When Matt Garza signed with the Brewers before the 2014 season, the Brewers had to have been hoping that he would be a veteran anchor for a young and developing group of starting pitchers. Both Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson were already in the rotation, and Taylor Jungmann would join them the next year. In an ideal world, Garza would be providing solid, approximately league-average pitching while serving as a role model in the clubhouse by demonstrating what a major league work ethic looks like.
That has not exactly been the case. First, his mentoring has clearly had minimal (if any) effect, as Peralta and Jungmann were both optioned earlier this season, and Nelson has regressed. And second, Garza has been unable to stay on the mound consistently and disastrous when he has been able to pitch.
Garza’s 4.50 DRA in 2014 was the best mark he put up as a Brewer, and park factors combined to make that year worth only 0.7 WARP. Last year, he put up a 5.85 DRA, was worth negative WARP, and was pulled from the rotation in September. And this year, he missed the first two months of the season and didn’t make his debut until June 14—and has been predictably bad yet again, with a 5.36 DRA this season.
In 2015, despite the benching, the Brewers had a relatively long leash with Garza. Kyle Lohse was a veteran in a similar situation as Garza, but his contract expired at the end of last season so there was no organizational loyalty. So when Lohse’s disastrous performances became untenable, the Brewers moved him to the bullpen; his last start was August 2. Garza, though, was given an extra month, and the Brewers did not move him to the bullpen. Instead, they wanted to make sure that he saw himself as a starter moving forward.
This strategy makes sense on the surface. Garza is signed through next year—and is owed $12.5 million—so the Brewers will have wanted to protect their investment. They would not have wanted to be stuck with an eight-figure, disgruntled, and veteran reliever for the next two years. The hope was that he would rebound at the beginning of this season and provide positive value both this season and next.
That has definitely not happened this year, and it has to call into question what exactly the Brewers will do with Garza in 2017. Veteran mentorship only goes so far in general, and it has to carry significantly less weight when the veteran is not performing well. Despite early stories about Garza’s positive impact in the clubhouse, some level of performance is clearly required; otherwise, “high-character” players would hang on even longer than they already do.
And at this point in his career, Garza simply is not pitching very well. Over the past three years, he has been worth a total of -0.7 WARP, making him worse than replacement level. Presumably, if the Brewers did not owe him any money, he would be gone.
They do, though, and therein lies the problem. The Brewers are a small-market team with the second-smallest payroll in the major leagues, so they can’t be in the habit of eating millions of dollars. They clearly weren’t ready to release him after last season despite the two consecutive years of terrible pitching, even though they would have likely jumped at an opportunity to use a get-out-of-jail-free card on his contract. Presumably, $25 million was simply too much for the organization to pay someone who is not on their roster.
But the situation has changed this year, and therefore I would not be surprised if the Brewers designate Garza for assignment over the winter. The club has spent significantly less money this year than in the last few, and it has benefitted from taking low-cost risks. Being able to fill out the big league roster with players within their first six years of service time has kept payroll down, so the club should be able to afford to pay the $17.5 million Garza is owed ($12.5 million in 2017 and a $5 million buyout in 2018) so that he is no longer on the roster.
The Brewers may decide to keep Garza around simply because they do not have many better options. With Wily Peralta and Taylor Jungmann struggling this year, there simply isn’t the same roster crunch that there appeared to be at the beginning of the season. At some point, though, it simply isn’t worth wasting a rotation spot on a veteran who isn’t performing at all. Releasing Garza over the winter gives the club a clean break and wouldn’t stretch them financially.