Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Matt Garza? Nah. How about Jeff Francis?

Reports continue to swirl about the Cubs pursuit of starting pitcher Matt Garza. Garza, who has been an above average for the Rays over the last three seasons, appears to be available, considering the Rays already have six quality starters and cannot well afford Matt Garza after his upcoming arbitration.

The Cubs, on the other hand, have at least seven starters already: Ryan Dempster, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva, Casey Coleman, and Andrew Cashner. The last two are less proven: Casey Coleman will likely be a below average starter (possibly for the length of his career, unless he goes to St. Louis and learns a sinking two-seamer), but Andrew Cashner has the makings of a future All-Star.

Some in the blogging community have speculated the Cubs and Jim Hendry are merely attempting to acquire a monopoly on starting pitchers. One can only guess how much it will cost to land in Wrigley once he puts a hotel there.

Well, there also exists the possibility of trading away Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Zambrano -- though Carlos seems unlikely to wave his no-trade clause and Tom is a pretty quality pitcher, cost-controlled, and fairly young (29 next season).

Even if we do trade those two pitchers, that leaves us with five pitchers -- one of which is below-average-to-average (Casey Coleman). So, if the Cubs really do feel keen to acquire an extra pitcher, let's not pursue Matt Garza. Here's why:

Though Garza has had a strong ERAs the last 3 years (sub-4.00 ERAs), advanced metrics like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) suggest he may have benefited from good luck and great defense (as is typical in Tampa). Moreover, he's approaching arbitration and could start making closer $10M annually. On the plus side, he's young (27) and could/should be worth 2 WAR or more per year (which makes him worth a $10M contract).

Here's the issue: In order for the Cubs to acquire Matt Garza's 2-3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR or simple "wins"), they will have to give the saavy Rays full price and then some.

Instead of doing all of this, why not hang on to Hak-Ju Lee, Jay Jackson, or whomever we'd have to surrender for Garza and instead take a chance on some buy-low candidates. One such candidate is Jeff Francis.

Ol' Jeff Francis spent 7 seasons with the Rockies, but only pitched in 6 of them. He'll be 30 in about a week and has been struggling with injuries these last few years, but at the same time, he had his best career xFIP in 2010 (after returning from injury) and should come extra cheap.

It is likely Francis can provide -- at the very least -- 1.5 WAR if given 150 innings (this is what he did in 2008 with a 4.55 xFIP). I suspect the Cubs could acquire him for $3.5M or so. If a win is worth $5M, then Jeff Francis could potentially give us 1.5 wins for the price of 0.7 wins.

Also, there's the chance the 2010 Jeff Francis was the real deal, and he ends being Matt Garza value at Randy Wells prices.

So, who knows?, maybe the Cubs put together a package sending Carlos Zambrano, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva, Kosuke Fukudome, and Alfonso Soriano to receive some assemblage of MLB-ready prospects who rapidly propel the Cubs into contention in 2011. If they manage that, then, eh, why not go after Matt Garza?

But, if the Good Cubs are still several seasons away, why waste the money and prospects on Garza when Jeff Francis could give something for near-nothing?

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