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Matt Garza and The Mystery of The Trade Target

I understand the thinking.


I don't understand the thinking.

Actually, before I head down the path I want to go down this week, let me take a quick side trip, won't you?

The Cardinals have become rather good at drafting. It seems obvious to say, of course, given they have one of the very best farm systems in all of baseball (though they will certainly see a huge drop down the lists following this season, albeit for all the right reasons), but I think it bears repeating. The St. Louis Cardinals know how to draft.

I like the talent the Redbirds pulled in the draft this year. I don't necessarily agree with all the picks, obviously, but by and large I think they made intelligent, sound draft selections in virtually every spot.

Just as important as the picks, though, is the strategy. The plan. The Cardinals have a plan going in, and they execute. Tom did an excellent job a while back breaking down how El Birdos managed to get virtually every one of their picks into the fold, including Steven Farinaro, quite possibly the testiest, delicatest signing of the entire class. The club set a new record for the largest signing bonus after the tenth round. The fact the Redbirds had the reserve cap space to grab a second round arm in the eleventh round and actually make the bonus work is a triumph in and of itself.

Why am I bringing all this up on this particular day, when I have other things to write about? Because of Max Scherzer.

I didn't actually watch the All-Star Game; I almost never do. It started as a protest of the whole This Time it Counts/Fan Voted Exhibition dichotomy, but unfortunately, it seems my act of politically-motivated all-star abstinence has gone unnoticed. So nowadays I don't watch because I just don't much care. (And yes, I am well aware of the fact I should care, as a fan of a team with realistic aspirations of a championship. Still don't.) However, I have watched the highlights, and was duly impressed to see Chesterfield's own Max Scherzer starting for the American League team, mowing down NL hitters like some sort of thing that mows stuff.

See, way back in 2003, Scherzer was, in fact, a draft pick of his hometown team, none other than Los Cardenales. Extremely late pick; 43rd round sounds about right to me without actually looking it up. Still, they picked him. Rather than sign, Scherzer went to Mizzou, and the rest, as they say, is history. That 2003 draft was a masterpiece of missed opportunities, in fact; the Cardinals selected Ian Kennedy out of high school in a mid-teens round (14, maybe?), Scherzer in the 40s, and a pitcher named Brett Sinkbeil somewhere around there as well. All three would go to college and turn into first round draft picks three years later in 2006. Sinkbeil flamed out after making a handful of big league appearances in 2010, largely the victim of arm issues. The other two, well, you know the names.

So here we are in 2013, ten years after Max Scherzer was first drafted by the Cardinals, and he's one of the, say, five or seven best starters in the game right now. The moral of the story, of course, is the Redbirds actually managed to pull this amazing draft class in the middle of a period of absolute shit, draftwise, and let all three of those guys get away. Never mind the question of whether or not any of those guys would still be pitching for the Cards currently or not; just think of what they could have done with three first-round type talents in the war chest back around 2007 or '08.

Drafting is a two-part process. There's making the right picks, and then there's getting the players actually into your system. I'm not going to say Steven Farinaro is the next Max Scherzer; I would be delighted if he is, but I have no way of knowing. The fact is, though, thanks to the strategic brilliance the Cards showed this year in signing all the players they drafted, we're at least going to have the chance to find out.

Okay, with that ridiculously long side trip out of the way, on to my main point for the day.

I understand the thinking.

I don't understand the thinking.

I'm talking about some of the rumours, the players the Cardinals are linked to in this trade market. Specifically, I mostly mean one Matthew Soon to be Former Cub Garza.

On the one hand, I certainly understand the idea of trying to trade for another pitcher. After all, while this team exploded out of the gate and raced to the game's best record early in the season largely on the strength of a rotation that pitched out of its collective mind, things have gone south since then. You've got Adam Wainwright, who is Adam Wainwright. Then you have a pair of starters in Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller, both of whom are brilliant when they're good, but have questions about potential workload issues. Personally, I think the concerns are overstated with Lynn, but it's worth noting each of the past two seasons he's started off like a house on fire then tailed off significantly. I won't call it a trend, yet; three data points are the absolute least I'll accept as trendworthy. Still, it's something to keep in mind.

