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By exercising option, St. Louis Cardinals make low-stakes bet on Jaime Garcia's health

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak made it official on Sunday: The club will exercise the $11.5 million option in Jaime Garcia's contract for 2016. The news is not surprising. Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. was a guest on Bernie Miklasz's 101 ESPN radio show and forecasted the likelihood of the move:

All MLB contracts are gambles and paying Garcia $11.5 million for 2016 is no different. Injury risk is inherent in every expenditure a baseball club makes, and it's more pronounced with Garcia. The portsider has undergone three surgeries on his throwing arm:

  • 2008:  Ulnar collateral ligament replacement (Tommy John)
  • 2013:  Partial labrum tear and partial rotator cuff tear
  • 2014:  Thoracic outlet release
The shoulder has beguiled Garcia and the Cardinals medical staff in recent years. He missed time in 2012 due to strains to his labrum and rotator cuff before ultimately needing corrective surgery to repair the injuries. Garcia returned from having his labrum stitched and rotator cuff debrided only to continue to have arm troubles due to thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that causes pain and numbness in the fingers because of compression of the nerves and blood vessels entering the arm beneath the shoulder. The Cardinals advised Garcia to take a conservative course, but he listened to Chris Carpenter's doctor instead and elected surgery.

That Garcia would have been in the market for a make-good contract that would allow him to showcase his health and effectiveness. That type of a deal for a pitcher has gotten expensive. Consider:
  • The St. Louis faithful witnessed firsthand how awful Justin Masterson was in 2014, when he posted a 5.88 ERA (133 ERA-), 4.50 FIP (124 FIP-), 4.08 xFIP (117 xFIP-), and 0.4 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR). Boston signed Masterson to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million last offseason.
  • Brett Anderson is a very good pitcher when healthy, but he is oft-injured. Anderson totaled 35 innings in 2012, 44 2/3 in 2013, and 43 1/3 in 2014. The Dodgers signed Anderson to a one-year, $10-million contract during the 2014-15 Hot Stove.
Garcia would likely command a deal with a salary close to the $11.5 million he will earn for 2016 even had he not pitched brilliantly this season, when he deployed his darting arsenal over 129 2/3 innings to generate a 2.43 ERA (63 ERA-), 3.00 FIP (78 FIP-), and 3.36 xFIP (87 xFIP-).

Wins Above Replacement isn't perfect, but it does a good job of gauging the give-and-take between quantity and quality of a pitcher's production. How good was Garcia in 2015? In just 129 2/3 innings, he posted 2.8 Fangraphs WAR. That's seven times what Masterson posted in the season before his $9.5 million contract and an IP total roughly on par with what Anderson totaled over the three seasons preceding his contract with L.A. combined.

There's some disagreement between how much one WAR went for on the free-agent market last Hot Stove. I'm partial to Dan Szymborksi's conservative position that it was approximately $6.5 million as opposed to $7 million, but it's in that range. Using the $6.5 million per WAR valuation, Garcia's 2015 was worth $18.2 million. If the Cards cut Garcia loose, it's within the realm of possibility that he could sign a contract worth $20 million per year on the open market. $11.5 million for Garcia's 2016 season is potentially a steal.