The Rays are in a predicament unlike any they have been in the last several years: a questionable starting rotation. David Price and Alex Cobb are currently on the disabled list, and the remaining pitchers feature plenty of talent but a multiplicity of question marks as well. Jeremy Hellickson has thrown the ball well of late and the Rays hope that Matt Moore‘s last start will get him going, but Roberto Hernandez has been as inconsistent as any pitcher in baseball and the Rays’ last two rotation spots are currently being filled by rookies, Chris Archer and either Alex Colome or Jake Odorizzi. With all of this in mind, is it possible that the Rays could look for starting pitching help? And when they do, could they talk with the Chicago Cubs about former Rays right-hander Matt Garza?
Price’s rehab start on Wednesday could be his last before he comes back to the major leagues. Getting Price back might be the biggest pre-deadline move in all of baseball. But even when that happens, the Rays will still have another rotation spot to figure out and maybe two. Between Archer, Odorizzi, and Colome, the Rays have to hope they can find at least one effective big league starting pitcher. But what if they decide to lift Roberto Hernandez from the rotation? As their 40-man roster is currently constructed, it seems unlikely that the Rays would be willing to make such a move and that they would likely stick with Hernandez for better or worse. Acquiring another starting pitcher, though, could give them the flexibility to make such a move and a chance to improve their team significantly in the process. And Matt Garza may be just the type of player the Rays could look at to bolster their rotation.
Garza, 29, is at a critical juncture in his career right now. He’s coming off a stress fracture in his elbow that caused him to miss the second half of 2012 and a shoulder strain that sidelined him until May 21st in 2013, and with his contract with the Cubs expiring following the season, he is running out of time to rebuild his value. Garza has pitched pretty well so far in his return to action, going 2-1 with a 4.25 ERA and a 37-14 strikeout to walk ratio in 7 starts 42.1 innings pitched. Take out one disastrous start in which he allowed 9 runs, and his ERA drops to just 2.63. Garza is a very good pitcher when healthy, managing a 3.61 ERA (11o ERA+), an 8.6 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 the last three seasons and a 3.76 ERA (110 ERA+) when you back as far as 7 seasons. Other than his 7 starts in 2013, Garza’s ERA has never gotten as high as 4.00. And beyond that, the Rays know that he can pitch in the AL East after his 3.86 ERA (109 ERA+) in his 3 seasons with the team plus a 3.48 ERA in 5 postseason starts, including his 7 one-run innings to earn the win in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. It’s that history of consistency that makes Garza such a sought-after trade chip as the trade deadline approaches despite his recent injury history.
The Rays may be thinking about trading for a starter but they are certainly not desperate to get one, and they may not be motivated enough to acquire Garza unless the price stays low. If teams do shy away from Garza because of the injuries, though, could the Rays be a sleeper team in trade talks? Their best offer would be something like Garza straight-up for lefty Felipe Rivero, a hard-throwing pitcher at High-A who has great stuff but has been somewhat enigmatic this season (3.70 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 4.0 BB/9) and may be too slim at 6’0″, 150 to remain a starting pitcher. Would that be enough to get a deal done? With four or five teams vying to land Garza, it likely will not be. But don’t count the Rays entirely out. The struggles of their rotation has made trading for Garza at least a slight possibility for the Rays after we never would have thought it possible before the season. We will have to see whether the remaining dominoes fall for Garza to end up back in Tampa Bay for the second half of 2013.