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Yankees free agent target: Matt Garza

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The Yankees could turn to Matt Garza if they fail to reel in Masahiro Tanaka from Japan.

Bob Levey

The Yankees have a number of holes in their rotation at the moment. Aside from CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, the team has three question marks in the number three, four, and five spots in the rotation. We know the Yankees are high on Masahiro Tanaka, and he has appeared to become, after Robinson Cano, a top priority. But, if they fail to sign the Japanese right-hander, they could turn to someone who has experience in the American League East in Matt Garza.

Garza, who pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2008-2010, split his 2013 with the Cubs and the Rangers this summer. His 2013 was a tale of two halves, though; he pitched to a 3.17 ERA and 3.78 FIP in 11 starts for the Cubs before being dealt to the Rangers and pitched to a 4.38 ERA and 3.96 FIP in his final 13 starts. In his eight-year career, Garza has pitched to a 3.84 ERA and 3.98 FIP, both a few shades above league-average.

The soon-to-be 30 year old Garza made just 24 starts this year thanks to a lat strain that forced him to miss nearly the first two months of the season. In 2012 Garza also suffered a stress fracture in his elbow which ended his season on July 21, so he'll be more than a full year removed from that. The stress fracture came a year after he suffered a contusion in that same elbow and three years after he had inflammation in there as well. Aside from some pretty minor thigh, back, and neck injuries suffered in camp over the years, that's pretty much it for Garza injury-wise.

Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, Garza might be the best-available starter on the market in what appears to be a pretty weak class among hurlers. For the sake of comparison, let's look at Garza's numbers the past three years as well as fellow free agents Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana's, possibly the third-best non-Tanaka available starter, numbers:

2011-2013 Starts IP ERA ERA+ FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% WHIP
Garza 73 457.0 3.62 110 3.54 8.4 2.7 1.0 43.8% 1.23
Nolasco 97 596.1 4.29 91 3.58 6.6 2.0 0.8 45% 1.32
Santana 95 617.2 3.85 101 4.45 6.9 2.7 1.3 44.3% 1.21

One stat that jumps out when compared to the other two starters is Garza's strikeout rate. An 8.4 K/9 is pretty good. However, it is a rate that has declined over the past couple of seasons. Garza had an even 9.0 K/9 in 2011, then it dropped to 8.3 in 2012, and finally it dipped further to 7.9 in 2013. That's something to keep an eye on if the Yankees sign him. A near 44% ground ball rate also wouldn't be too bad pitching in Yankee Stadium, but looking at his year-by-year ground ball rates, it's something that's kind of jumped around. He had a 38.6% GB rate this year and a 35.8% GB rate in 2010 with GB rates of 46.3% and 47.3% in 2011 and 2012, respectively. If he starts turning into a fly ball pitcher with declining K-rates, that could be a recipe for trouble.

Looking at recent deals like Anibal Sanchez' five-year, $80 million ($16MM AAV) contract from last winter and Edwin Jackson's four year, $52 million (13MM AAV) deal with the Cubs last off-season, Garza might get something in that range. He's not quite as good as Sanchez was when the latter signed last year, but he's probably better than Jackson when Jackson inked his deal. Just a guess, but I say Garza will sign for a five-year, $72.5MM deal later this winter. Also, as an added bonus, since he was acquired mid-season, the Rangers won't be able to give Garza the qualifying offer, thus the team who signs him won't have to forfeit their first round pick if their pick isn't protected in the first place. If the Yankees don't land Masahiro Tanaka, don't be surprised if the team shifts their sights on Garza to improve their starting pitching, though personally, I may want to stay away from him.