The first Masahiro Tanaka domino has fallen. There are, like, two or three left. That makes for a pretty boring domino-topping experience. But the first one is exciting! And it's Matt Garza to the Brewers for four years, $52 million, according to Ken Rosenthal.
First reaction: That's not nearly ridiculous enough. It brings me all the way back to the days of 2012, back when people drove cars and used computers. It doesn't seem like the kind of money one of the last remaining pitchers would get in this new era of crazy cable money.
Second reaction: The Brewers sure needed another starting pitcher. Now they have one, and they didn't have to give up a draft pick.
Third reaction: The Brewers have a surprisingly spendy rotation, and I'm not sure if they're employing a single pitcher that I trust.
A front three of Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and Garza is pretty nice, though, depending on what you think of Gallardo's chances to reclaim his lost stuff and effectiveness. There's depth now, as Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada in the back of the rotation will allow the Brewers to take their time with prospect Tyler Thornburg. The rotation has a nice combination of present value and upside, even if it comes with an above-average amount of downside, too.
Let's look at the idea of the Brewers as a win-now team, then. They lost 88 games last year, and as a team, they hit .252/.311/.398, good for a league-average .708 OPS. Once you take Miller Park into account, though, the Brewers were a comfortably below-average offensive team, and that was the biggest contributor to their losing season
Here's what will be different in 2014, though:
- Ryan Braun for a full season
- No Yuniesky Betancourt
Those are the main points. And they're huge. Braun is likely still one of the very best hitters in the majors, even without his cans of spinach, and Betancourt getting 409 plate appearances absolutely sucked the life out of the lineup. Logan Schafer and Rickie Weeks weren't much better, and before the Brewers knew it, they were giving more than 1,000 at-bats to some genuinely lousy hitters.
In the process, though, they figured out that Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett and Caleb Gindl were probably players worth having around and in the lineup. They'll join the bona fide major leaguers like Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, Jean Segura, Jonathan Lucroy and Braun, which is an accomplished bunch. There's a huge hole at first, but there's also still time in the offseason to patch it.
So, yeah. I'm pretty okay with the win-now Brewers. They have a lot more talent than I remember. An 88-loss season will make you forget a lot of things.
They're still the third-best team in the division, though, and that's if you don't trust the Reds or Pirates. They're probably even the fourth-best team on paper, at least until you know if Gallardo is good again. So even if they're a win-now team, I wouldn't exactly do anything crazy if I were them. I wouldn't spend hundreds of millions on players like Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to support the team in 2014. I'd make a substantial, but reasonable, move to address a known weakness.
Matt Garza for $52 million, then. Yeah, that's exactly the kind of deal they should be messing with.
I'm still not budging from a .500 prediction, not yet. But assembling a .500 team is the hard part. Getting them over .500 and into the playoffs takes a combination of skill and luck, and if Braun has an MVP season, or Khris Davis hits like Chris Davis, or Peralta pitches to his potential, or (decent player) becomes (good player), the Brewers will be happy they have a pitcher like Garza.
It's a good match of a team with a need and a not-unreasonable contract. They might not be the favorites to win the division. They might not be second- or third-favorites. But they're better. And they were in a spot where incremental gains in talent could pay off exponentially with a little help and development during the season. Nice move.
Now, let's focus on Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, who are going to cost a draft pick for most teams. There's no way they get 75 percent of this deal, right? One domino down, and a couple more to go.