The Atlanta Braves have just lost a starting pitcher. Brandon Beachy had Tommy John surgery Thursday and will be out for the rest of the season.
The Chicago Cubs are rebuilding. They have one of the worst records in baseball, and have made it known they are ready to start trading their veteran players.
Matt Garza is 28 years old. He’ll turn 29 in late November. The Cubs’ right-hander is on the trade block, and he has a year and a half left on his contract.
Julio Teheran is 21 years old. He’ll turn 22 next January. The young right-hander is still considered one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
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Could these two teams find a match with these two players? If you were the general manager of either team, would you swap Garza for Teheran?
It’s an interesting dilemma. Atlanta GM Frank Wren has to wonder if his team can make it to the playoffs with Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and either Randall Delgado or Mike Minor as his top three pitchers. If he thinks that won’t cut it, Wren will be tempted to go make a trade for a veteran starting pitcher.
That’s probably why we heard this week that Jim Fregosi, one of Wren’s chief scouts, recently watched one of Garza’s starts.
The Braves have a lot of young pitchers. Delgado, Minor, Teheran, and you can also count Kris Medlen in that category as well. They have a couple of pitchers in the upper minor leagues, particularly Todd Redmond, Sean Gilmartin and Zeke Spruill, who could be targeted by other teams.
It’s safe to assume that if the Braves want a veteran pitcher, the other team would want young pitching in return. The Cubs, for example, would love to replace Garza and fellow veteran Ryan Dempster with younger arms that can be part of the rebuilding project.
So if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the two in charge of the Cubs, were talking to Wren about a deal, chances are they would want one of Atlanta’s young arms in return for Garza.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. If you were trading Garza, who would you want in return from an organization deep in young arms?
I’d want Teheran.
Let’s say that’s what the Cubs would demand. Would Wren pull the trigger on that deal – Teheran for Garza? And remember, the Cubs are going to have to eat part of Garza’s remaining $9.5 million dollars for the rest of the season to make the deal happen and to demand that type of return.
You must think about how Garza will fit in on the Braves’ roster. He’ll immediately be the third best starter behind Hudson and Hanson. That trio would, at least on paper, make you think the Braves might have a better shot at making the playoffs compared to having Delgado or Minor as the third starter.
Of course, if Jair Jurrjens does well Friday night, or even if he faltered and Medlen took over and did well, the need for Garza might not be as great. But would either Jurrjens or Medlen do well enough within the next six weeks to convince Wren he doesn’t need another starter?
Garza could leave the Braves after the 2013 season if he was acquired. So would the Braves be able to make him a long-term offer to keep him around past next season? Well, yes, there should be financial flexibility to make that happen.
We know as much as $33 million could come off the books this winter, so part of his salary for next year would fit – with more than half of Garza’s contract replacing Jurrjens, who right now looks like he would not be brought back next season.
But then Hudson’s contract is up after next season, as well, so if the Braves re-signed Garza, his new contract could, in effect, replace Hudson’s money on the books. Then Garza, who by then would be 30 years old, would also replace Hudson as the veteran in the rotation.
It wouldn’t discount the possibility of Hudson being brought back, but it’s just unlikely that if he did return in 2014 that Hudson would make as much as he’s making now ($9 million). He’ll be 37 next month, so in two seasons he’ll be pushing 40. He’ll likely be more of a middle-of-the-rotation starter compared to the ace he is now for this team.
But do the Braves give up Teheran for that possibility? Teheran has been compared to Pedro Martinez. He won 15 games in Triple-A last season. There is no doubt in watching this kid pitch that he’s got major league talent and might be a very good pitcher.
Garza, however, is not a “might be.” He already is a very good pitcher. He’s proved in five-plus seasons that he’s a very solid starting pitcher in the big leagues.
This is that same debate every front office has when they consider trading a young pitcher with projection for an established big league arm. “Do I risk trading a pitcher that might be special for a guy I know can help us right now?” a general manager must ask.
It’s the same debate former Tigers’ general manager Bill Lajoie had in 1987 when he traded a young man named John Smoltz for a veteran named Doyle Alexander. That’s perhaps the best example ever of a trade of a pitching prospect for a veteran to help a team win. Alexander did just that, winning nine games the rest of that season to help Detroit win the American League East. But Smoltz became a future Hall of Famer.
It’s not an easy call. At some point soon, Teheran is either going to have to be put in the Atlanta rotation or traded away. He doesn’t need to go back to Triple-A next season, and he’s doing well enough again this year to warrant a promotion on most teams. So the Braves are facing a pending decision on Teheran at some point in the next seven months.
If they’re not ready to make room for Teheran and place him in the Atlanta rotation, then they need to trade him for something they think can help them right now. Garza would fit that bill perfectly.
This would be a gamble. There are some in the Atlanta organization that still believe Teheran can be a number one starter. But you also have to wonder that if he were that good, wouldn’t he be up now after a year and a half in Triple-A?
So would you trade Teheran for Garza? Yeah, I probably would. It would be tough, since I like young pitchers. But acquiring an arm like Garza would greatly improve Atlanta’s chances of making the playoffs. As long as the Braves believed they could get Garza to re-sign for the long-term, this would be the type of trade they’d have to make.