Brewers Lay Out An Unwelcome Matt

This month, the Milwaukee Brewers decided to move on from Matt Garza for the remainder of the 2015 season. Should this trial separation between the two parties turn into a divorce?


Two years plus one month ago, when Matt Garza was still pitching for the Texas Rangers, he gave Brewers fans a sneak peek into the future.

He was the starting pitcher on August 3rd that year, when the Rangers traveled to Oakland for a divisional clash with the A’s. Garza has always struggled here and there with fielding his position, especially the throw to first base, and the A’s set out to exploit these troubles. Leadoff hitter Coco Crisp led the game off with a bunt single, and Eric Sogard followed that up by immediately sacrificing him over.

In the 7th inning, Garza faced a jam — one out, runners on the corners, Sogard back at the plate, and the Rangers trailing 3-2. The A’s ran a safety squeeze and Sogard laid down his second sacrifice bunt, bringing Alberto Callaspo in to score. Making it worse, Callaspo — who led off the inning with a walk — had been bunted into scoring position by Stephen Vogt. The strategy of dinking Garza to death paid off on the scoreboard, but it also paid off psychologically for Oakland.

Cameras caught Garza screaming at Sogard after the play (when asked after the game, he claimed he was “asking about good places to eat in Oakland). After the inning finished, he had more angry words for the Oakland dugout as he walked off the field. And as his team came up in the top half of the eighth, the show that the TV broadcast focused on was Garza — fuming, sulking, and pouting in the dugout. When the grounds crew came out to fix an issue with the surface of the mound, Garza reacted by directing his tantrum in the direction of the mound itself from the dugout. [link]

It was an embarrassingly childish display from a grown man and professional, but far more volatile outbursts occur on Major League Baseball diamonds with pretty consistent regularity. By itself, the incident was hardly memorable — after all, Garza didn’t smash anything, punch anyone, throw shards of a broken bat at anybody, or anything destructive like that. His passive-aggressive meltdown came out extremely heavy on the “passive.”

The problem is, Garza wasn’t done embarassing himself. Post-game, he fired up the ol’ Twitters to rant about the A’s, and Sogard in particular. Sogard’s wife, Kaycee, jumped in to defend her husband at one point and Garza unloaded all of his frustrations on her, telling her in essence to shut up and get back in the kitchen where she belongs.

Brutal, but hardly surprising. Just months earlier Garza, then with the Cubs, had gone on another cringeworthy Twitter rant — calling out the Wrigley Field “so-called diehards and their negativity.” Surely, the Rangers thought he could grow up from these antics, but they were clearly off base.


When the Brewers signed Garza the following off-season they, too, hoped that he could channel his passion to the mound and shed the immature attitude that has plagued his career. But this past weekend, Garza’s foot and mouth had a great opportunity to get reacquainted with one another. Milwaukee grew weary of Garza’s continuing struggles, and also wanted to use the month of September to get a look at a number of young, inexperienced starting pitchers in the system. As a result, Garza — like Kyle Lohse a month earlier — was removed from the starting rotation.

Like Lohse, Garza was offered a role in the team’s bullpen instead. Unlike Lohse, Garza declined this offer angrily. Just like the game in Oakland twenty-five months ago, Garza’s reaction to the very public airing of his shortcomings was violent, irrational, and more fit for a naughty child being sent to time out than a professional ballplayer talking to the media.

Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

“It’s (expletive),” Garza said. “It’s not my decision. I didn’t get much say. It’s completely taken out of my hands. That’s it. I didn’t have any say at all. It is what it is. It’s just (expletive).”

Because Garza is veteran, playoff hero, and making $12.5 million dollars per year, he assumes that he is entitled to input in these types of decisions. But the thing is, Garza already provided his input into the decision by way of his pitching. Going by Deserved Run Average, Matt Garza has been the eighth-worst starting pitcher with at least 100 innings thrown this season.

Furthermore, Garza actually regressed even deeper into the depths of futility over the past month. He has lasted five innings or fewer and conceded seven-plus in each of his past four starts. Over that nightmare stretch, he’s allowing north of a run per inning. For most of 2015, Garza was merely bad, but in the month of August, the you could almost see stink lines radiating from his uniform on the mound. Did he really expect to keep his rotation spot putting up a 6.75 ERA for the month?

