Salisbury on Phillies' potential targets
Matt Garza and Ervin Santana are the top starting options available on the open market and figure to come at a hefty price. (AP)
Over the next several weeks we’ll unveil a list of potential free agents and trade targets the Phillies could pursue this offseason, one in which they’ll need to plug holes behind the plate, in the corner outfield and, most importantly, on the pitching staff.
Today we'll take a look at the top two right-handed starting pitchers on the market:
2011-13 stats: 25-23, 3.62 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
Most recent contract: One year, $10.25M (final year of arbitration)
He's been on four teams and made 191 starts, and now Matt Garza is finally a free agent. The 29-year-old righty had his best days in Tampa Bay from 2008-10 before being traded to the Cubs as he got more expensive, and then eventually the Rangers at the 2013 trade deadline.
Garza has been limited by elbow and lat injuries the last two seasons but is still young enough and talented enough to battle with Ervin Santana for the title of top free-agent starting pitcher. Adding value to Garza is the fact that he has no qualifying offer or draft-pick compensation attached to him because he was traded midseason. That means a signing team wouldn't have to forfeit its highest draft pick after signing Garza.
That type of player is on every team's radar, but especially the Phillies', for several reasons.
The Phils have major questions in their starting rotation with Roy Halladay's contract up and John Lannan non-tendered. Miguel A. Gonzalez may fill one spot, but there have been past concerns with his elbow and it's unclear whether he'll absolutely stick in the rotation rather than the bullpen. It is likely that Kyle Kendrick will be back, but even if health and success is assumed from Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Gonzalez and Kendrick, that still leaves one open spot in a rotation that was highly disappointing in 2012.
The Phils have flirted with Garza before. They considered trading Jayson Werth to the Rays for him in 2010, the season before Werth left for greener pastures and Tampa dealt Garza to the Cubs for prospects.
For a team that has emphasized strike-throwing this offseason, Garza is a perfect fit for the Phils. He's struck out between 7.9 and 9.0 batters per nine innings the last four seasons, all while walking fewer than 3.0 each year. And he's exhibited no signs of decline -- Garza's fastball averaged 93.2 mph last season compared to 93.4 for his career.
The issue is the contract. The Rangers, Dodgers, Yankees, Blue Jays and Nationals will likely pursue Garza, and all of those teams have some money to spend. His price tag may balloon to $75-80 million over five years. Would the Phillies really want to hand out another five-year deal to a starting pitcher?
If the market for Garza doesn't explode and he can be had for something like four years, $60 million, then it should be a serious consideration for Ruben Amaro Jr. and co. It's one less guaranteed year, and $15 million per season is a fair price in today's game for a No. 2 starter.
2011-13 stats: 29-35, 3.85 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Most recent contract: Four years, $30 million (took up arbitration years)
Be wary of big-name players coming off career years. Santana was so awful in 2012 for the Angels -- serving up a league-leading 39 home runs -- that they traded him to Kansas City for a minor-league reliever even though the Halos had rotation concerns of their own.
How did Santana respond? By posting a 3.24 ERA for the Royals in 211 innings of work in 2013.
His command in KC was markedly better. His walk rate dropped from 8.0 percent to 5.9 percent and he cut his home run rate nearly in half.
Santana has been much more durable than Garza, averaging 210 innings the past four seasons. That's a reason he might earn more money in free agency.
It's difficult, though, to have complete confidence that his 2013 was not a fluke, but a sign of the switch flipping as a pitcher gets older and wiser. His pitch selection remained the same, but the main difference was he got ahead in counts much more often and was able to get hitters to chase the slider that has always been his nastiest offering.
Santana and Garza are in the same price range of about $60-80 million. Both have No. 2 starter upside but both come with risks -- you don't know which Santana will show up for pitchers and catchers, and you don't know how many starts Garza will make over the life of his deal.
Yesterday's targets: OFs Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran
Coming up tomorrow: Jim Salisbury takes a look at the Carlos Ruiz situation