown in a trade package, they are going to be getting a lot of phone calls, and if they are confident about John Mayberry's development, moving Brown may prove to be a beneficial decision.

-Greg Pinto

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