After Shelby and Lance (sounds like a Bravo sitcom), things start to get really frightening. I don't trust Jake Westbrook to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA while walking more hitters than he strikes out. I base that position on the fact I have eyes, and a brain that works at a standard human level. Well, most days, anyway. And as much as I like Joe Kelly, I think he's a reliever. I think he could be a damned good one; I wish the club would get him to focus on his changeup and deemphasize the slider, maybe even try to refine the change into a forkball or something, because I love the action he gets on the pitch. Still, I just don't believe he's a starter long term.

The Cardinals do, it should be noted, have options. Carlos Martinez is with the team right now, and would be my choice to take the next spot start. Michael Wacha didn't carry the promise of his first amazing start forward the rest of his time in the majors, but he's still very close to being ready for prime time. You've still got Tyler Lyons, you may have John Gast coming back. I will not speak of Lazarus, but, hey, he could be out there too.

Then again, those options all come with caveats. All are very young, and it's hard to throw guys with so little experience and innings concerns into the fire of a pennant race. It's very, very scary. So, yeah, I get the desire for another starter.

Matt Garza, though....hmph. I argued about a Garza trade with a coworker the other day; he thinks it would be just what the doctor ordered for the club. Garza is, in his mind, a difference-maker, an ace. Me? I think Matt Garza is a guy with a remarkable arm and a 3.99 career FIP, which, by the way, is almost exactly what he's doing this season. (3.79, to be exact.) Not that there's anything wrong with that; consider, however, Lance Lynn's career FIP is 3.30. Garza feels like a better pitcher than that, but we're not trading for 2011 Matt Garza. We're trading for every year of Matt Garza, and that is a Matt Garza who always seems like he should be a better pitcher than he is. And Lynn is cheap. So how much would you be willing to give up for Garza?

And therein lies my ultimate problem with all this. How much are you going to give up for the next two months? You're talking about twelve-ish starts from whoever you pick up; how many extra wins are we realistically talking about in those twelve?

It doesn't have to be Garza, of course. The same calculus applies to pretty much every trade target pitcher on the market. Guys who are even somewhat affordable probably aren't going to make much of a difference. The few who will are going to gut the system, even in its still-bountiful state. Trading for an answer beyond this season would be wonderful, but who is legitimately available? Outside of Cliff Lee, I suppose, whose remaining contract of nearly two billion U.S. dollars somewhat complicates things.

Personally, I'm not giving up Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha or even Kolten Wong, honestly, to get back a dozen starts from a ~4.00 FIP pitcher. I want an upgrade, but I don't want to pay for one. What the Cards have in the pipeline is almost certainly better over the next three years than anything they can trade it away for. Long term solution at shortstop or center field? That I would consider. A two-win upgrade over the next two months, paid for with the next five years' worth of Carlos the Jackal or Pac-Man? I just don't think I can do it.

I understand the thinking. But I don't. This club has gotten to where it is, one of the best teams in all of baseball, through a remarkable exercise of patience, not to mention an amazing run of drafting and development. They're standing near the top of the mountain now, wondering what else it would take to make that final push to the summit. If ever there was a time to make that deal, to add that final piece to the puzzle, now is probably the time. You strike while the iron is hot, and flags fly forever, right? It's why we don't bitch about Colby Rasmus and his current 3.5 WAR versus Jon Jay and his -0.1 or Marc Rzepczynski's life in Memphis; we're mostly willing to forget the price paid for the magic of a title. (The draft picks make a big difference, too.)

But, man, Matt Garza? I just don't think so. Let the Rangers pay for him, and let's enjoy reaping the harvest the next few years. Please, Mo, just sit this one out.