Split W L ERA
April/March 2 3 4.60
May 1 4 6.34
June 1 3 5.52
July 1 1 3.57
August 1 3 6.75
Sept/Oct 0 0 7.71

Back in July, our own Michael Schwarz took an in-depth look at Garza’s struggles in an attempt to find an explanation. Several elements are at play, but the most guilty culprit has been a dramatic erosion of his command with the four-seam fastball. When Garza was striking out nearly a batter per inning for the Cubs, his fastball was one of the most dominant in the majors. Now, he’s missing his spots and serving up meatballs. As a result, he’s lost effectiveness in every concievable way–his home run, strikeout, and walk rates have all taken significant steps backwards since he signed with Milwaukee.

This off-season, as the Brewers continue churning over the old roster, it is assumed that they will try to trade Garza. It is also assumed that they will not want to pay his hefty salary if he’s pitching for another team. But the concept is not as far-fetched as one might think. Garza is owed a total of $25 million on his last two years. The two annual salaries of Kyle Lohse and Aramis Ramirez, both off the books at the end of the season, add up to exactly that.

Surely, last March, the team planned to spend that $25 million to reload with a big-name free agent or two this offseason. But plans have changed, and the shape of the roster has changed. This is no longer a team that needs expensive veteran contributions, and the list of free agents-to-be for the coming off-season is overwhelmingly north of thirty years old. Furthermore, committing a king’s ransom in years and zeroes to Justin Upton will not solve anything, and after him the impact talent on the market is remarkably thin. The new general manager in place will want to make his mark on the team, but he will also be wise to avoid signing another Garza of his own–an expensive, high-mileage pitcher about to embark on the downside of his career.

Covering Garza’s salary over the next two seasons just might entice a pitching-starved team to take a chance on him, and give up something helpful for the right to bet on his comeback. He’s only 31 years old–old enough to collapse, but young enough to put it all back together. Even a partial rebound in Garza’s command would make the deal a success for anyone who takes a chance on him. It’s unlikely–this type of command loss isn’t the type of thing that usually just reverts back to normal–but more likely than some anonymous journeyman randomly emerging as a late bloomer.

Still, let’s say that Milwaukee can’t find a buyer for Garza. What happens then? The team wouldn’t just give up on such an expensive piece, would they?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they would. As it turns out, Garza wouldn’t be the first valuable problem child the Brewers have given up on in the past calendar year.


Nick Delmonico was best known as the prospect the Orioles sent over in the Francisco Rodriguez deal two years ago. He was a corner infielder with a good bat, and his acquisition instantly made him one of Milwaukee’s most valuable prospects. But in 2014, he tested positive for amphetamines and was suspended for 50 games.

During that time, the team lost contact with Delmonico. He wouldn’t pick up, call back, return messages, or anything. It was the exact opposite problem presented by Garza, but a problem nonetheless. Milwaukee decided to release the 22-year-old former top prospect, and the Chicago White Sox picked him up quickly.

If the Brewers had shown leniency towards Delmonico, it would have been perfectly understandable. Plenty of people, baseball players and not, have made crippling life mistakes at the age of 22 and gone on to become productive and successful. There’s a certain level of immaturity that has to be expected with someone that age. Matt Garza is a different story. He is 31 years old, a nine-year Major League veteran. He should know better than to pull the stupid shit he pulls every few years.

With the Brewers fully committed to going young, Garza is fully expendable if anyone wants him. But if nobody does, the team is still soaking up a huge opportunity cost by running him out there every five days next season. The Brewers will not be championship contenders in the next two seasons, and at that point Garza is gone regardless. Unless he pulls a remarkable turnaround — again, it’s unlikely — it’s hard to argue that the team isn’t better off over the long run by trying someone, anyone else.

Furthermore, in light of Garza’s tirade to the media, releasing him in spite of his salary would send a message: this is not an organization that tolerates bush-league bullshit from players in their employ. The decision to cut Delmonico was only the right one if it sets a precedent that holds consistently–and in order to hold to this precedent, Matt Garza cannot be on the 2016 roster.

Francisco Rodriguez and Nyjer Morgan both serve as examples of Milwaukee players with less-than-ideal pasts that they’ve learned from and grown through. Garza, on the other hand, seems content to remain the same, flawed individual he always was. And over the past month, both his performance and his attitude have revealed a problem too large to be worth dealing with any more.

The Brewers managed to get themselves a reprieve from Garza’s presence for the rest of 2015, and most of the organization remains optimistic that they can spin their troubled hurler into something worthwhile. But even if they can’t pull that off, especially in light of the free-agency market, seeing the back of Matt Garza just might be its own reward.

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