There's not a lot to say about last night's game other than the Cardinals can't afford to let teams that are below .500 beat them with just 42 games left on the year. The Cardinals find themselves 5 games back of the Brewers and they drop a game to the Colorado Rockies who are not that good of a team. The Cardinals drop that game at home with one of their best pitchers on the mound. That is the kind of performance that sinks a team late in the season.
Speaking of our best pitchers, what kind of a deal did the Cardinals actually get on Jaime Garcia?
Garcia was a member of the 2005 draft class led by ... nevermind. He was drafted in the 22nd round overall and quickly made a name for himself in the minors given the lack of real prospects at the time. Garcia managed to reach the majors in 2008 before requiring Tommy John surgery and spending most of 2009 on the shelf. His installment in the 2010 rotation was a bit surprising given the recent surgery but Garcia didn't disappoint.
In 2010, Garcia tossed 163.1 innings showing well above average groundball rates, a healthy 7K/9IP and good but not great command. In 2011, Garcia has improved upon those rates by dramatically reducing his walks.
With a 3.41 FIP in 2010 and a 3.11 FIP in 2011, Garcia has demonstrated the ability to be an elite pitcher. One area that he hasn't quite broken through is his ability to go deep into games. He doesn't look like a Adam Wainwright for Chris Carpenter whose efficiency allows them to total 230 inning seasons. Garcia instead has maintained starts that last around 6 innings meaning he's more of a 180-200 inning starter.
Time for the math. A back of the envelope level for a replacement level starter is 5.00 FIP. In 2010, that puts Garcia at about 3 wins better than replacement level. 2011 has been a bit of a renaissance year for run prevention and has seen that replacement level decline. To date, Garcia has still managed to maintain a similar level of production. Extrapolated to 180 innings (a full Garcia season), Garcia has looked like a 3.5 win pitcher.
The Cardinals signed him to a 4 year extension with 2 years of club options.
Assuming Garcia ends this season around the same WAR value, we then have to make a rather messy projection of what he looks like going forward. There's not a generic aging curve for pitchers that has been found to hold (relatively) true for position players. A pitcher doesn't necessarily peak in the 27-30 age group primarily because the injury rate for pitchers remains so high. Jaime Garcia has already seen that injury bug strike but the Cardinals are making a calculated risk that he'll be a stable pitcher moving forward. I'll assume that he's basically a stable property for the next 2 years and decline sets in after that.
This is obviously a very subjective projection. It's not unreasonable to assume that Garcia will maintain a higher level of performance for the next 3 or 4 years. This is something of a conservative/pessimistic view point. Even acknowledging that, the Cardinals come out about $6M ahead over the first four guaranteed years of the contract.
At that point, is when the beauty of this contract shines. The Cardinals were able to negotiate two club option years in 2016 and 2017 when Garcia will be 31 and 32, respectively. If he's performed well during the prior seasons, the club options value him along the lines of a 2-3 win pitcher. The club will get the opportunity to reassess Garcia's value prior to having to make that decision. That's a tremendous opportunity to retain a top performer or cut bait if a player has fallen apart for any reason.
Much like the Adam Wainwright contract, it's hard to hate this contract. Even extremely conservative projections have the team coming out ahead. Jaime gets security for life; the Cardinals get a top tier pitcher at below market rates for the next 4 years.